Blending Social Media with Online Panel Research

Two mountain streams merge in the forest

What was once two separate streams are now becoming a single river of information, according to Daren Bosik of Questback, in a Quirks webinar presented Tuesday. Marketers are paying increasing attention to what is being said about their brands in social media. Marketers no longer fully own the conversations taking place around their brands: social media has opened the door for two-way dialog between brands and consumers.

How large is the social media market? According to Pew Research 73% of US online adults regularly visit at least one social media site, with Facebook capturing the majority share of users overall and the highest percentage of daily users (63% visit the site at least once per day).

In short, this now means that both organizations and their customers/fans/followers are co-creating a brand’s message. What is true for our marketing cousins is also true for those of us involved in marketing research.

The truth is the social media landscape has changed tremendously since 2006. What were a handful of sites has blossomed up to hundreds of sites on the social web. Essentially the conversation market has segmented itself which means we as market researchers have several options outside of traditional surveys in which to engage the customers and generate feedback.

How can Facebook, for example, be incorporated into our brand strategies? First, the conversations that are taking place can be listened to. This path will provide insight not only into attitudes and sentiment about our brand, but also those of our closest competitors. Does this mean that traditional market research will be replaced by social media listening? A similar perspective was bandied about when data mining first came around, but both streams are still in existence and fully support each other.

A promising area, according to Mr. Bosik, is the use of social media channels as a means of recruiting members for custom research panels. There are several ways this approach can be activated including the use of river sampling on social media sites. This method casts a wide net across diverse social media outlets via the use of banner or pop-up ads that drive potential respondents to a portal for screening and use in current surveys.

Quality should always be a concern when employing social media as a component of your panel strategy. From a quality perspective, social media respondents were over two times as likely to fail a quality control check as were members of online panels (30% vs. 13%). According to research conducted by the Rockbridge Associates consulting firm, social media users are less likely to have a college degree than members of online panels; panelists have higher average household incomes than social media users and panelists tend to be older (49 vs. 45).

When pursuing potential sources for recruitment, take into account that social media sites appeal to different demographic groups. For example, a consumer goods product targeting new families would do better with Facebook than would a provider of technical training, which would benefit more from professional sites such as LinkedIn.

In summary, social media should not be feared nor ignored by market researchers. It offers opportunity for unstructured insight through listening as well potential structured insight via recruitment into online panel research.

Greg Timpany directs the research efforts for Global Knowledge in Cary, North Carolina, and runs Anova Market Research. You can follow him on Twitter @DataDudeGreg.

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