The Client-side View: We Ignore Social Media Research At Our Peril
I’ve recently returned from a Market Research Consumer & Shoppers’ Insight Conference in Berlin, where I gave a talk on how Social Media Insights can be used for New Product Development.
As a Client side Researcher, I’d say that Social Media is an area often viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism in terms of its usefulness, relevance, not to mention validity as a source of Insights. There is certainly a lot being published that highlights the negative elements of Social Media as an Insight tool.
If – as in the case of Porsche highlighted at the recent Esomar 3D Conference – only 350 out of a total of 36.000 social media comments are deemed of value (http://bit.ly/WwpMwJ), then the word word “buzz” doesn’t seem appropriate. Facebook’s relatively limited ability to help brands generate user engagement (1% – 2% according to the analysis) was documented earlier this year by the respected Ehrenberg Bass Institute (http://bit.ly/UrKczQ). Sir Martin Sorrell’s well publicized comments on Facebook’s limited relevance as an advertising medium (http://bit.ly/NcIH5B) probably point to a Marketing Community shifting to a more critical attitude towards a much-hyped media form.
Is Social Media getting a bad deal?
I can’t speak for Marketing, but for Insights I’d say that we ignore Social Media at our peril.
1. It’s a fast evolving medium.
We need to keep our fingers on the pulse in terms of touch point usage, however skeptical we may feel about the rather overused word “conversation”. New Apps are springing up all the time, who knows which will be the next big thing?
2. Competitions on the web can indeed generate a lot of relevant content for Insights.
Ask your Facebook fans for ideas on a given topic in a given category – ideas for Halloween parties for example – throw in an incentive, and you’re likely to generate some interesting ideas from your user base at very low cost. These can be used as valuable additions to other qualitative sources for up-front hypothesis generation.
3. Netnography* is simple, fast and comparatively cheap.
Whilst it’s certainly no replacement for proper immersions or Ethnographies, the Social Web is increasingly becoming an increasingly rich source for qualitative insights. Smart phone technology in particular has made the uploading of images and videos easy – allowing us, for example, to see areas of people’s homes, where they work/eat/sleep….should they wish to share this. If Netnography did have a weakness originally – that it was essentially text-based and decontextualised – it is becoming less of a reason for which to criticize it as a technique.
* Netnography: “the conduct of ethnographies using the Internet” (Dr. Robert V. Kozinets)
4. Pinterest is the latest example of a medium where Insights meets Ideation.
Type in a category on Pinterest, and within seconds you can study often stunning visuals that people are sharing. It’s idealized – not a source of unmet needs, for sure – has a very high female bias, but nonetheless – it allows you to shortcut, develop hypotheses quickly. Ideal for an addition to the front-end of an innovation process.
My personal take is that Social Media has passed the phase where it’s a totally hot topic, but that there is likely to be a continuing stream of technology-lead ideas that will bubble up, and some of those will be immensely useful for Research. Pinterest to me is one such example.
So rather than concentrating on the negatives – the limitations of Text Analytics for example – I’d say we need to continue exploring this frontier with curiosity rather than dismiss it as a red herring.
Curious, as ever, to others’ views.