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Social Media, Monitoring and Research: Opportunities and Risks

We all know social media monitoring solutions and processes can provide valuable information regarding our brands, competitors, customers, individual preferences, trending topics, the market and whatnot.

On top of these platforms, more cross-channel oriented solutions and specialized surveying and research applications, enable us to listen to the voice of the customer on social media and across other interactions in a way we have never seen before. As Jim Sterne says: the customer is more visibile than ever. These findings can be used to improve customer service, optimize marketing efforts, work in a more real-time manner, have a better customer view and bring the customer in the board room, so to speak.

Obviously, this requires that we use such tools (and have the necessary processes and resources), which is not so much the case as we might think. Really bringing in the customer in the board room happens even to a lesser degree, alsowhen it concerns a smaller executive team that has to develop a strategy to serve the needs of the customer who remains absent… Furthermore, gaining valuable insights is not enough. We must also act upon this data and integrate them with other applications, exactly to make them actionable.

Big data, big mistakes?

Social media and digital platforms in general, have made it easier than ever to garner strategic data – at least if we focus on identifying the data we need first, instead of drowning in the ‘big data’ debate – and thus also to conduct customer research and market research.

Many organizations effectively deploy such programs to make strategic decisions and have integrated social media in techniques for research. The same goes for ‘the real’ research companies, which in many cases were among the first to use social media for business purposes. However, in the hands of a social media savvy, yet inexperienced, marketer, research, including social network tactics is not without risks.

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Users of social networks have specific profiles and behavioral patterns that, among others, vary depending on the medium and the usage context. The same goes for the ‘social and community panels’ that have been surfacing in recent years and provide you with a bunch of nicely segmented consumers, ready to take your survey, in exchange for coupons and whatnot (you obviously pay the panel ‘owner’).

Businesses should be aware that you cannot extrapolate insights that are gathered via social media and such panels and communities. It seems obvious, but I have seen many press releases from companies publishing the results of ‘research’ about ‘the opinion of the consumer’, while in the small print, it says the ‘study’ is based on a Twitter or LinkedIn poll, a community panel survey or a blog community. This is entirely wrong, of course. However, you would be amazed if you knew how organizations make the exact same errors when conducting research for internal and strategic goals. The press releases with the ‘fine print’ are obviously often a bit, well, misleading on purpose (and we do live in the age of infographics and charts).

Beware of the social bias: integration matters

Most research companies today have included social media in their research methods in very creative and well-developed ways but, almost always, using combinations of various research methods, including ‘real people’, physical panels and integrations with digital and social tools.

Your organization can create similar synergies. Many companies embrace social media as a complementary solution for research and co-creation, whereby the customer or ‘community’ is invited and rewarded to co-define strategies, on top of the use of ‘traditional’ listening methods for research purposes. If you integrate these approaches in a holistic way and are able to combine actual customer input, surveys, listening programs and behavior across channels, you can achieve a lot.

Any use of social media in a marketing or business context, is normally part of an integrated approach. That’s nothing new (it shouldn’t be, anyway, yet every day marketers still seem to discover it). This also applies to the impact and use of social media in customer and market research.

People’s feedback and answers come in many forms and overestimating the results of the social media conversations you are analyzing or the results of surveys and research with a predominantly social component, can lead to huge distortions in the insights you gain and the resulting conclusions and actions.

Good decisions are based on good data. Good data include preferences, opinions and behavior of the people – internal or external – that are involved in these decision processes and depend on the goals we want to achieve.

You can’t afford to make mistakes in that regard and miss out on insights because you focus too much on one channel or tactic such as social. People are more than social-network users and more than digital patterns and signals.

And by the way: involve them in that board room or strategic team!

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  1. Multi-mode research has always been held as the method generating the most valid results. I think a lot of researchers get caught up in their method they’re most comfortable with and rarely venture outside that space. Let’s keep reminding people to try something new.

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