A few days ago, fresh from choosing his latest Apprentice (in the UK BBC show), Lord Sugar conducted some rather cutting-edge social media market research. The task that Lord Sugar was looking to complete was not the most business critical decision by any stretch of the imagination – however, it was still an important decision, and one that most publishers and designers will surely agree, can take much deliberation and an abundance of time. The task – to decide upon the cover for Lord Sugar’s latest book.
In The Apprentice, Lord Sugar is often talking of the importance of market research, and a few days ago he highlighted to all his twitter followers the apparent ease with which it can be undertaken. Lord Sugar posted a short message via his twitter account (http://twitter.com/Lord_Sugar) asking his followers to cast their eyes over three variations of a new cover for his up-coming book, and to then respond with their preference (cover 1, 2 or 3 – (view the images here)).
Sure enough, Lord Sugar’s followers duly obliged, and 24 hours later a twitter post appeared proclaiming cover number two to be the chosen winner.
So what had Lord Sugar achieved? Well, in the space of a day he had come up with a research problem, put the question to his market, and received the feedback he was looking for. And ofcourse, this was an act of measurement – the covers were already designed, so there was no need for qualitativefeedback as to what people liked about the covers, or how they could be improved. Lord Sugar got to the core of his problem rapidly, and got the measurement he needed.
Although this medium of social media research is fairly new (though certainly gathering pace rapidly), the principal of ‘dipstick’ research has been around for many years in various forms, through tools such as omnibus surveys and panels. With an omnibus survey, a specific question (or number of questions) can be submitted to a target market or a particular sample pool, on a syndicated survey that may run weekly/bi-weekly/monthly. Results are usually turned around in a number of days. Surveys of this nature are indeed very useful in terms of gauging a quick response from the market and gathering attitudes towards a particular topic; however, they are unable to answer more in-depth research objectives, where a wide range of questioning is required.
Research using social media channels is certainly more prevalent in consumer research than in business research – though its usage in a b2b capacity is certainly growing. Indeed, b2b research inherently leans more towards multi-modal methodologies, as many projects seek to address a number of sub-objectives. Projects may combine exploratory focus groups with a programme of desk research, followed by a quantitative telephone survey, in order to meet a project objective. And of course, all research tools have their strengths and weaknesses, their applications where they yield the best results, and Lord Sugar highlights the strengths of social media research here.
There is, of course, much more to social media research – attitudes to brands can be tracked through syndication tools, key trends and problems can also be identified and addressed – and much more. Indeed, it too is a methodological approach that could complement an array of other methodologies being used in a multi-method piece of research. The uses and possibilities are quite vast – those mentioned in these few paragraphs are very much the tip of the iceberg.
Lord Sugar’s dipstick twitter research certainly delivered quick results, and certainly met his research objective of gathering market opinion on which book cover is preferred. So, perhaps this could be a methodology that would be best used for answering questions whereby a response is either time critical, or where a rough quantitative gauge is required.
The pool of followers that each twitter user has (whether a person or company) could be considered to be its own miniature panel – or twitterpanel, if you will. Though this pool of followers may not be representative of a company’s customer base, or a person’s typical readership (as in Lord Sugar’s case), they certainly have a vested interest in the said account, otherwise they wouldn’t be following it. This is a panel that is instantly accessible, and as Lord Sugar shows, can answer a simple research problem in an extremely short space of time.
Though it is unlikely that this type of dipstick research through twitter can ever replace typical surveys (not least because twitter followers will no doubt be averse to being over-researched, let alone its limitations) it can certainly provide an excellent gauge on a market’s attitudes.
Ever the entrepreneur, Lord Sugar has taken a problem and found a simple, effective, and free solution.