Knowing what people have done is ok. Behavioural data, as interesting as it is, is a lagging indicator. It's a bit like sitting in a car and looking out of the rear can seen where you have been, but not where you're going.

Apply this to an online/social web environment and analytics (onsite and buzz monitoring) provide us with the rear window perspective.

But what if you could find out why people behave in a certain way? What their objective is; how they associate their identity with brands, their own personal values etc. This would give you a much more powerful set of information, wouldn't it? 

So what is it that drives behaviour? Is it benevolence or trust? Which stimulate positive and negative emotions respectively and in turn will feed and drive the behaviour of individuals?

This post discusses why understanding the "why" can help influence the "what". It would be good for all you creators, critics and conversationalists out there to offer your opinion.

Trust: The epicentre of social web behaviour.

Forrester Social Technographics, if you're not already familiar with them, categorise online/social web behaviour i.e. what and how people behave. There are seven categories which aren't exclusive and therefore people can sit across several levels, such as creators of content, critics, conversationalists, and spectators.

Their primary behaviour will depend on a number of factors, including the content they are consuming and their level of "passion" associated with the subject matter. They form part of the social engagement workshop run by Econsultancy.

Their purpose is to outline the generic "what" behaviour, which can then be backed up by specific brand/product "what" information gleaned from web analytics and buzz monitoring.

"What" data, as interesting as it is, is a lagging indicator, it is past tense, provides us with meaningful information, but only forms part of a bigger story. Getting to grips with why people behave in a certain way is a more useful and valuable layer of information. 

I was very interested to read Brian Solis' recent post about discovering the "me" in Social Media. This looks at the drivers behind motivation and behavioural characteristics. I'd recommend, if you have time, to take a read of the article. 

My initial instinct and subsequent opinion is, why is benevolence placed at the centre? Isn't benevolence a biased emotion which manifests itself after a prior set of thoughts and opinions have been formed? 

Isn't behaviour driven by a stronger and more centralised emotion, which can start from a neutral position, such as trust? 

From a brand engagement perspective trust can start from a neutral position if the person/consumer is starting from an unaware relationship with the brand. Of course, it can also start from a positive or negative position should the individual have had a previous or existing experience with the brand. This will stimulate positive and negative emotions respectively and in turn will feed and drive the behaviour of individuals.

But how can you establish how your brand is currently perceived amongst the people you would like to engage with? There are probably several answers here.


Unmoderated conversation, organically appearing across the social web, without any direct involvement from your brand, can provide us with some clues.

This is conversation that manifests itself, as opposed to conversation in response to an action a brand has taken. Consumers to consumers. Proximity of brand and sentiment terms, focused on these interactions, can provide us with some very good insights.

Content that describes how people feel about your product, brand or offering; how it helps them achieve, or prevents them from achieving their objectives; how they identify with your brand. etc.

You don't need to be Richard Bandler or John Grinder to analyse the surface structure of conversations; however, understanding common patterns in volume will help provide some clues.

Well constructed brand/product perception online panel questioning

This can tap into both conscious and sub-conscious levels. There are now several options available, but the value comes form a well formed questioning structure and the best possible construct of panel (quantitative and qualitative).

Combining and correlating this information will provide you with a substantial and solid set of insights, which you can then use a centrepiece to feed your overall communications approach. This can also be applied across all areas of brand engagement from awareness through to advocacy.

If the outcome of the above is a neutral to positive one, you are most probably on a solid footing to move ahead with an online approach, that provides the creators, critics and conversationalists something they can connect with and share amongst their own network.

However, if the outcome of the above is a negative one, then this will need addressing first as people won't necessarily feel benevolent towards your brand. Why open up the "social doors" even more to create a bigger reputation management issue?

That said, social can play a big part in re-building trust too, however, this requires a more soliciting, humble and transparent approach.

So understanding the "why" can help you influence the what...

Karl Havard

Published 30 March, 2011 by Karl Havard

Karl Havard is a Partner at PA Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter and connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)


claire stokoe

I use the Social Technographics example a lot in my work. I was just wondering why the graph shows diggers to be more tolerant than those on facebook, if that is what the graph means i really do think it needs more thought.

over 7 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

I completely agree that knowing why can help influence what. Social networking sites provide companies with a gold mine of information about their consumer base. If they are willing to sift through the data, they bound to find some incredibly useful insights into the why of consumer actions.

over 7 years ago


Heather Hadden

Very well written Karl, thanks for the insight. I agree that it is more important to know why than what. It provides us with much more opportunities and understanding. However, knowing what may result into realising why, if you analyse the data correctly. Knowing why then opens the door to something that "what" will never be able to provide and that is predicting next moves.

over 7 years ago


Janmesh D Srivastava

Are there any tools / methodology available to realize the 'Why' component of the story?

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Partner, PA Consulting Group at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks all for your comments. @Janmesh yes there are a number of models, methodologies and tools to help with the "why". The key thing is, to get to a point of clarity, the construct of any "why" investigation needs to be robust. Ethnographic studies and sub-conscious research can really help get under the skin of "why", with the "validation" of focus groups/panels. Some of these tools can be utilised online and can provide some genuine insights on their own, but will provide enhanced context when correlated with the "what". Hope that helps.

over 7 years ago

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