Anti-Social Media

Marc Brokenbrow this week sets out his thoughts on the usefulness of social media for market research.

Being relatively new to the field of market research, I thought it was only right that my first blog should look at a hot topic in the industry. Just how useful is social media research?

We are looking at this at a time when social media amasses a large amount of time in our daily lives. People can’t go a day without using their favourite social networking sites, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or a blog that they frequently comment on. There’s an awful lot of data available from these sources, but should they be used for research purposes?

As an aid for this blog, I recently attended a debate with a number of different industry professionals hosted by The Research Mafia, who aim to support industry learning and improve networking capabilities north of London. The debate discussed what it saw as the ‘The Future of Market Research’ with a key focus being social media. Research areas covered included mobile research, online innovations and the use of social media websites. More information can be found on their website – The Research Mafia – and I believe the debate will soon be online for all; it is certainly worth a watch.

I can understand why a lot of the experts were expressing their desire to use social media research; it certainly has its advantages. It’s relatively cheap to undertake and can be as simple as analysing the information that people place on the particular networking site. It also has up-to-date information readily available and is being obtained from a new media source, not only increasing the pool of people available to contact, but reaching out to a new set of respondents. It can certainly be seen as a progressive step in the industry but I still have my reservations.

The big problem I have with social media research is quality control and consistency – can you really trust the information you are getting and treat it as data for research findings? I do believe it can have its uses but this must be under the correct caution. I also don’t like the idea of using techniques such as discourse analysis which are currently used in social media research, especially when data is often poorly sourced, not moderated and incorrectly used for research purposes.

When exploring this topic further I stumbled upon an article by Tom Ewing in Research Magazine, who, while commenting on the social media sessions at the ESOMAR 3D conference in Miami, questioned the online data:

“Almost everything said and done online is responsive and constructed in the moment: attitudes, common sense and memory are constantly created and re-created, not solid and researchable things. This puts text and sentiment analysis, in particular, in a sticky position”

I think he summarises social media research quite well by using the words of the chair of the session, Niels Schillewaert, who talks about:

“The ‘wild gardens’ of social networks and internet forums rather than the ‘walled gardens’ of research communities.”

What I’m trying to say is, yes, use social media research for the scoping of a project and to get ideas but I don’t think you can ultimately base decisions from it. I believe that quality is vital in research and, from my point of view, social media research is not there yet. There needs to be better screening and moderation and, until I see proof of this changing, I wouldn’t be advocating the use of it. We continue to look into new market research concepts at B2B International and I’m sure this will be explored further in the near future.

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