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The Role of Social Media in Marketing Research: Part I

Posted by Debra Semans on Oct 25, 2011 3:33:00 PM

social media resized 600It seems that marketing researchers, when faced with a technological or procedural innovation in our industry, have a very black-and-white view.  When online surveys became available, many researchers predicted online was the only surveying methodology to use, putting all other methodologies out to pasture.  As it turns out, however, online is just one more tool in the toolkit, and it is up to marketing researchers to decide which methodological and analytical tools are appropriate for which marketing research jobs.

And so it is with Social Media in Marketing Research.  We currently have a lot of discussion about whether it is right, or good, or better.  So I asked Carter Cathey of ResearchNow to give us a blanaced view, and to let us in on new developments in Social Media and Marketing Research that he is seeing.  This is a two-part blog, and the balance of this article will be posted on November 1, 2011.  Here's what Carter says:

Social Media is being incorporated into many different parts of research today and new applications are emerging seemingly daily.  I am going to focus exclusively on how Panel Companies are using Social Media as a source of traditional survey respondents, how Research Now specifically is approaching Social Media, and some of our observations about Social Media respondents and how they differ (and how they don’t) from traditional panel respondents.  

Panel companies are using social media in a number of ways:

Real-Time “River” Sampling:   Many companies post banner ads and/or post “offers” on social media platforms.  These “offers” are typically ways to earn the social media publisher’s virtual currency.  For example, “spend $59.99 on Omaha Steaks and receive 1000 Farmville dollars” or, applied to research, “take a 15 minute survey about consumer products and earn 100 Farmville dollars.”  Within these “offers” sections, the survey “offers” can be relatively attractive to participants as they don’t require a purchase to earn the virtual currency.  The panel companies generate untargeted and unidentified traffic to their sites and frequently use some type of router technology to assign the respondents to a specific survey.  It can be relatively efficient for a panel company as conversion rates (traffic converted into billable interviews) can be as high as 30%-50%. 

Research Buyer Pros:  It can be relatively cheap and it can be fast both into field and out of field.

Research Buyer Cons:  This has some of the same inherent challenges as all River Sampling including a real difficulty delivering smaller and harder-to-reach segments of the population.  It also can be slower to field harder to reach audiences.  Additionally, the sample has gone through no profiling, no quality checks, and no validation.  Finally, there is no inherent system process that prevents the same respondent from going through the offers section over-and-over again (or going through the offers section at multiple social media sites) so some kind of digital fingerprinting technology is a must.

Open-Source Panel Recruitment:  Some panel companies are also using social media as a source to recruit people into their research panels.  This is a more expensive process for the panel company as they don’t get the immediate payment as they do with the River approach and introduces breakage for panel members that incurred costs to recruit but never complete a paid survey, but this does allow them to profile the respondent, to build a panel, and to invite specific people to specific surveys based on their profile.  The challenge with this approach is that panel companies that don’t have good incentive structures and engagement strategies tend to struggle with panelist retention.  This makes this method of building and maintaining a panel quite expensive when they can’t fully monetize the people that they are empanelling.

Research Buyer Pros:  The respondent has been validated to greater degree than with a River methodology.  Panel quality will be determined based on the recruitment practices, engagement strategy, and retention model that the panel provider utilizes.

Research Buyer Cons:  Going with a traditional panel approach, you lose some of the biggest benefits of Social Media including speed (both into and out of field) and you lose some of the diversity of the social media respondent base when you require them to leave the social media platform, provide extensive profile data, and provide their email address to be contacted by a third-party with whom they don’t have a relationship.  Additionally, if managed poorly, the costs of this methodology can drive interview costs prohibitively high.

Carter Cathey Bio: Carter Cathey is Director of Client Development Excellence at Research Now. In this role, he works with the global sales team across a number of initiatives including social media.

What do you think about this?  Have you used both types of sampling?  What is your evaluation?

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Topics: marketing research, marketing research companies, marketing researchers, marketing researcher, marketers