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Facebook’s Topic Data Offers Marketers Access To What Users Are Saying About Brands

Social media based ‘research’ shouldn’t be touted as a replacement for current methods. But, we encourage you to consider some of these possible uses as adjuncts to your current marketing research processes.



By Doug Pruden and Terry Vavra, 

As more and more organizations are ‘following’ their brands in Facebook posts to gain insights about their products and customers, the social media giant has recently announced a new service to help marketers learn even more.  Topic Data, a new product/service from Facebook, offers marketers access to what users are saying about brands, products, events and activities.  A likely impetus for the introduction was Twitter’s reported revenues of $47 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 from similar “data licensing and other information services”.

The Allure of the Social Media

So what value is Facebook offering?  We’ve always believed ‘observational data collection’ was underutilized in marketing practice.  Too often companies rush to conduct an opinion survey when answers to their questions may already be available through observation of behaviors, their customer database, comments, or posts.  Attractive potential, but some pitfalls as well.  As with any new research tool, users should gain a sound understanding of the technique’s limitations and have a plan on how to best capitalize on its exclusive strengths.

Some Unique Opportunities

Here are some suggestions on possible uses for research implemented by the social media.  We draw on a Social Media Today article by Ray Nelson.

  1. Tracking Trends  Periodic searches of the social media for brands or product categories can provide a wonderful longitudinal reading of the strengths and weaknesses of a product; the salience of a brand or product category, etc..
  2. Understanding the Language of Your Customers  Within posts about a brand or product may be wonderfully descriptive information about how customers describe a product and/or the way they use it.  Such descriptions help create a rich lexicon for the marketer and its promotional agencies.  (Focus groups are often assembled to ‘explore the terminology’ of a brand.  However, a social media search is likely more representative of actual, geographically diverse terms.)
  3. The Real-Time Aspects of Social Media Promise Faster Research  Obviously social media channels with established users can offer accelerated speed in fielding a research study, but there’ll still be the need to strategically plan the information project and the time to properly analyze the results.
  4. Discover Emerging Trends and Insights   By ‘observing’ current (social media) behavior – posts, etc. marketers can learn much without ever having created a ‘questionnaire’.  Questionnaires – because they depend upon language to poise questions – unavoidably influence the responses they collect.  Eaves-dropping on ‘native’ and ongoing conversations escapes this problem.
  5. Using Social Media May Reduce Costs  Social media channels and their users already exist and are in operation, eliminating the need for sampling, recruitment, gaining participation, and even remuneration.  Consequently research conducted with social media can be more cost efficient.
  6. Social Media Can Extend the Reach of Research  Consider broadening the representation of your next research project by using a ‘cell of social media respondents’.  These respondents will increase your total sample size and may add informational value as well.

Strong Potential, But for Specific Uses

In our previous discussion of the current fascination with pull research, we warned against the unconventionality of using social media as a primary research tool.  We’re not reversing our position.  We firmly believe that any process that allows research participants to ‘self select’ violates the discipline of good sampling and therefore produces findings that aren’t projectable to any extended group of customers.  However, we’re also about using the most powerful and penetrating methods available to complement our current repertoire of techniques.  It appears to us that social media offers a unique approach to matters like: issue discovery; exploration of terms and language pertinent to a product category; and as a tracking tool – to name just a few.  Social media based ‘research’ shouldn’t be touted as a replacement for current methods.  But, we encourage you to consider some of these possible uses as adjuncts to your current marketing research processes.

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3 responses to “Facebook’s Topic Data Offers Marketers Access To What Users Are Saying About Brands

  1. An excellent and finally honest summary of the role that social media can play in the field of market research. As anticipated, its hardly “disruptive”, just one more insightful tool in the total mix. It is clear that its value is in currency and insights given it taps into “of the moment” and consumer derived language. There are still some major questions around the ability to socio-economically tag information sources, to identify what is real from paid blogging and to de-duplicate responses across media platforms. A very useful post!

  2. Great article and I also believe that social media research has lots of potential to become a great addition to existing research techniques.

    In light of ”research participants who can ‘self select”, what do you think of e-commerce cashback platforms for example Ebates, Quidco and Topcashback, who sits on a great amount of online purchase data. These kind of companies are able to sample based on this purchase data very easily.

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Douglas Pruden

Douglas Pruden

Principal, Customer Experience Partners LLC