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Are The Heavy Users Of #MRX #SM Ahead Of The Curve Or Just Talking To Themselves?

Are the social media heavy users in #MRX ahead of the curve, creating reputations and gaining first mover advantage, or are they simply talking to each other? Perhaps they are simultaneously ignoring the mainstream and being ignored by the mainstream?


Editor’s Note: Because we’re in the business of understanding and communicating to a great extent, it’s no wonder that we often start our process by looking inward. As we become comfortable with the sea change that social media has (so far) produced in our species it’s also imperative that we get a handle on the dynamics of the new paradigm. Of course, understanding that from a marketing perspective is a major focus area, so Ray Poynter asks whether those of us who use social media are actually creating real impact for our brands or just talking into the echo chamber. It all comes down to measuring ROI and the work/benefit ratio.

I’d have to say that we walk a fine line between just creating monologues that create no measurable impact and actually engaging others to drive real change, brand awareness and ROI. I’ve written before on my views on the magic formula to ensure that we stay on the productive side of that line, and my own journey and experience validates my view that (for the most part) those of us who have built influence via social media are ahead of the curve.

There are a few initiatives in the works right that may help us understand all of these questions more effectively. First, there is an international consortium of forward looking researchers working on doing a global netnographic segmentation study of social media users in research, focusing on developing a sense of their profiles based on personal usage rather than just business usage. Second, we’re revamping GRIT right now and a component of that will likely be a deeper dive into the social media usage of researchers as it pertains to marketing their own brands. And of course, and Dollywagon are continuing to track various aspects of social media usage with the research space each month.

I think our propensity for navel gazing isn’t likely to lessen, but hopefully we can turn it into a motivation for achieving real understanding of a broader trend and turn that understanding into advice and action.


 By Ray Poynter

On Tuesday I ran a social media workshop for ESOMAR as part of their Summer Academy  in Amsterdam, as part of my remit as Director of Vision Critical University.

The workshop was well attended with about forty people attending from places as diverse as Iceland, China, Chile, Japan, and Australia.

As part of the warm up for the day the delegates were asked what social media related approaches they had used this year and which social media they themselves were a user of. The tables below are not a representative picture of market research; they represent the 33 people who were at the workshop when it kicked off at 9am. The absolute numbers are not relevant, but the relative highs and lows are, perhaps, interesting – particularly as they are quite typical of the feedback I get when I run courses for organizations such as AMSRS and MRS.

Some people may be surprised that the scores for Facebook are not 100%, but the range of countries represented should be kept in mind – along with the fact that some people simply choose not to be on Facebook. It is clear that despite all the news that Pinterest has attracted, amongst this group it is bracketed with Foursquare and Google+ as marginal.

Amongst the 33 people in this group, 11 had used an MROC or Community panel this year, a finding which supports the view that this is the most significant aspect of NewMR.

Formal Social Media monitoring/listening tools were used by 8 people in the group, but the free tools of Google Insights and Search.Twitter were less likely to have been used. (BTW and as a consequence, VCU will be publishing notes on using Google Insights and Search.Twitter shortly).

eChattering Classes?

Looking at the tables above, and thinking about the 200+ people who have attended social media workshops I have run this year for market researchers, I am struck by the gap between the ‘usual suspects’ who are visible all over social media (Tom, Tom, Tom, Annie, and of course Lenny*).

Are the social media heavy users in #MRX ahead of the curve, creating reputations and gaining first mover advantage, or are they simply talking to each other? Perhaps they are simultaneously ignoring the mainstream and being ignored by the mainstream?

* If you know who Tom, Tom, Tom, Annie, and Lenny are without me typing their surnames then perhaps like me you need to get out more? Or, maybe you are simply ahead of the curve?

Ray Poynter

Ray is the Director of Vision Critical University, the author of the Handbook of Online and Social Media Research, and the founder of Ray can be found online via @RayPoynter and

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10 responses to “Are The Heavy Users Of #MRX #SM Ahead Of The Curve Or Just Talking To Themselves?

  1. Speaking as a Tom, it feels like there’s a few things being confused here:

    – People using social media approaches for research
    – People knowing about social media approaches
    – People using social media to talk about research.

    I have no doubt that not many people use social media for research – if anything, 33% MROC experience feels high!

    I don’t think it’s shocking – given even a small amount of interest – that some people are experts in this area and focus on it. They may very well be out of touch with the mainstream of research, but only in the way any sector expert – a pharma or media researcher, for instance – is.

    And it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of content about research on social media is posted by an absolutely tiny minority of people involved, since that’s true of every topic ever. (It is a bit odd that so many of them are called Tom, but what’s statistics without a quirk or two?)

    So is the question: is it a problem that the most prominent #mrx tweeters are boosters for social media research? (I’m not sure we are exactly, but compared to “the mainstream” we know more about it?)

    Or is the problem not so much to do with what WE say but the attention paid to us? The natural dynamics of social media mean that some users are more prominent. Said users sometimes delude themselves that this makes them smarter or better, but worse is when media – or parasitical aggregators like Klout – latch onto the idea and promote prominent users as a proxy for the mainstream, or the industry as a whole. Individual #mrx tweeters don’t represent the mainstream and don’t claim to – the problem comes when middlemen assume they represent something other than themselves.

    (Speaking purely for myself, if I worried about the mainstream ignoring me or not I’d probably have a more professional Twitter icon!)

    1. Good points Annie and Tom. Now, of course we are just talking to our ourselves here, but the difference is that it will be read by others, making it more of an open discussion, right? 🙂

      I’m not nearly as skeptical about the theory behind Klout (notice I didn’t say business model or position Tom!); I think influence is currently the best measurement of how effective social media is. The true reach model Klout uses seems about right to me, and based on my own experience with turning a social brand into an offline brand I can say without question that we are NOT talking to ourselves, or at least no more so than a radio DJ, podcast host, or TV talk show host is. Active participation by others in the conversation may be small, but listening is huge and the sharing of information from those listeners is a very active form of engagement.

      I agree on the 80/20 rule as well Tom. All of the social networks acknowledge that truth; it’s simply the way it is. That doesn’t mean the 20% is more important or special or anything like that: we simply do what we do and if folks like it then it gets attention and followings are built. If it stinks, then it goes away because the 80% will ignore it. If anything, the minority “serves at the sufferance” of the majority! It’s not dissimilar to any ratings system, except now we have the added dimension of both impressions and expressions to understand how the audience is reacting to the content.

      Let’s not forget that it is called social MEDIA for a reason, and to a great extent the same rules apply. #mrx is like the “Food Network” or “Science Channel”, or maybe one of the specialist satellite radio shows. Our audience may not be huge, but our influence within that audience is the true measure of how we’re doing and it’s clear to me that we all are certainly earning the engagement of the audience, whether they talk back to us or not.

  2. I often worry that we are just talking to ourselves. One of the standard questions I ask of my workshop attendees/conference audiences is do any of their colleagues join in the conversation whether on twitter, facebook, linkedin or elsewhere. More often than not, the answer is no. So, right now, I’m pretty sure I’m talking to myself not the thousands of other market researchers out there.
    The Annie

  3. Can’t resist breaking the “magic circle” of Tom, Lenny, Annie….Ray’s question otherwise would almost answer itself, if no-one other than those referred to responded 🙂 To the “mainstream” point of Ray – there is plenty going on “off-line” so to speak where the “mainstream” is engaging in less public conversations. Maybe its about the notion of competitive advantage, what you have to gain versus what you have to lose if you “share” via SM….

  4. Does it mean anything that the first three response are from Tom, Annie, and Lenny?

    In general, it seems like your typical adoption curve dynamic. The named persons are in the early adopter crowd, while much of the peer group remains in the early (or late) majority. They will follow when the benefits have been proven. The SM thought provokers already believe there is something there and are trying to prove it.

  5. I think TIME is a big barrier to why we do not have more actively engaged in SM sharing (vs. reading) and those who have started posting doing so more frequently, particularly among my peers in qualitative research who are largely independent consultants. Through my ongoing efforts this past year to convert more into active SM contributors as editor of Greenbook’s NewQual blog, I’ve found the desire is often there however the time needed to run one’s own business has often trumped the time needed to share.

    Perhaps those of us who are early adopters of SM can highlight the BENEFITS of contributing. I’ll start: gaining new clients who were previously unaware of you.

    What other benefits? Come on Tom, Tom, Tom, Annie, Lenny, and Ed… if you each added ONE benefit to this discussion, perhaps we’ll convince a good number of those who will no doubt be reading this post to start contributing!

    1. Agreed on all points Kristin. And like you, one of my key benefits is driving revenue through brand awareness and opportunity. Another is building influence, which is invaluable in establishing relationships. Lastly, it’s fun!

  6. I agree with Jason, it is a matter of time. I am old enough to remember when we launched online surveys and the resistance that we encountered. Today, it is playing out the same scenario for SMR.

    As far as the Toms, Annies and Lennys of MRX, today they are the vocal minority who are engaging and challenging the rest to keep pushing the envelop and hopefully make our industry more relevant in the process.

  7. Well, I think I can answer Ray’s question. Yes, we (the usual suspects) are clearly talking amongst ourselves and yes, we are being ignored by the general MR populace. Or at least we’re currently being ignored.

    The larger question is whether this inner circle represents the cutting edge, bleeding edge or the irrelevant edge? I can say without a single thread of objectivity that it represents the cutting edge. The belongers and laggards are eventually going to make it to our party, and SM will become traditional. But for some of us early settlers, we’ll recall that it was built on the backs of Tom, Tom, Ray, Annie, and, of course, Lenny.

  8. OK, so first of all – Ray. You were supposed to ANSWER the question. Not just ASK it! Here I thought you were going to hand us the answer – silver platter and all. . . demanding client-side so-and-so, I know.

    Secondly, of course we’re talking to ourselves (or y’all are talking to each other, anyway – I’ll stay out of this in case Ray decides it’s a waste of time in the end). Hopefully, though, we talk to other people sometimes, too. Other real live human people, not e-people. And hopefully we learn from them, and therefore hopefully we learn from each other.

    In my view, the conversation does feel redundant and futile at times – I have more than once voiced the naval-gazing hypothesis, as well. BUT every so often, someone chimes in with something new. Something that makes me think a little differently about a tool or an issue. Something that makes me a little smarter. That’s why I think it’s worth it. Well, a little worth it. Sometimes.


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