Market Research Through Social Media…Context Is King!

IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group), the UK’s industry group for online retail, asked me to share insights about how retailers can best utilize social media market research and realize value from social media channels. IMRG social media market researchI wanted to share my thoughts on the unique capacity of social media analytics to provide retailers with wider context about their consumers and their market.
Retailers are steadily coming to grips with how they, their brand, and their products, fit into today’s social world.  Most are using social media to broadcast themselves: to attain a promotional presence in customers’ day-to-day lives, driving awareness of benefits and value.  Others are more interactive through the channel: fostering a truly interactive community to respond to questions or feedback, and focus on customer service and engagement.
Now, all this activity allows retailers, indeed any business, to become closer to their customer communities than ever before, but it’s missing something.  Something really important. What about those people who engage with your brand, stores and products but are not connected to you on social networks? By sticking to community management, no matter how successful, you are neglecting the bigger picture: the context in which your company is trying to do business.
Social media listening has been around for a while, and has generally referred to simply checking up on Buzz or Share of Voice. The assumption is that the more people are talking about your brand, the better.  But what about negative sentiment?  For example, if a retailer gets into trouble because of bad financial results, a poorly received advertising campaign, or a supply-chain issue, their share of voice will be huge, as the world reacts, but this isn’t a good thing.
The aim should be to dig more deeply into social media.   With the right approach, it’s possible to go beyond share of voice, and even positive and negative sentiment, to actually pinpoint topics of conversation, and drivers of sentiment.
Try to understand the true context behind the conversations and opinions happening out there, and gain insights that are useful and actionable within your organisation. Traditionally, this would be done through small samples: snapshots onto the world through focus groups of selected customers, or hand-coded samples of social media comments.
Now, though, technology has developed to allow the scaling-up of this insight.  With the right tool, retailers can ask specific questions:

  • “What do people think of our product lines?”
  • “How does perception of our online ecommerce channel differ from stores?”
  • “What impact did the recent advertising campaign have upon the market?”

By asking such questions through social insight tools, thousands, or even millions, of unsolicited responses can be found.  From these, patterns and insights can be identified, and then, importantly, these insights can fundamentally affect and inform your business and marketing strategy. Retailers using Crimson Hexagon, one of the tools which enables this, use such context to alter ad campaigns based on reactions to previous ones, stock alternative products following trends, learn the best strategy for developing a social-commerce channel, even focus rebranding or repositioning projects around the social conversation.
So, when it comes to social media, use it as the world’s largest focus group.  Look wider than your own customers, your own Facebook page and Twitter feed… Get a handle on the wider context for your company in the world.

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