Selbey Labs adds to its growing social science team

Gerry Hopkinson
CEO, Selbey Labs

Selbey Labs adds to its growing social science team

CEO, Selbey Labs
CEO, Selbey Labs
We are delighted to introduce the latest member of the Selbey Labs faculty Dr. Jillian Ney, who is a pioneer in the burgeoning field of social intelligence. She has been a leading light in the field via her community, The Social Intelligence Lab, which champions the cultural, social, and business value of social intelligence. Jillian and her team will be collaborating with Selbey Labs to help us, our agencies and our clients apply social intelligence research and insight methodologies and we’re going to kick off with a webinar workshop later this year. In the meantime, and by way of introduction, here’s a brief Q&A we recently did with Jillian.

Q; Tell us about yourself. How did you find yourself where you are today?

Jillian: Sure. I think it's funny because I was presenting at IEX in Amsterdam last week, and I did a little bit of the story during my presentation. And I was thinking where did my career come from and how did I get here?

It reminded me that the very first day that I ever saw the Internet. I was 14 years old, and I was at school in Scotland. We all went into computer studies and there was one computer in the whole building that was connected to the Internet at that point. And our teachers said, come and see this new thing. And then they said, what do you want to search for? And I said what do you mean? But it wasn't until I saw social data and used it for the first time that I really found my affinity and new that it would be my career.

Q: You are a Dr of Social Intelligence?

Jillian: No, I am a Doctor of Philosophy, but social media and consumer behaviour, is really what I studied. What my PhD sought to look at, was how we evaluate the credibility of online social content and how that then influences our purchase decisions, essentially decision science i.e., how do people process information and how does that affect their decision making.

Q: How would you describe social data?

Jillian: When we talk about social data, the natural inclination goes to social networking sites but anything that's user generated, that's published on the Internet, to me is social content, including search data for instance.

Q: How is social intelligence different to social listening?

Jillian: Social listening is essentially monitoring of social media platforms for brand mentions and comment. It tracks in a quantitative manner what is being said, how often and by whom.

It’s incredibly valuable as an early warning system for brands and for spotting issues that might blow up or for measuring how brand messaging is playing out. Social intelligence looks at why people are saying what they are saying, and by applying social science, in my case decision science, it seeks to establish how people might behave in the future.

It's slightly more advanced i.e., you can write, what would we call a query, so that query could be, what are people saying about my social feeds? It's an okay place to start, but it's not the most interesting place, and it's certainly not going to get you the most value.

Social intelligence as a practice applies frameworks and methodologies to look at why people are posting what they are posting, i.e., it’s about interpretating what you might be getting back from social listening.

The easiest way to describe the difference between social listening and social intelligence is one is content the other is context.

Q: Can you give us an example?

Jillian: One of my favourite case studies, is from a company called 113 industries, and they work specifically in innovation. They were brought in by a large FMCG company to help understand why a new snack was failing. They had a look at social data to figure out where, how, why, and what people were doing when they were snacking.

What they found was is that the nature of snacking in the US has completely changed.

It used to be spontaneous, but what they discovered is that it is now a planned indulgence.

They decoded the ritual that appealed to people and guided the client to apply it. As a result, they doubled sales just by really understanding more about how people are snacking now.

Q: How is social intelligence research difference than other kinds of research?

Jillian: What’s unique about social intelligence research is that the data already exists, unlike almost all other forms of market research, where you create the data to analyse.

But in our world, it's all out there in the wild and it's highly influential, where it exists. If we treat it properly and understand the context in which it exists, we can get a good understanding of what's happening.

There are a myriad of technical platforms, apps, tools, and SaaS providers offering the means to gather and analyse social data, but what’s crucial about social intelligence is that we don’t treat it as one-dimensional. We never forget that actual people created it, and we don’t dehumanise it. In other words, we treat it with the respect that it is due.

Q: What is the Social Intelligence Lab and why did you create it?

Jillian: It’s been created by practitioners, for other practitioners who want to be able to use social data and Internet data in a meaningful way.

Our mission is to advance the value of social and Internet data as a source of insight. We are a community, we provide community access, training, events, networking, and even a job site. So, it's about helping build this discipline of social data analysis properly and helping everybody connect to each other because it's a small but growing community and we want to help make it flourish.

We have a good event called Demo Day, which we run at the back end of the year. And from there, you can start to take different demos of different technologies. We also run our Observe Summit, which is happening on the 26th of April.

This year, it's all about decoding Internet culture, i.e. a lot of the things that we've just been talking about today, and it's about all of these new different methodologies and ways that we can start to look at the humans behind the behind what we think of as data and how that can be used and how we can find the hidden forces that are driving human behaviour across the world.

If you’d like to learn more about Jillian’s work, or how to set up a social intelligence project, please get in touch at

Gerry Hopkinson

CEO, Selbey Labs
Following a successful career in communications, including co-founding award-winning agency Unity (now part of the Selbey Anderson Group), Gerry set up Selbey Labs in April 2022. Through his work at Unity over the past two decades he has developed a perspective on the role of brands in culture, the importance of observation and benefits of testing and learning.