by Mary Aviles
In his recent Greenbook blog post, Ray Poynter–someone we consider one of the rock stars of market research (#MRX)–discussed the current limitations of social media monitoring and listening for market research applications. From a quantitative focus, we totally agree with the challenges he cites and we very much appreciate his raising these issues. In fact, in working with the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) Social Media Research (#SMR) Special Interest Group (SIG), we’ve struggled with many of these same issues: poor quality sentiment analysis, the inability to export social media comment streams, the challenge of analyzing items like retweets, shares and the contents of those links. Certainly, there are significant hurdles to overcome in social media research. These can be extremely difficult if we’re talking about quantitative research. Several remain challenging if we’re talking about qualitative research as well, but as a supplement to qualitative research we see a lot of potential for SMR and we’ve been having some success.
The good thing about SMR with a qualitative focus is that we are interested in directional information. We don’t need to be overly worried about big data and sentiment analysis at the qualitative stage of the project. QRCs absolutely can use social media to answer questions AND uncover questions/issues we hadn’t considered. Social media is ideal for many of the foundational activities that we perform, like identifying lexicon and developing relevant “buckets” or project-oriented categories. While we realize that Mr. Poynter’s focus in this post was not qualitative, he suggests that social media research cannot be used to “map or understand the space” and that “brands can’t use it to test new products and services, or almost any future plan.”
But we have had success using social media to help establish a foundation for our client work that we then use to inform our qualitative research process. We absolutely depend on social media to round out our secondary competitive analysis which we use to develop market landscapes and trend analysis. We find that analysis of social media can provide valuable insights on positioning, reputation, engagement, responsiveness, influence, marketing and communication strategies, industry lexicon and significant content/categories of importance to key target communities. Social media commentary offers unique visibility into relevance, appeal and consideration. In this way, on our projects SMR contributes in a unique way. It doesn’t duplicate other findings and it provides added value to our overall qual–allowing us to ask better questions, use better lexicon or recruit better respondents. It’s also an extremely efficient way to become familiar with a particular space or industry.
I’d like to offer the following business-to-business (B2B) client example. Recently, during work for a company in the identity theft space, social media research led me to review the ample online media coverage of the Target data breach. In doing so, I familiarized myself with several key data breach and identity theft influencers. I was able to analyze aspects of their Twitter streams as well as commentary on mainstream media outlets such as 60 Minutes and USA Today and more topical industry sources like KrebsOnSecurity. Yes, the analysis was largely manual. I had to cut and paste and hand cleanse the verbatims. Yes, it had to be shared anonymously and could not be attributed to specific demographics. Yes, it is highly biased due to the nature of the topic and the propensity for security “enthusiasts” to follow and comment on these topics. However, this analysis provided very valuable directional information to our client both about attitudes and associations with their competitors as well as guidance on a specific service and the companies that provide it–which was one of the client’s questions that our larger research engagement sought to answer. Beyond delighting the client with our initial findings, we have incorporated this analysis into the crafting of our qualitative research instrument for our next phase which includes both focus groups and in-depth interviews (IDIs).
We also agree with Mr. Poynter that–like PR, marketing and sales–QRCs do sometimes have a different focus than quantitative market researchers. As such, we find SMR a highly effective supplement (and perhaps eventually an alternative option) to some of our more established MRX methodologies. We look forward to a project where we might attempt to, for example, put a client question (or message or creative or concept) out before the appropriate TweetChat audience and build on those results. And, analysis-wise–since we often take a quali-quant approach–in the near future:
- I am anxious for more access to more accessible visualization tools and technology
- I’d like the ability to better manipulate tools like Revelation Word Trees and utilize more shareable results with clients ala Wordle
- And, speaking of Wordle, I’d love the chance to show creator Jonathan Feinberg what we can do with a word cloud and get his thoughts/help furthering that technology
At any rate, we are excited about what the future holds! What’s on your wish list?