How can we use social media in research?

The media are flooding us with a tsunami of messages about the importance and optimal implementation of social media in marketing. This is not surprising, given the more than one billion social media users of which more than 60% use it at least daily (Social Media around the World 2012 report) But what are the options for using social media in research?

Unknown advantages

In comparison with other information sources, social media offer plenty of advantages: no need to organise any fieldwork as the information is already available, the option to go back in time, the access to the natural consumer language, the option to deduct emotions and sentiment from language, mobile media provides ‘in the moment’ and ‘on location’ messages which are therefore very relevant and personal, etc. And maybe the most striking of it all is that we get answers to questions we have not even asked!

From 2CV to Rolls-Royce

Getting to insights based on social media is possible, via a wide range of available DIY tools such as ‘Google Blog Search’, ‘socialmention’, ‘tweetreach’, ‘SocialMediaCheck’ and many others. They are handy to get a first feeling with what consumers tell about your brand, competitor brands or the category they belong in. When the aim is to gain more insights in general trends and being more ‘representative’ for all online conversations, there rapidly is more to it: carefully defining a research objective, determining key words, delimiting the source universe where information will be scraped from the web, the usage of advanced text analysis software, and we can keep going for a while.

Complementary, not a replacement

Social media will never replace traditional research via questions or observations. They are only representative at the level of online conversations and not at the level of consumer segments. Furthermore not all consumers talk on social media (about 10-20% of all consumer conversations are online). And consumers sometimes behave differently on social media than they would in reality. Finally not all information on social media is publicly accessible; think of the many blocked status updates on Facebook or Hyves.
The growth of social media as source of insights and inspiration cannot be stopped. They have not yet conquered their spot in the arsenal of the more traditional researcher, but that’s only a matter of time. So get cracking, start experimenting and start by taking a look at one of the many DIY tools which are available for free.
We recently published a series of reports on online engagement for 4 different sectors (Health, FMCG, Media & Services). We collected branded conversations on the big 3 social media: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to identify what is driving consumers to engage in branded conversations on social media. Enjoy the read and feel free to get in touch if you want to find out more on our social media research offering.

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