By Jason Brownlee
Consumers around the world generate an avalanche of social media chatter every day. Much of this material takes the form of unstructured text feedback about brands and reaction to traditional ‘off-line’ media content.
Most advertisers and media owners recognize this trend and consequently invest a lot of money in social web ‘listening’ platforms.
As this trend unfolds it appears the market research industry is being pushed, perhaps against its will, from a classic “consumer research” model into a new era of “consumer feedback”.
This new era is characterized by client demands to integrate social media feedback into brand development processes, business strategy and marcomms evaluation.
This presents a dilemma for classically trained market researchers, who could be said to have a prickly relationship with social media feedback.
This may be due to a healthy respect for classic principles of statistical science, structured sample design, controlled recruitment and ethical interviewing practices etc. Professionals steeped in classic market research (MR) discipline can be forgiven for harboring grave reservations about unstructured social web data.
However, I believe the MR community can and should take the lead in developing rigorous methods for integrating social web feedback into the unfolding picture of contemporary brand and media relationships.
We should not fear social web feedback as a dangerous rival to, or replacement for, structured MR practices. Indeed, a more rigorous approach to harnessing the value of social media can yield real benefits for MR professionals and their organizations.
For instance, social media captures feedback from consumer groups that are becoming harder (and more expensive) for conventional research techniques to reach.
In additional, such feedback is often spontaneous and sincere; it’s also very rich and colorful. It offers qualitative insights at quantitative scales (sometimes I think of it as ‘mega qual’).
Perhaps most interestingly, when consumers freely choose to express topics of personal interest in a manner that suits themselves, it overcomes the tendency of classic research to ‘frame’ audience responses. In other words, sometimes we only get answers to the questions we ask.
Throughout my career I’ve commissioned small ‘quick and dirty’ focus group projects prior to quant studies in order to guard against this problem. Now I think social media feedback gives me the basis for a more robust solution to this challenge.
Perhaps only the classically trained MR community has the skill-set needed to safely embrace Social Media feedback as a powerful compliment to classic audience research.
As the MR industry moves forward from a classic model of ‘consumer research’ to a new era of ‘consumer feedback’, MR professional can take control of their destiny by developing the rigorous techniques clients need to safely integrate rich social media feedback into existing consumer research and data analysis processes.