Looking Ahead: Market Research as Social Conscience?

Among the many individuals and organizations making industry predictions for 2011, the opinion of analyst firms – for better or worse – are among the most sought after. We can debate the quality, benefit, and value of their predictions all day long, but I think we can concede that, whether you agree with their conclusions or not, the big firms like Forrester, Gartner, etc., employ some pretty talented people, and their thoughts are at least worth considering.

So I was reading through Forrester’s predictions for market research in 2011 (as summarized by Reineke Reitsma from Forrester), and stopped short at this predicted trend:

Market research will act as the social conscience of the organization. With social media currently owning many organizations’ PR agendas, it’s really easy for market research departments to be firefighting for a living, responding to each social media outburst. But the real question market research should answer is this: How damaging are these outbursts to the organization? Is the uproar about a genuine problem with the product, or just hype? In fact, in 2011 market researchers will focus on how to make sense of all the chatter that’s already happening on social networks, integrate social intelligence into their research, report these insights into the organization, and uncover major issues before these actually hit the groundswell.

I actually can’t decide if I agree with this one or not. What stopped me short is the notion of MR acting as the “social conscience” for an organization. I don’t think that’s the role of market research. I think market research needs to provide insight based in fact, and it can get dangerous if you start applying a moral filter… you end up hearing what you want to hear.

But at the same time, I get what Forrester is trying to say here. Market research has the ability to provide some root cause analysis. Are people mad because there’s a real problem? Are they reacting to an external trend? Is action required on our part, or do we ride out the storm?

What do you think? Can market research to be the social conscience of an organization? Even if it can – should it be?

Related posts:

  1. Looking Ahead: Insourcing Market Research in 2011
  2. Looking Ahead: Crowdsourcing Predictions in Market Research for 2011
  3. Looking Ahead: Alternative Modes of Collection
  4. Looking Ahead: Behavioral Science in 2011
  5. Budgeting for Social Media
About Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is Technology Specialist at Microsoft and a frequent contributor to Research Access.