The level of excitement in the research community about capturing and interpreting all the consumer data on social media sites tends to obscure the value of going deeper than dashboard metrics. The marketing and public relations opportunities associated with social media research are readily apparent. Using social media information and data for marketing and PR is like picking the low-hanging fruit. The best consumer insights may require more effort and a research strategy game plan.
The plethora of data available in social media tends to be a bit overwhelming. This is one reason why metrics dashboards are so appealing. These embedded applications are truly helpful but they don't necessarily lead to effective use of all the information that can be extracted. A ton of qualitative data is left on the table. Metrics dashboards serve to quantify data that is essentially qualitative.
Mine the Consumer Insight Mother Lode
A simple heuristic or teaching tool may illuminate how to best use information derived from social media sources. Think of social media information as the sort of iron filings you used in elementary school to first learn about how magnets work. Until the iron filings are exposed to a magnetic force, they are just randomly arrayed. The iron filings can be described by their volume if they arranged in little piles, or by their density if they are shaken out onto a flat surface. These are quantifiable descriptions or measures. A dashboard could be constructed that would detail the measures taken of the iron filings.
When a magnet is placed in close proximity to the iron filings, the force fields of the magnet become apparent. The iron filings are arranged into patterns as the magnetic poles exert a force that compels the iron filings to move. The iron filings are repelled or attracted to the magnetic poles depending on their polarity. The formation of patterns in the vast but previously unremarkable collection of iron filings is similar to the patterns that emerge from data when qualitative methods are applied.
Deciphering Patterns in Social Media Research for Use in Qualitative Research
Social media research can provide provide a strong basis for deeper and focused qualitative ="research. From Kelly Hancock of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, here are a few ideas from the January 2012 issue of Quirk's Marketing Research Review on ways to get more information from social media research that can support qualitative market research efforts.
- Pinpoint Areas Consumers Care About Most Using a deductive approach, a market researcher can explore a broad area in the social media data and work toward identifying key issues of concern or of interest to consumers. This process can help to prioritize areas of interest and narrow the research agenda to reflect the target consumers.
- Eliminate Surprises and Broadside Attacks When preparing for a focus group or interviews with consumers, information from social media forums, posts, and comments can be mined for potentially hot topics. It has always been important to do the research "homework" before beginning a market research project, but perhaps it has never been easier to gain deep knowledge from a wide array of consumers that lays the foundation for market research.
- Observe Consumers in Natural Contexts Social media research is conducted with consumers who have, by and large, self-selected to be engaged with a brand, product, or service. The insight value from conversations with these brand advocates and product-wise consumers is exceptional. In addition, listening to the language consumers use when they discuss brands, products, and services gives market researchers a "leg up" in marketing and advertising. This deep listening can enable marketers and advertisers to sound like the target consumers, a strategy that generally improves the chances that consumers will relate to a brand, product, or service.
- Learn More About the Target Audience & Competitors Social media can reveal consumers who have not been considered part of the target market, but who actually do engage with the brand, product, or service. Also, consumers using social media platforms often reveal information about competitors that even the best competitive intelligence can miss. Consumers are quick to isolate their paint points and to make suggestions for changes in products and services.
- Recruit and Develop Market Research Panels Brand advocates and social media influencers are finding an equal voice on brand, product, and service websites and consumer-facing social media resources. This is an opportunity to link these consumers to the traditional panel member screening processes employed by market researchers.
Applying these strategies to the bigger qualitative research picture can add valuable layers to the metrics and analytics associated with social media research. Using social media research as a jumping off point, market researchers can ensure that the deeper dive qualitative research is specifically designed for each digital channel where consumer-brand engagement occurs.
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