Market Research and Social Networks

This is a great post by Forrester Analyst Tamara Barber. We agree with the direction Tamara is going with this.

Forrester analyst Tamara Barber says it’s time for the industry to embrace online communities as a research tool – and defends the increasingly unfashionable term ‘Web 2.0’

I’ve used a buzzword in the title that some readers will chafe at: Web 2.0. But most of us at least have some general notion of what this term means, which is what makes terms like it so useful. If I look it up on Wikipedia – my most trusted source of web information – one phrase in a very long definition crystallises the concept for me: “A Web 2.0 site allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content.”

Over the past month, through gatherings such as the IIR’s Market Research Event, the Esomar Online Research conference and Forrester’s Consumer Forum, researchers have been buzzing about how to incorporate Web 2.0 – or social media – into their research mix, how to use the internet for crowdsourcing ideas, and whether customer insights are the same as market research. Clearly, it’s time for our industry to innovate, and no doubt companies like BrainJuicer, Invoke Solutions, Communispace and others are teaching the rest of us how to think outside the radio button online survey and adopt the next evolution of online market research.

The market research online community (or MROC, as we call them at Forrester) is one innovation that’s already gaining some adoption and proving to be useful to researchers across industries, geographies and company sizes. I’ve been privy to some debates about the acronym and some details about the definition, but by and large market researchers are finding value in having a common term to go with the kind of work that’s going on in private communities built with the explicit purpose of market research.

Consumers are increasingly using social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and ratings and review sites to share their opinions (both the good and the bad) about experiences with brands and companies. To maximise the insights produced through this trend, market researchers need to leverage formats that incorporate the online social experience, and communities for research are one such tool. MROCs combine social features such as discussion boards, instant messaging and idea voting with classic research skills such as moderation, projective exercise analysis and quasi-ethnographic studies. And their iterative nature allows researchers to probe and tweak over time, more than any traditional focus group would allow.

MROCs offer practically always-on access to the very people you’re trying to understand. I’ve spoken to clients who have used their communities to get qualitative feedback less than 24 hours later, or who have used unprompted conversations among members to further probe on topics that the researchers wouldn’t have even thought of themselves. But with this access comes a responsibility to treat community members with respect for their opinions and their time. This means appreciating the value in both the great and not-so-great feedback that you’ll get, sharing findings with the community when possible, and being thoughtful in the ways you engage community members. Market research agencies will have a strong role in advising clients on how to manage these elements, not to mention how to efficiently manage all the day-to-day upkeep required to keep a community vibrant.

Great community management is only half of the equation when building a truly successful MROC strategy. Clientside market researchers must also plan to evangelise the community internally and demonstrate the value of community output. In fact, an IT vendor we spoke to went on a company road show evangelising their community resource. And while direct business impact has the most tangible ROI (such as the $100 million dollars in revenue generated by Kraft’s South Beach Diet products, which were based on insights from its community) look to show value in other ways, too. Can you quantify how much more research you have been able to do as a result of the community? Or how much money you’ve saved by using an MROC when you would have traditionally done focus groups?  What we’ve heard from clients is that, once an MROC is socialised internally, the requests to use it start to flood in. For example, research communities at one well-known consumer electronics company currently support more than 20 product groups. So, a successful MROC requires care and feeding to both the community itself as well as the internal stakeholders who want to use it.

Market research as an industry must introduce new methodologies, or run the risk of dying out in a landscape where intelligence is readily available from a variety of resources. Marketers are increasingly putting the pressure on market researchers to help make decisions that require faster turnaround than can be supported by traditional research methods like large-scale offline surveys or focus groups. And this on-demand intelligence comes in a variety of forms – such as customer service channels, social media, website metrics, and offline company interactions – which are increasingly being captured by CRM tools and listening platforms. MROCs can add to this by bringing a true customer voice (current or potential) to these sources of intelligence. At the end of the day, it’s likely your customers are already talking about you somewhere in the social sphere. So why not engage with them, in the private format of an MROC, and bring research into the reality that is Web 2.0?

Tamara Barber is the author of Forrester’s report ‘Market research online communities gain visibility and uptake’, published in October.


2 Responses

  1. Hi there, I stumbled upon your blog via Google while trying to find Weather Balloons and your post caught my attention .

  2. It is a lot easier now likened to the days when people have to make use of the phones and other mediums of information just to get the latest updates on the way their program is coming along, I hope you have a nice day!

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