Market Research and Social Media, from ‘Netnography’ to Business Results

It’s always good to get feedback. The customer who praises your new product’s design, the critic who writes lovingly about your restaurant’s new menu. Even the negative feedback is good to get, when it can lead to something constructive: the complaint about waiting times, the request for a new store location are all vital insights into how a business can be improved or overhauled.
Of course, this desire for feedback has been one reason for the build up of a whole industry: market research. Businesses now, as a matter of importance, perform surveys and questionnaires, focus groups and behavioural research, to attempt to better understand their customers, their competitors, their markets, themselves.
And, of course, technology has developed to allow the scaling-up of this insight.  With the right tool, organisations can ask specific questions:

  • “What do people think of our products?”
  • “How does perception of our online experience differ from stores?”
  • “Who are my audience?”
  • “What impact did the latest campaign have upon the market?”

By asking such questions through social insight platforms, thousands, or even millions, of unsolicited responses can be found.  This is essentially the ability to perform large-scale market research, quickly, upon natural, unsolicited opinions.
Far from replacing the more ‘traditional’ market research techniques such as surveys and focus groups, social media data can, and does, inform and compliment such methodologies…
1: Social Media as a Survey.
While surveys, of course, ask direct, usually closed, questions to significant numbers of respondents, social media research isn’t really about asking direct questions (although ‘seeding’ conversations can be a successful option).
However, the same sort of quantitative information, such as volumes of brand awareness, or positive VS negative sentiment, can be very simply measured, plotted over time, and benchmarked from social media data.
As an example, let’s take a look at a hotel chain (unnamed here, but a real, mid-size hotel chain operating throughout Europe). Simple monitoring of social media posts about the brand allow us instant access to insights such as volumes and sentiments, as well as being able to dig further to look at the themes of conversation, Net Promoter Scores, and the like, usually the preserve of market research surveys.
Volume trend from 2014-01-01 to 2015-12-29Monthly Basic sentiment trend from 2014-01-01 to 2015-12-29
Segmentation and sampling can be done along demographic, geographic, and increasingly along psychographic (interest) lines.   And the really great thing here? The volumes of ‘respondents’ are potentially even higher than traditional survey: in the thousands, perhaps more, rather than hundreds.
2: Social Media as a Focus Group.
This is where social media data, used with imagination and with business objectives in mind, can really uncover valuable insight. By reading, and understanding, the actual verbatim of what people are saying, rather than simply counting them as volume or grouping as positive or negative, we gain the ability to dig into the ‘why’ behind the opinions. What aspect of the product do people most like? What features are driving their negative opinions? What questions do they have about the service that they don’t understand?
Below, we look more deeply at our example hotel chain: ‘Praise’ makes up 48% of the posts relating to it, while ‘complaints’ only 9%, but with a hugely changeable proportion of the conversation.
Monthly Opinion analysis trend from 2014-01-01 to 2015-12-29 (1)
Going further into the motivations of guests, the chart below shows how business travellers (a highly valuable and influential segment in the hospitality sector) make decisions about hotels. Corporate loyalty schemes seem to be ignored in favour of convenience and leisure facilities.
Opinion Analysis from 2014-01-01 to 2015-12-29
Just like in a focus group, people will volunteer their true feelings when they are talking freely (among friends and peers on social media), so we should tap into these opinions and use them to truly understand our customers, audiences, and general consumers. This understanding, in turn, can affect every aspect of a business, from customer service and marketing campaigns, to product development and corporate strategy.
3: Social Media as Ethnography.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, seeing as how much time people spend on social media, and how much of themselves they share there, behaviours and observations can be uncovered and tracked through online data.
By looking beyond the product, brand, even industry of the specific organisation carrying out the research, researchers can ascertain what people are doing. The behaviours and activities of consumers (how they make coffee, how they approach childcare decisions), and their online activity (the multimedia content they share, the media types consumed) combine with demographics and psychographics to form a holistic view of the individual consumer.
Continuing our look at the hotel chain, tracking the online posts about the properties allows us to quantify what part of the hotel (both in terms of physical location and guest experience) are being talked about. We can measure individual interactions with the various parts of the hotel, and by then diving into the actual comments, understand those interactions more fully. Opinion Analysis from-01-01 to 2015-12-29 (1)Looking at the online activity of Business Travellers, as a community of people, we can use technology to appraise their habits, such as what type of content may best reach them (articles, not videos: image below), or the trending user-generated content among them (secondary image below).
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 17.08.07
To truly develop towards ‘netnography’, these deep customer insights can be combined with true participation: actively reaching out and becoming part of consumers’ digital worlds. Joining their forums, posting to their walls, following them and friending them.
Netnography such as this then brings us full circle: back to measuring the responses to the online engagement, the volume, and sentiment.
Market researchers themselves, working on everything from businesses and brands, politics and sociology, are already embracing these techniques. So, when it comes to social media, use it as a tool to supplement market research, and add a new branch to your understanding of your customers, your competitors, your markets, and yourselves. 
For more information about market research into consumer discussions over social media, visit our Social Insights Center. 

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