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Friday Rewind: Google, Twitter & Facebook… Oh My!

In 2012, the MR space was buzzing with news of Twitter and other tech platforms entering MR. Nearly two years later and Facebook, Rakuten, and Twitter (again) have announced major research offerings. The message is the same now as then: MR must adapt or face marginalization.

Editor’s Note: With the news this week of Twitter’s launch of a new “every day moments” research tool, Facebook’s ascension as THE de facto global media measurement platform and deal with Nielsen, and the acquisition by Japanese online retail giant Rakuten of AIP Panels, I was reminded of this post that I wrote in October of 2012 when  another spate of announcements were made signaling the movement of tech companies into the MR space. We’re now witnessing the next phase of this trend unfolding now, and the message to the MR remains the same today as it was almost two years ago: “The bottom line is if you are a market researcher, and especially if you are in a  senior role within a supplier organization, you must adapt and get ahead of the curve or face marginalization and eventual irrelevance.”.

I’m not particularly happy about being right on this one folks, but here we are.  I played amateur futurist this week at an ARF Webinar on The Changing Face of MR and discussed the entrance of tech platforms into the marketplace as alternative suppliers, as well as how a host of new technologies are primed to further transform the insights function. If you’re interested in my musings on what else we can expect in the next few years, here is the slideshare of my presentation.


With all of these signals in mind, I think this is a post worth re-reading folks: the industry is changing very fast indeed now and the need to adapt to the new world we find ourselves is more important now than ever.


By Leonard Murphy, originally published October 13, 2012 

And another piece of the future of research puzzle is in place. Twitter announced today that they were partnering with Nielsen to introduce brand surveys directly into Twitter. As usual, my friends at Research-live had the scoop:

Twitter Survey Invite

Twitter has announced plans to run “Twitter Surveys” on behalf of brands in the format of “Promoted Tweets”. The social media site will run the initiative in conjunction with Nielsen.In a blog post today Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter VP for brand strategy, says that the surveys are currently being tested by a small set of advertisers. Twitter plans to make it available to additional partners early next year.

The service is being marketed as an addition to the site’s advertising tools for its advertising partners and is the first to offer brand impact measurement for Twitter.

Twitter has announced plans to run “Twitter Surveys” on behalf of brands in the format of “Promoted Tweets”. The social media site will run the initiative in conjunction with Nielsen.

In his post Lunenfeld says: “With 400 million tweets occurring every day throughout the world, consumers and brands on Twitter have a unique opportunity to listen and engage in a variety of topics and conversations. As marketers invest in opportunities to connect with users through Twitter’s Promoted Products, we are focused on delivering tools to help brands measure and understand the value of those campaigns.

“Brand surveys will appear to users just like a Promoted Tweet — right within the user’s timeline on both mobile devices and desktop. Users may see a tweet by @TwitterSurveys, inviting them to fill out a survey directly within the tweet itself.

“Building on Twitter’s mobile heritage, we’re giving brands the ability to deliver and measure the impact of mobile and traditional desktop campaigns through these surveys. This is a native experience for the user, and we believe it will give brands better insights to determine purchase intent, overall awareness, and other advertising metrics and analytics that can lead to greater engagement on Twitter.”

So why do these companies need each other?  For Twitter I think it’s primarily an issue of convenient sales channels. Nielsen is much better positioned to sell through on this; they add credibility to the effort and they have the relationships in place, saving Twitter a lot of work. It’s like printing money for Twitter.

For Nielsen they get access to another “exclusive” data channel; this dovetails well with their similar efforts with Facebook, and it’s a step closer to their goal of being the primary conduit for all things related to media and brand measurement.  It’s really a match made in heaven.

Congratulations are in order to Nielsen for showing real vision and leadership here. They pioneered a similar model a while back with their partnership with Facebook, and also in the past week or so have made announcements embracing mobile media measurement. There is a reason they hold the position they do in the industry and this is one more example of that. It’s going to be very challenging for their competitors (regardless of size) to usurp their leading position, not because of their product & service portfolio but because of their business model and organizational architecture. They have the right mix of leadership talent, vision, organizational flexibility, clout and funding to adapt to a changing market and build new revenue streams while others decline. As the industry struggles to find it’s path in this new world emerging around us, we could do far worse than emulating some (but by no means all) of the qualities of Nielsen.

So, we now have Google, Twitter and Facebook with research offerings, and I suspect LinkedIn will make another foray into the space soon. As if that wasn’t enough, this week we saw the launch of Verizon Insights , a new employee sentiment product by Wayin, as well as a new consumer facing and research centric “data bank” offering by Tesco.

As if the entrants of new technology-centric data providers isn’t a loud enough clarion call, we also have the increasing movement of business & strategy consulting firms “in-sourcing” their insights functions or establishing close partnerships with new research providers to offer their clients a robust and business-issue focused research capability. Two key pieces of the MR value chain: data collection and analysis have been broken by multiple new players that are staking their claim to various pieces of the previous domain of market research.

The game has changed.

Regular readers of this blog should not find any of this surprising; we’ve been predicting shifts like this for some time and warning that the pace of change is only accelerating. That isn’t meant to be an “I told you so!” nor am I even particularly pleased that we called it because it’s not good news for most of my friends and colleagues in the mid to long term. At this point all I can do is ask: do you get it yet?

I was chatting about the Twitter/Nielsen deal with my #mrx tweeps earlier, as well as over the phone and email with my colleagues Gregg Archibald and Jason Anderson. Here is an excerpt of what was being discussed on twitter and a few quotes from Gregg and Jason:

Jason: “That explosion you just heard was the industry BLOWING ITS MIND. Though we knew this was inevitable.”

Gregg: “So why do we have such a hard time predicting our own trends when we do it so well for others?”

That is a critical question here. The few analysts who focus on the MR industry (myself, Robert Moran, Ray Poynter, Cambiar, Forrester) as well as most of the blogosphere and many speakers at conferences have been urging the industry to step back, take a look at the current state of play in the wider world of the digital era, and assess where the real value of market research is. The idea that MR is the collector & keeper of data isn’t our value proposition. That function truly has been disintermediated to a very large degree. Yes, specialty functions will continue to exist and some will even thrive (any type of biometrics/neuromarketing, emotional measurement, text analytics, ethnography, gamification, etc… look likely to do well), but ASKING, OBSERVING, LISTENING, MONITORING, TRACKING, METERING, & ANALYZING simply are no longer owned by traditional MR. We do and will continue to play a role in those things, but building or maintaining a supplier business model based on them is going to be a zero sum game.

So where is the white space? What path can MR firms walk to be viable in the future? The winners will be firms that offer the methods I mentioned above, but a few more characteristics come to mind:

  • Own proprietary data sources
  • Have deeply integrated norms or benchmarks
  • Offer technology that collects and delivers data
  • Pure play insight consultancies
  • Primarily focused on qualitative research
  • High end analytics and data modelling
  • Specialists in niche markets

The future of the market research industry simply is NOT based on data collection as a driver of business for the traditional full service firms and that is a big problem for the majority of suppliers. It’s also going to be a big adjustment for clients used to the status quo. Everything from employee profiles to business models, research designs to budgets and analysis to business impact will continue to change as a result of this transformation.  We can engage in the age old arguments about sampling and science all we want to and it will not mean a thing; the genie is out of the bottle.

The bottom line is if you are a market researcher, and especially if you are in a  senior role within a supplier organization, you must adapt and get ahead of the curve or face marginalization and eventual irrelevance.

Nielsen saw this truth a while back and has been working to build a new model. The rest of the industry would do well to learn from that lesson and do whatever it takes to learn how to compete or cooperate with the new players that soon may dominate the industry.

Please share...

16 responses to “Friday Rewind: Google, Twitter & Facebook… Oh My!

  1. It will be interesting to learn how third party twitter clients will handle / display these twitter survey invites. There could be some bias introduced should uses of the actual twitter interface be more likely to respond than those using clients.

    1. Good point, especially considering Hootsuite and VisionCritical have a polling offering in place. Hmm… 🙂

  2. Looking at this from a client side perspective, my initial reaction is positive and it will force research agencies to stop falling back on data collection as a differentiator. This means then that they are able to do what every client side research manager needs and add value by getting under the skin of the key issues and problems being addressed. I think the positioning for the research agency of the future is interesting. I don’t think they can become business consultants as that space is used and abused enough already, but I think a nice niche can be formed somewhere between. Business models would need to change and the emphasis would be very much on quality not quantity. in that respect it can only mean good news for the research client!

    1. Great perspective John and I agree wholeheartedly on all counts. I think the end result of this transformation will be a far more effective and synergistic relationship between clients and suppliers, but it will also mean a much leaner and smaller supplier side of the industry. Watching that dynamic evolve will be interesting for sure! I am forever optimistic that our industry will adapt; it’s why I do what I do!

  3. The genie may be out of the bottle, however, it doesn’t mean the data derived from these new panels and respondent universes will be reliable or projectable. I would bet that most people on linkedin, google, facebook etc. don’t reflect the general public. Moreover, I have not found many of these companies able to write very good questionnaires. Many times, for example, they would prefer to leave off Don’t Know/Not Sure response categories particulary on product research. Yet Survey Research 101 would tell you that leaving off these specific response categories can change the results by 20% to 30%. No one may care about the scientific basis of our business anymore, but I wouldn’t buy or encourage data generation for decision-making when these new surveys are basically friends of friends.

  4. What Nielsen is doing makes a lot of sense, they are taking a page out of Apple’s strategy and creating their own self-sustained digital ecosystem. If you only see Twitter as a stand-alone source of research that never evolves, then “yes” there will be issues but chances are that won’t be the case. If Nielsen is able to cross-reference its proprietary panels, with Facebook/Twitter responses the level of overall accuracy can only increase. Not to mention create a new roadmap for online/offline research.

    Speaking for myself, I would embrace this trend and start working on tightening the methodology and cross-referencing and not see this as a “twitter only” approach. Once that is solved, there’s a lot of upside (namely, speed, and opportunity) which are key to MR survival moving forward.

  5. When you can convince clients that these are great resources will be the day that you do a survey longer than a few questions and without apparent sample bias. In my view we are years away from that. A game changer – looks liek one, but doesn’t smell like one to me. Sure we wills see a lot of brands targeting younger aged and singles segments but when you climb up the discretionary income scale for products I really doubt clients will be so eager to support these market research medium. They will be tried and found interesting and useful for some categories, but how much is hype?

    And no one seems to be asking the biggest question of all – will current social media users simply get tired of all the communication and start to say no to unsolicited communications like survey requests. In my view this is the elephant in the room and frankly I can already see this developing. Its the same problem with online surveys – declining response rates, lack of participation at higher aged and higher incomed segments, etc. Those who live in hope that everyone wants to be wired are fooling themselves and it ain’t a fuddy duddy thing. This just in from a LoyaltyOne survey!

    According to LoyaltyOne’s survey of over 1,000 U.S adult consumers and 1,000 Canadian adult consumers, over three-quarters (78%) do not feel as if they are receiving any benefit whatsoever for all the data they have shared with companies. That figure has risen by four percentage points since 2011.

    Furthermore, less than half believe companies are using their data to better consumer experiences and engagement. Consumers know that companies need their personal data, but the vast majority feel that companies use data purely for their own benefit.

    Am I the only voice in this wilderness?

    1. Good points Chris, but you are failing to take into account the shifting model of VRM; we’re in the early stages yet, but indications are that it will result in a fundamental shift on how consumers and brands engage and will only reinforce the value of sharing data. Will that be true for all consumers? Nope, and we’ll deal with that as it unfolds.

      As to client demand, I can only imagine that Nielsen and Twitter are run by very smart people who have done their own research on client demand; what it grows into long term is certainly going to be up for debate but it will be interesting to observe.

  6. Lenny – as a former VP of new product development and acquisitions at a major (and I mean MAJOR) research supplier, you’d be surprised, based on your comment above, about how partnerships and acquisitions are decided – and client demand is way down on the list.

    1. Hah, I guess I would be surprised Steve. Since I tend to talk to a lot of clients as well as suppliers, I guess I have a basic “supply and demand” mentality. Maybe it’s time for suppliers to think a bit more on the same lines? 🙂

  7. When you went to answer “What path can MR firms walk to be viable in the future? ” I thought for sure you were going to run amuck with a bunch of nonsense… but y ou didn’t. You impress me again Lenny!

    The challenge for the MRers who don’t want to deal with the change that has so clearly happened and happening, is just the fundamentally human inabiilty to perceive change. Our brains are wired to only notice sudden changes – like a deer running into the road as you drive. Unfortunately, cataclysmic change, paradox shifts and the like don’t actually happen that way… its one “little” shift at a time. Fortunately, we do have people like you that “get it” and are able to step back and sort it out.

    Regards, Jen

    1. Well thanks Jen! Lord knows I am capable of my share of running amuck with nonsense, but I try to reserve that for less public forums if I can. 🙂 Seriously, your support and contribution to the dialogue is much appreciated.

  8. Has anyone looked at Twitter demographics lately. A recent survey of “users” not those who signed up for a Twitter account (so far a 25% non-usage rate – one wonders why?) shows a huge female and younger aged bias yet again. Basically under 25 years. Is all the euphoria about consumer access by market research through Twitter, Facebook etc misplaced? Sure if you are selling fast food, acne treatments or skateboards this might be a primary target, but let’s be honest these are a small part of the consuming market by value. If you start to cut through all the hubris associated with social media one starts to see some other trends such as declining usage levels as users get older, turning off of location devices on mobile phones, growing awareness of the excess unsolicited communications in social media, etc. In my view realization will soon set in that not everyone will be or wants to be as connected as is assumed by this back-patting segment of the market research community. I just saw the agenda for a major mobile MR conference in Asia where speakers are almost all providers to the industry, not an unbiased speaker in the house. More back-patting!!

  9. No less than 2-3 years ago, there were conferences and seminars, led and pushed by leading major manufacturers (most notably P&G, Unilever, Revlon and others) about the state of “quality in online data collection.” There was all this hoo-hah about respondent engagement, flat-lining, de-duping repeat responders, etc. I get that Google Consumer Surveys, this announcement by Twitter/Nielsen, etc. is a big thing in the industry. However, to think that “whoever shows up to do a survey for whatever reason” regardless of qualifications, underlying motives, sampling bias based upon where they were recruited from, or whatever, is going to be embraced wholeheartedly by client companies, who so concerned about data quality 2-3 years ago, is a little myopic. LONGTERM, do I think this has some game-changing potential? Of course! But because of these announcements, most major manufacturers are not going become oblivious to the above-noted limitations of this type of sampling overnight and instead base multi-million dollar decisions on one question answered by 1000 Joe/Jane Doe’s they know nothing about.

    Don’t mistake me; I’m not an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t understand that change (and it will be a sea change) in the industry is happening. In fact, I’m one of the proponents in my company that is pushing for us to identify, embrace and integrate new technologies and methodologies into our toolbox. But while these announcements by Google and Twitter are a bellwether of things to come, they are not an immediate panacea and quality data collection is not going away tomorrow.

    Of course I may be wrong. Let’s ask the next 1000 people who do a search on Google…

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