Social Media as a Tool?

30th January, 2014

­First of all, Happy New Year from everyone at PFA Research. We wish you an outstanding and prosperous 2014.

It is no coincidence that 2014 has arrived on the back of 2013 containing the highest number of technology IPO’s in history. And the largest? Twitter, of course. The market is bigger and the quantities of individuals participating are higher than ever. So it may come as no surprise that market researchers across the board are continually updating their professional methodologies to remain at the forefront of information.

It is easy to assume that online research techniques mediate an easier situation to extract data from. As we find ourselves in the era of networking and technology, with an individual’s online persona acting as a ‘netizen’ and a staggering 1.7bn estimated to be using some form of social media, the sheer amount of data generated is boggling, but importantly not overwhelming. Outside of the notions of big data (see previous blog here) some of the more traditional aspects of market research converge enabling contextualisation of catchall datasets through tried and tested methodologies, tweaked for digital online sources.

Social media sources permit greater interaction between the user and marketer be that through utilising social media listening, click through analysis on product placement or seeking to engage individuals through their catalogue of likes, tweets or pins. This enhanced interaction has lead most web users to be conscious of the fact they are entitled to their personal opinion and online, more than anywhere, they can disseminate this. The term ‘viral’ has become central to the web zeitgeist – it is extremely common to hear of something ‘going viral,’ such as Psy’s Gangnam Style, the Old Spice adverts or the outstanding campaign for Paranormal Activity. Conversely, the social media outlets can also stifle individual voices, denying validation of opinion and in some cases denouncing fact as fiction.

The market research industry relies heavily on established methodologies and protocols to achieve results. Social media market research can provide insight into representation of key demographic groups as well as potentially allowing researchers to forgo some aspects of qualitative research, instead utilising datasets available online. Many social media outlets have dedicated developer tools which have led to the development of monitoring tools that provide accurate, up to the second information across multiple demographic sectors. And whilst all this data is available for researchers to pore over, it perhaps doesn’t provide the same intricate accuracy that can be expected from a hand-picked focus group – in terms of total representation and opinion mix.

Each network carries a specific demographic cocktail that isn’t entirely easy to pin down. Many social networks (whilst it may not be entirely admitted) have a percentage of fake users. Others are swarmed by spam bots, consistently altering social search results to their designer’s needs. As well as this, whilst the developer tools in many cases are excellent, they are still in constant development and will continue to be so. Furthermore, some sites through collective consciousness maintain a specific political leaning: Facebook allows for a mix (of politics), but social media sites such as Twitter and Pinterest are outwardly left leaning with Google+ centre left but with a very high tech following. And whilst all of these foibles shouldn’t undermine any potential representation, digitally managing the expectations of each of these social media demographic slices could still prove an area needing a digital method update.

Regardless of sociodemographic representation, social media research has already provided other sectors opportunity to engage individuals it previously may have not reached, using social media to recruit individuals suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s into research projects spanning a larger and more diverse section of society. Once you have sifted through the meme’s and Vine’s, there is a whole world of individuals, all pumping out data, all out there waiting to be researched.