Social Media Research – WTF is it anyway? – Part 1

OK – Everyone is talking about Social Media Research. Forrester analyst Tamara Barber put out a blog post here about her take on it here. If you dissect it down she talks about three aspects of SMR:

  • Accessing consumers through social sample

  • Embracing customers via social tools

  • Listening to audiences by mining the social Web

One thing this brings about in my mind is thinking through what “research” really means in the MR world today. Market Research today connotes one of two things:

a) An online survey
b) A focus group

That’s Web 1.0!

As my friend Chris Robson from Parametric Marketing keeps telling me, that this over-reliance of Market Research on these two instruments is what is going to kill the entire industry. Today, almost all MR companies do essentially one of two things – help clients conduct online surveys or recruit people for focus groups. Very few MR companies are pushing the boundaries of Market Research and go into other models of listening and analyzing non-traditional models.

In fact, the MR business today is getting attacked from two adjacent businesses – The Marketing Agency business on one side and the Business Strategy and Advisory companies on the other side.

Case in point – Local companies (Digital agencies) Ascentium and Blink Interactive do a lot of research work themselves – although they are not what I call a traditional “Market Research” companies – they actually conduct a lot of research work – they need to understand and listen to their constituents and develop marketing plans for their clients.  Traditional instruments like surveys and focus groups are now being done at a self-service level.

On the Strategy side, traditional strategic advisory companies are conducting surveys and have a lot of insight into specific business verticals intrinsically. They don’t need to run focus groups – they are themselves the experts in that business vertical.

If MR companies can perfect, understand and deliver on Social Media Research – they will be able to command a substantial value for their service offering – Why? – Cause no one knows What/How can it be done – and When I don;’t know how to do something, I usually outsource it.

So, what are the practical items we can use for Social Media Research: Let me enunciate some practical examples that we’ve seen our clients use that you can use too. Over the next few blog posts, we’ll showcase how you can execute on Social Media Research from a practical standpoint. Not some abstract white-paper. 

Access to people on Twitter (And Measuring and Tracking that):
Most companies (or agencies on behalf of their customers) today have at least 1 or more twitter accounts. If your company does NOT have a twitter account, please go get one – Even Oprah has one!

The important point here is to mix up a survey delivery. Use Twitter _along_ with other models of delivering a survey for feedback like email and website intercept.

The second most important thing you want to do is to track it. Using custom variables (URL based) you can _very_ easily track users who have taken the survey from social media vs. email vs. website. This enables you as a researcher to

a) Compare and validate data collected via social media vs. traditional models (email/website)

b) If there _are_ significant differences beween models then you (as a researcher and analyst) should be able to explain that in a meaningful way.

c) Finally you can also monitor (via Twitter Search) on how many people ReTweet your URL to the survey. Multiply that by the reach of each of the users’s follower count – voila – you have a viral index calculation.

Next up on Social Media Research – Measuring the temperature of your followers – quick, easy, dirty (and it works)

About Vivek Bhaskaran

Vivek Bhaskaran is the President and CEO of Survey Analytics.


  1. There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about what social media research is. Many people confuse it with social media monitoring or assume that doing simple searches on twitter is equivalent to research. Obviously, those of us practicing marketing research know very differently. Social media research includes the same scientific components as any other respected process, including quality surveys and focus groups. These processes include sampling, weighting, standardized scores, key measures, norms, and many other important features. It’s certainly not as simple as it seems.

    Thanks for being an educator in this arena!

    Annie Pettit, Phd; Chief Research Officer
    Conversition Strategies

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