Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams on how social intelligence informed Visa’s marketing strategy

“We didn't have the luxury of six months or even six weeks for focus groups,” says Jessica Williams.

“At Visa, we were starting in new areas with large segments, and we needed to get answers to questions a lot faster.”

As the Global Innovation Market Leader for Visa, Jessica says her job was to help make research efforts for these new markets faster, cheaper, and more agile. She boiled her objective down to one quote by David Ogilvy, “Why does it take agency researchers months to answer a few simple questions?”

In her presentation at's Brands-Only Summit in Orlando, she explains how she gathered social media intelligence to establish actionable insights and context around Visa's new target audience, small business owners.

Jessica Williams

But first, Jessica had to prove social media could disrupt traditional market research.

Before she began her listening program, she was getting pushback from internal researchers who said social data wasn't representative and didn't have enough behavioral characteristics.

Jessica says to counteract the argument, she presented these five ways social media is a relevant source for market research:

  1. Social data is representative: An average of one out of four people are using social media globally. Plus, the number of users is growing in segments that have traditionally rejected social media, like the 50+ age groups.
  2. People share everything: Worldwide, an average of 24 percent of responders say they share “everything” or “most things” online.
  3. Younger generations will always share: Teens in particular are more likely than ever to share their real names, interests, school names, birthdays, and email addresses.
  4. People trust others online: When it comes to online reviews, 88 percent say they read them to determine if a local business is a good business. Another 72 percent say these reviews affect their attitudes about a local business.
  5. Data is not just conversational: Social media users show behavioral data too through actions like location check-ins, going to events, and following certain interests.

Jessica also shared these advantages to social data by showing that it's:

  • Low cost: Most companies already have social listening tools in place.
  • Quick: It took Jessica's team one week working with social data to gather the information an outside agency could get in three months.
  • Real-time data flow: Social media is always on without an additional cost and since people post in the moment, you don't have to ask them to remember their thoughts on a particular topic.
  • Unsolicited: Unlike traditional focus groups, there's not an intentional bias in social data reporting or the potential to be swayed by other participants in the room.

For their small business audience, they set out to create a database.

At Visa, we were starting in new areas with large segments, and we needed to get answers to questions a lot faster.

Jessica's team started by finding small business owners in social media.

“But you can't just search ‘small business owner,' because that's not how small business owners talk about themselves,” Jessica explains. “Instead, we conducted searches on Twitter and in forums for phrases like ‘I run,' ‘I own,' or ‘I have.'”

Once they collected some profiles, Jessica's team matched them back to individual LinkedIn profiles to determine more about their businesses like size, industry, and age.

That gave them a queryable database of small business owners they could break out into demographics, age, and industry — essentially giving her team an online panel.

Now, they could answer questions like what topics do they care about, what are their pain points, and how do they share content online.

“We basically flipped how we were going to do content on its head.”

With this social data, their new approach to creating content was to make the small business owner the hero. Jessica's team created videos asking small business owners to share their expertise and planned an SMB MeetUp Tour to bring more of them together in person.

Now, Visa could also check the panel daily for trending topics among their small business owner audiences. Real-time social data helped Jessica's team spend more efficiently with bidding on keywords and sponsorships for the most relevant events to their audiences.

The results showed their social data research was working.

Visa's engagement rates stayed consistently two-times higher than LinkedIn's benchmarks. They also earned over 20,000 new business owner followers on LinkedIn and had 50 times more clicks to from their target audience than before.

Jessica says these results also helped prove to leadership the importance of social data, which means a bigger budget and more headcount for the projects they're looking to next.

To learn more about the project and how Jessica's team used social data to redefine their “affluent” audiences, check out her presentation on social intelligence from our Brands-Only Summit in Orlando. Jessica's been a member of since 2013 you can find her on Twitter here.