On Wednesday of this week I had the privilege to be part of the panel of a Netbase Social Smarts debate on social media research, along with Lenny Murphy and Tom Anderson, in an event chaired by Lisa Joy Rosner.
One surprise in the debate was the degree of agreement amongst the panel. I think this was because we had decided to ignore privacy and ethics in order to give other issues a better airing. Had we discussed privacy and ethics I feel sure there would have been 'blood on the carpet'!
However, one comment that I made seemed to initiate some interest on Twitter, namely my response to Lisa's question about what were the barriers to social media research being more widely adopted by market research.
My off the cuff answer was that the main barrier was professional market researchers and insight professionals in both agencies and inside clients. In the cold light of day I stick to that being the main cause, but I will add a second cause, the massive over claims made by some of the vendors.
So, let me expand slightly on these two points.
The barriers created by market researchers and insight professionals.
When I look at many companies and organisations I see that there are already large numbers of them embracing social media. They are creating Facebook pages, tweeting, utilizing apps, engaging in communities, indulging in response marketing. I see HR, NPD, marketing and even the C-suite getting their hands dirty with social media. By contrast, most research agencies have been slow to integrate social media research with their conventional research. Similarly, research buyers have clung to the familiar, their ad trackers, their customer satisfaction, their concept tests, decisions which have kept mobile research from reaching its potential and which are now pushing social media research into the hands of non-research providers who deal directly with many parts of the client organisation, bypassing the insights department.
I feel that too many market researchers focus on what social media research can't do, rather than focusing on what it can do.
Of course, not every agency is a logjam and not every client-side insight manager is a barrier to social media innovation, but the problem is common enough to be putting market research's role at risk.
The problems created by over claim
Some of the claims being made by vendors of social media research platforms have been so outrageous and so implausible that they will have undoubtedly put off many people. This is especially true of the sort of risk-averse types that populate market research and insight departments.
Social media research is a great addition to the toolkit, but at the moment it can't:
- Read the whole internet (In 2010 the New Scientist estimated that Google sees only one in 500 of all the pages on the Internet)
- Identify the age, gender, and/or geographic location of most of the people whose comments they can reach
- Conduct sentiment analysis with 90% + accuracy
- Make most conventional research redundant.
I am a big believer in social media research, it can take us places we have not been able to reach in the past. But it is a different tool and we need to develop the right ways of using it, sometimes on its own, sometimes to replace research, and sometimes in conjunction with traditional techniques.