When people talk about social media, mostly they mean Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But long before those platforms existed, there were forums and blogs. And they should definitely be part of any marketer’s consumer insights strategy.
If you’re looking to online data for consumer insights, it’s hard to overstate the value of blogs and forums. But before we get into the details of how blog and forum data can uncover important information about consumer preferences and opinions, let’s take a quick look at the history of the two formats.
What Can Forums Give You?
In two words: deeper insight. On Twitter, you’re constrained by a character limit. And, on Facebook and Instagram, people don’t usually post long opinions or reviews of products or ideas. But on forums, you can find that kind of more detailed information.
For example, many prospective car buyers use forums to research their purchase. In the forum, they can compare brands, ask questions, and receive very detailed answers. And these types of discussions are occurring on just about any subject you can imagine — from fashion, beauty and health to financial services, education, and careers. Also, many forums are dedicated specifically to product reviews.
With text analytics tools, you can extract a lot of useful information from forums. Going back to the car buying example, you might build categories for car attributes such as driving experience, short and long-term cost, internal construction, external design, etc. Attributes might be safety, brakes, aerodynamic, fuel economy, maintenance expense, leg room, design, paint, and so forth. When these terms are identified and quantified, you can use them to build tables and graphs that give insight into the structure of the automobile market, how consumers view various brands, and what influences their preferences.
Forums also offer a view into key influencers in a market. Many forums have leaders. They may occupy the formal position of moderator, but just as often they’re simply power users. In either case, their opinions are valued and sought after by forum members. Influencers can make or break a brand so it’s important to know why they are and what they’re saying. And many influencers have blogs.
Blogs Can Shape Consumer Opinion
Blogs are sort of ongoing keynote addresses by subject matter experts where the readers can ask questions, get answers, and make comments that other readers respond to. Subject matter experts can be early adopters, product devotees, or individuals skilled in an industry or trade. Their input on a product may speak for many others that feel the same way or offer insight to less experienced consumers. They can influence the purchase decisions and behaviors of consumers, and shape perception on a brand or product.
Sticking with our car example, many car buyers read blogs for guidance before they shop online for a car or go to the dealer. You can find blogs like How to Buy a New Car Without Getting Ripped Off and The 7 New Rules of Car Buying: How to Shop in Today’s World. And there are plenty of brand specific blogs like What is the Best Way to Buy a New Audi?
If you’re an automobile brand it pays to make blogs part of your influencer marketing strategy. Other industries such as hospitality and airlines also have a strong influencer ecosystem. Again, text analytics can be a very useful tool for mining insights from blogs.
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The Case for Blogs and Forums
In an earlier blog about the value of qualitative data, we discuss how it offers context for quantitative data — helping to answer the “why” behind consumer behavior. Forums and blogs are an excellent source of qualitative data. Yet for many companies, they take a backseat to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Forums and blogs should be part of any social media effort to understand more deeply how a brand resonates — or doesn’t — with customers and potential customers.
To take a deeper dive into the value of forums, check out our Social Media Data Source Guide on Forums.