Doing Market Research with Social Media
When all of the hype and uncertainty around social media settles down, market researchers will likely see it as “merely” another useful channel through which to gather data and opinions from the audiences they care about, just like surveys, focus groups, or ethnographies.
In the meantime it is good fun to read articles, like this one, in last week’s New York Times extolling the discovery that social media can be used for market research. And amusing to hear executives and CMOs saying things like “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating.” As if there were no ways to ask customers for their opinions before the magic of social media.
So how can you use social media for effective market research? We think of social media market research as falling into two categories, depending upon whether you are interacting with people to elicit information, or passively observing and gathering data:
1. Interactive social media research uses social media as a communications channel for surveys, focus groups, or other research activities. The is the type of research described in the NYT article cited above. Of course companies have been doing this type of work for over a decade, using bulletin boards, message boards, and developing their own market research online communities (MROCs). More recently, company research teams are communicating and interacting with customers and prospects via Facebook, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter.
2. Observational social media research involves analyzing social media data without intervention or interaction from the researcher. In this mode of research, you search for, look at, collect, synthesize, and analyze data that exist in the social media sphere (blogs, newsgroups, forums, message boards, and microblogs). The goal is to measure and gauge public awareness and sentiment of issues, products, or brands. Not long ago I headed up a panel of industry thought leaders that focused on this type of social media research, and what it might mean for our industry.
It is true that social media is the newest channel of communication for researchers to deal with, and it presents us with unique research challenges and possibilities. But there is nothing new about finding the best ways to reach customers and prospects and then asking them the right questions, in systematic ways, to provide the insight and stories you need.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.