Social Media Netnography, what’s next?

‘I am aware of the newest trends’. We often ask consumers to rate themselves on this statement. Looking at myself, I definitely would agree. I love to explore new things! Also, in market research. That is why I am happy to be part of the InSites ForwaR&D Lab team which is always looking for new opportunities. However, there is also a downside.  I don’t like hypes in research. When innovating, it is relatively easy to book one success. But the challenge is to repeat this success several times and to proof the value for different clients and different problems. The key is to bring solid innovation. Moreover, we have to keep reinventing ourselves. We are always in this state of perpetual beta.
One methodology to have a closer look at in this context is social media netnography or the discipline of analyzing online conversations that consumers spontaneously share on social media. I started to get involved in this field a couple of years ago when everybody was embracing social media and web 2.0 techniques within research. At this time, we were all wildly enthusiastic about the large amount of consumer opinions that we suddenly had available. For years, the industry had been suffering from low response rates and troubles in motivating consumers to give their opinion through traditional research methods. As a result, many new (more technological driven) players also entered the research market. I remembered that at a certain moment in time, I counted over 100 providers in this domain during a competitor analysis. It seemed like we had found the Holy Grail.
And yes, after each success, we have a period of reflection. Critical questions were raised about the reliability and validity of social media netnography.

  • Is sentiment analysis really reliable?
  • Is this representative?
  • How to guarantee data quality?

We also saw a consolidation within the market and a lot of startup companies were integrated within existing firms. Social media netnography today is becoming more and more an established methodology with clear guidelines and best practices. One can however wonder what’s next. Are we there yet? In my opinion, we are transforming again.

The next big wave in netnography will be all about consumer insights

Technology is helping us a great deal when it comes to social media monitoring. However, consumers only talk about topics online where they are engaged about. Therefore it remains a great source to detect new consumer needs or to detect the rules of consumer engagement an sich. Netnography is no longer focusing on data access. It is focusing on finding new ways of turning information into insights.

Integration of social media netnography with other methods will be key

If we want new & fresh content, we need to know what the client already knows. An increasing focus will take place on in-company workshops aiming at identifying current knowledge and assumptions within the company. We will see more synergies between natural and research communities which will allow us to understand the ‘why’ behind the conversations. Integration with other data sources will be equally important. Big data is a popular term (maybe the new hype) but it definitely could help us give more context to our data source. For example, many clients use social media netnography to investigate the health of their digital platform. It is a must in this type of research to link online conversations also to more behavioral measures like number of likes, number of visits to the pages, etc. In this context, we will also have an increasing importance of visual user-generated-content. A picture is a thousand of words and therefore a great source of providing context.
Finally, I strongly believe we will go more and more beyond the data. The real shift will be one from data to interpretations. The future of netnography is not to measure what is already there. It is to measure what this information does with consumers. One can wonder what the point is of measuring the number of brand mentions on a page if this brand was not even noticed by the consumer. Also, we only take contributions of active consumers into account whereas we should also study how we can activate the passive visitors. It is time to shift social media netnography again. At the InSites Consuling ForwaR&D Lab we are preparing ourselves for this new wave by creating a new and very exciting (and at this moment secret ;-)) solution! For now, I can only say that social media netnography is reaching maturity but it definitely still has a very promising future! What do you think?

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