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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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Social Media in Research: Pros and Cons

There are now over 901 million members of Facebook (covering around 13% of the World’s population), of which 526 million are active daily users. The number of people using Twitter has also witnessed a significant increase in recent years, a total of around 250 million tweets are posted every day by the 300 million users of the site.

With social media usage constantly growing and extending to a wider range of people, it is now of great interest to market researchers to capitalise on this large pool of customers using social media to express attitudes towards brands (53% of active adult social networkers follow a brand).

 

The demand for consumer research through social media sites has been clearly recognised by Twitter who have recently started selling data to research companies, with reportedly more than 1,000 companies joining a waiting list to use this data.


"We want to collect the voice of the customer through all means necessary, including social media"

(Mike Moran, 2011)


What are the Pros and Cons?

Pros

  • With such a large amount of information posted on social media sites (250 million tweets per day), it is highly likely that someone will be talking about your brand
  • Social media offers a large accessible sample (larger sample = greater objectivity).
  •  A wide range of people are now using social media. Many studies have shown that older generations are experiencing the highest rates of growth uptake with social media (wider sample = greater representativeness).
  •  Social media presents fresh and organic feedback, great for early exploration into a consumer market of interest.
  • Customers talk freely about their interests without the constraints of specifically answering an interviewer’s question.
  • A researcher can filter for information they are specifically interested in. This can be more time effective than traditional observational research, where a researcher would have to wait for the specific information they are after.

Cons

  • Studying consumer’s attitudes/opinions without their explicit consent does not align well with the ethical standards we strive for in market research
  • The feedback provided may not be very well considered because of the environment it is delivered in.
  • Similarly, the anonymous nature of these environments may encourage extremes of opinion i.e. said for fun, to spark a reaction among other members, that have little relevance to the author’s true feeling in the real world.
  •  Market researchers require different types of information about a customer (i.e. age, gender, nationality) to assess whether significant differences exist between different sectors of customers. This information is difficult to uncover accurately through social media sites like Twitter.
  • The inability to find specific information about the customers you are studying can throw into question the representativeness of the data (i.e. are all areas of the company’s customer base taken into account when drawing conclusions?)
  • Being only observers of the dialogue, it is difficult to ask further questions or to probe deeper if we weren’t in the conversation to begin with.

Integrating Social Media Research with Online Research Communities

Social media can complement consumer research at every stage in a project’s design. Taking the pros and cons into account, it’s best used as part of a mixed research approach and is at its best when combined with other online research techniques, especially online research communities.

In this way, the trends picked up in social media can then be explored further inside the research community. The community is used to dig deeper into the motivations, influences and context behind what is observed in social media. At Intersperience, our research communities can also be informed by customer panel databases, adding much more depth and background to the consumer’s behaviour. Customer segments can be separated, response to stimulus explored and specific issues debated.

Moran, M. (2011) Will social media listening replace market research? Available at: http://www.biznology.com/2011/04/will_social_media_listening_re/ [Accessed: May 17th, 2012]

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