Social media: what it means for market research
Traditionally, brands have turned to market researchers to find out more about what their customers and would-be customers want. This was the main way for them to access their customers. However, as social media channels have become better tailored to the needs of brands, with designated pages on Facebook and Google+ and Twitter feeds, direct communication channels have been opened up between brands, their customers and their would-be customers.
The benefits of social media as a market research tool
Social media channels provide brands with direct access to their customer base: they can find out what consumers do and do not like, what interests them and see what isn’t working. It therefore offers a new and direct market research tool and it’s one that is growing in both importance and popularity.
One of the most valuable effects of this kind of research is that it gives the brands ownership of their customer relationships, giving a flexibility and personal touch that traditional market research has not typically provided. This sort of contact helps to promote brand loyalty and shows customers that the brand is listening to them.
The problems with social media research
The problem with social media research is that it needs to track data from a very large number of people to provide accurate or representative results. If a following or fan-base is small or not very engaged, conclusions drawn from it just won’t be valuable. If there is sufficient data, it needs to be analysed and that can’t be done manually. The analytics tools that come with the social media channels aren’t usually comprehensive enough to carry out full-scale research. As a consequence, brands often need to pay for additional software, negating to some extent the potential cost-savings of not using a market research company.
Another issue is the skill level required to analyse the data and draw the correct conclusions. Marketers are not necessarily equipped with the expertise to read data in the same way a market research expert is.
Social media research can also be slower than market research from a specialist provider and it doesn’t yet provide equivalent levels of targeting.
A happy combination
In reality, the two methods represent different and complementary avenues for carrying out market research. The rise of social media has had many market researchers running scared, but that’s an overreaction. Instead, what we’ll see long-term is a more integrated approach, with an increase in self-service research models and potentially even the addition of some social media research analytics within the wider panel surveys.
Gaelle Normand is UK MD of uSamp