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Online Conversations – Sense or Nonsense? What Do We Need To Know To Get It Right?

by Di Tunney & Rachel Francis for Merlien Institute

Gathering customer insights from social media communities is rapidly becoming a viable alternative to focus groups and in-depth interviews. As social media analytics evolve and improve, quantitative research is also being seriously challenged.

As we move into an age where listening to customers is becoming more important than asking questions, and engaging in conversation is taking the place of market surveys, knowing how to speak the customer’s language is becoming more important than ever.

We know that customers will be much more likely to engage with brands that they feel are on their wavelength. However, this is easier said than done! A recent survey by Alterian suggests that despite the phenomenal growth of social media, as few as 6% of companies feel ready to engage in one-on-one conversations with their customers online Why is this? It appears that the main reason is ‘fear’

•    Fear of saying the wrong thing
•    Fear of negative repercussions
•    Fear of not being able to keep up with the ongoing dialogue
•    Fear of finding out the truth!

So how can brands build rapport with their customers on their own social media platforms in a way that gets messages across and gives customers the feeling that they are being listened to and valued? How can brands spread the word further and gather and make senses of unsolicited feedback from open public communities? We believe that the time has come to start to establish a ‘best practice’ guideline for engaging in online conversations and using these connection with customers to gather reliable customer insights.

At the upcoming International conference on Qualitative Consumer Research & Insights 2011, we will be facilitating a brainstorming workshop on developing ‘best practice’ guidelines for engaging in online conversations. The session will look at some cutting-edge language analysis techniques that pinpoint customer values, beliefs and behavioral motivations. By text mining online conversations, blogs, customer reviews and offline discussions, it is possible to discover not only what customers are really interested in but how they think and why they behave in the way that they do.

Giving examples of how we’ve made sense of customer conversations by deep text mining for topics of interest, and the sentiment, language patterns and the metaphors that underpin them, we’ll reveal how these way of gathering insight yields an understanding that it is simply not possible to gain through conventional research.

We will  also consider the effects on the quality and validity of customer responses by engaging in real-time conversations while literally using customers’ language. We’ll compare and contrast this kind of approach with the effectiveness of direct questioning techniques to stimulate debate on which approach ultimately produces the most reliable insights.

As a part of the session, delegates working in teams will be debating a number of social media issues that are challenging the brands right now. For example:

•    When and how to communicate with customers on social media?
•    How to raise and communicate a topic of conversation?
•    How to deal with negative responses?
•    How to detect and defuse a crisis using social media?

We will also give real examples of different approaches that companies and brands have taken on the above issues in order stimulate debate and facilitate the process of assimilating some early guidelines on best practice. The pros and cons of these can be discussed in sub-groups and then summed up as set of possible ‘best practice’ guidelines.

We would envisage that this discussion will evolve into a the establishment of working party who will have responsibility for supporting and advising brands on how to enter into direct dialogue with customers in public spaces and how to treat these conversations as a learning platform. Attendees for this session will have the opportunity to be a part of the co-creation of these guidelines and to be involved at the early stages of development on a new paradigm.

To see the agenda and a range of other topics that will be discussed at this conference, please visit:

Di Tunney has 25+ years experience in Market Research and Marketing, working in a diverse range of sectors. Di worked for Unilever, Allied Domecq and Thomas Cook before setting up a full service research agency in 1986. Aware that research needs a fresh approach, Di has become a specialist in language analysis techniques that explain what really drives customer behaviour. Di is a Master Practitioner of NLP and certified in Language & Behaviour Profiling. Di is intuitive and insightful with a keen focus on turning research into action. At Liveinsights, Di is a Consumer Insights and  Language Analysis Champion, and a Social Media Pioneer.
Rachel Francis has held a variety of roles in Market Research and Strategic Planning and has worked both client side at MARS, RHM and agency side for Marketing Consultancy OHAL. She is currently a director at Solva Consultancy and Liveinsights. Rachel is tenacious, analytical, creative and enjoys getting stuck into the data to seeing the bigger picture in a mountain of numbers to deliver quality business intelligence. At Liveinsights Rachel is a metrics and  dashboard champion, forging the way in understanding how to make sense of the wealth of information social media offers.

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2 responses to “Online Conversations – Sense or Nonsense? What Do We Need To Know To Get It Right?

  1. Hooray! Glad you underscored listening value of “…learning how to speak the customer’s language is becoming more important than ever”. And doesn’t this apply to any natural language!

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