August 15, 2017

As small business owners, we all dream of a place where we don’t have to guess what people want or like to do. In this place, we have a 360-view of their favorite places to eat, drink, and play. We are invited into conversations among friends about pressures and pain points, brand fails, and unicorns. In this place, millions of people capture life’s rawest and rarest moments in photos and live stream putting a face and story to issues our products are anxious to provide for, our services delighted to solve.

Well, friends, this utopia does exist and you don’t have to follow the yellow brick road to get there. Let me introduce you to social media.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat has given businesses an unprecedented view into the consumer psyche. With the stated mission of connecting people with friends and family, social media has unknowingly (somewhat knowingly) created the holy grail of consumer insights. And the best part? At its most basic level, it’s easy and free to access.

These micro-blogging websites are so rich in utility that an entire industry has formed around mining and interpreting the data they produce. From social media listening tools to social media focus groups, businesses looking to conduct market research on their target audience can now source this data from their social media networks, revealing a more granular assessment of the consumer buyer’s journey.
Current Social Media Market Research Landscape

I believe, however, that there is emerging research capabilities yet to be revealed within social media. But before delving into that, let’s get an understanding of the current social media research landscape. The tools currently available fall into two high-level categories:

  •     Passive listening – passive listening tools put the researcher (you) in a passive role, more ethnographic, unseen by the “respondent”. Social media listening tools can scrape vast amounts of profiles for things like brand mentions and parse them into a range of positive and negative sentiment analyses.
  •     Active listening – active listening can incorporate passive listening, but allows for the researcher(you) to interject themselves into ongoing social media conversations or jump into existing conversations. This is more like traditional market research which involves a “question/answer” scenario. Social media active listening can be conducted in the comfort of one’s own home on a platform that is familiar for the respondent making it an attractive and cost-effective tool to use.

Emerging Social Media Research Technologies

Emerging technologies in social media can be game changers for businesses looking to gain a better understanding of their audience. The result is more relevant marketing campaigns. Here’s a few examples:

•     Virtual Reality Focus Groups – With the launch of Facebook Spaces, Facebook now presents an exciting opportunity for companies looking to source qualitative data (measuring the quality of an experience through open ended questions) through informal focus groups. Current technologies enable focus groups to take place online through either video or discussion boards. The virtual reality environment, however, opens a whole new world of possibilities. The digital stimuli options can range from videos to photos, to retail scenarios, concept cars, restaurant layouts, travel destinations, and almost anything you can think of.

You can not only change the location of the focus group on a whim (have conversations about your favorite beer on the beach or in the bar) but you can also control the focus group environment by presenting a different location on a virtual screen.

•     Stories – The format pioneered by Snapchat is now popping up everywhere, from Facebook to Instagram. Stories represent an interesting development for research opportunities. Sharing pictures on Instagram and Facebook are seen as permanent as they live on the user’s timeline and feed until deleted. So, they tend to be highly curated and not necessarily a representation of “real” life. The short-lived nature of stories, however, lends itself to greater transparency, rewarding companies with deeper insights into consumer behavior.

Consider guided stories, for example. Giving users (respondents in my world) a series of actions to accomplish, such as shopping for their favorite snack via their story feed, is a great way to capture insights. While this type of research is nothing new (mobile ethnographies), the story functionality makes it easier for users to share feedback as they no longer have to download a dedicated app and will not need a guide on how to use it as it is now almost ubiquitous across most social media networks. Unguided, or passive analysis of stories, can also lead to insights if you can incentivize a user to friend your brand or research account.

•     Chat Bot Research – So everyone is talking about chat bots, right? Artificial intelligence chat bots could one day be able to reserve a table for you at your favorite restaurant and hail an Uber for you to get there. When it comes to market research, utilizing a chat bot could help curb the issue of waning respondents for short quantitative surveys (think polls) by tapping into a new pool of respondents in a more user-friendly way.
How does this impact my small business?

As you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking that market research on social media sounds over the top. And I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. While tools exist that automate much of the research I outlined, I suggest stepping back and experimenting with the tools you have in house first. Especially if budget and resources are scarce.

If you do nothing else, utilize the social media analytics available to you on each network or through social management tools. Facebook Insights, Ads Manager, and HootSuite, for example, all collect data on users as they engage on social media. Use that data to build personas of your audience and their habits. The intelligence fuels more effective marketing campaigns.

Ultimately, the secret to success here, as with traditional market research, is connecting business objectives with strategy. If you keep your eye on that prize, social media research can change the way your organization gathers insights and drives value for your brand.

Welcome to utopia.

By Mario Carrera / ThinkNow

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