Let’s start with the good news: there are plenty of reasons to conduct social media market research. For example, this approach drives engagement and interaction with participants, it is relatively easier for researchers to segment participants, and of course, the most glorious factor of all: the investment level is typically lower compared to focus groups, in-depth interviews, intercepts, and so on. What’s not to love?
The problem is not that social media market research doesn’t work — because it clearly does. At Communications For Research, we have managed thousands of successful projects that used social media to generate valuable qualitative data. In other words: we’re big fans of this approach.
Rather, the issue is that, like all other data generation methods, social media market research has to be developed, deployed and analyzed with fundamental principles in mind. Otherwise, businesses end up making one, some, or most often all of the following major errors:
Using social media market research to explore vs. answer.
It is tempting — but also a critical mistake — to use social media to conduct exploratory research, which essentially means heading out into the digital landscape to “see what customers are thinking.” Instead, businesses must carefully and thoroughly define their market research problem, and then use a properly-crafted survey to get the answer.
Yes, it is fine (and in fact, normal and great) for businesses to glean additional insights that they did not anticipate. But the focus must always be on answering a specific market research question, which in turn is linked directly to a legitimate business objective (e.g. improve customer service levels, reduce customer churn, etc.).
Assuming that social media market research data is “clean” on receipt.
All market research data — whether it is generated through social media surveys, focus groups, ethnography projects and the list goes on — must be “cleaned” before it can be leveraged to generate reliable, actionable insights.
This does not mean that data merely has to be organized. It means that imperfect, incorrect, irrelevant, inconsistent and erroneous data must be identified and removed from the data set — and if necessary, replaced — before it can be analyzed. Most businesses that conduct in-house (“DIY”) social media market research skip this step; not intentionally, but because they do not know it is part of the process. Unfortunately, this omission is usually fatal and renders the data misleading. As the old saying goes: if garbage goes in, garbage often comes out.
Focusing only on social media market research.
As mentioned, we are big fans of social media market research. But we also know that relying on it exclusively to generate qualitative data can be — and usually is — a mistake, because certain information, or certain types of respondents, can only be targeted through other methods such as phone surveys, email surveys, and so on.
This is especially important considering that social media is, by definition, an informal channel where the emphasis is on emergent, organic activity streams. So, while it may be fine for gathering high-level information, it is typically not a feasible method for gathering deeper insights.
To learn more about ensuring that your social media market research project — and investment — is on-track for success, contact the Communications For Research team today.
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