Should Social Media Analysis Replace Traditional Marketing Research?

Kimberly Surico |
 07/03/14 |
4 min read


Are we there yet? Has social analysis matured to the point where organizations can stop using surveys, focus groups and interviews and instead rely completely on social insights for marketing research? Or do traditional research methods still have an important role to play, maybe in combination with social analytics?

Switching to Social Analysis

Before the advent of social networks and social media analytics, companies used qualitative and quantitative techniques such as focus groups, surveys, interviews and ethnographies to do market research. (They still do, of course.)

While effective in providing insight into consumer attitudes and behaviors, they’re also expensive, time-consuming and subject to bias. To get the best possible understanding of consumers, organizations would rely on the triangulation process to combine results gathered from several techniques into one comprehensive data set. But now, a huge volume of information on consumer sentiment and opinion is readily available in social. Companies don’t need to resort to expensive and time-consuming techniques to find out what consumers are thinking. They just need a way to efficiently collect and analyze that raw data from the Internet. Social analytics makes that possible.

So that brings up the question: What’s the place of traditional methods? Does social do everything they do and more, or is there still a valuable role for surveys, focus groups, etc.?

Scaling and Automating Marketing Research

One clear advantage social analytics offers is that it can automate and scale the process of finding actionable insights—which traditional methods can’t easily do. Companies can now gather consumer feedback on their brand, products and campaigns far quicker and cheaper, and the results are arguably more authentic expressions of opinion and need.

By gathering, organizing and analyzing observations and data, social analytics can deliver the kind of solid information and insights companies need as a foundation for decisions on branding, positioning and campaign messaging.

Companies can still use traditional methods—if they have the time and budget—to triangulate and confirm those insights, but many don’t, and many others are less and less convinced of the need for that.

How Social Complements Traditional

What’s more, even if a company isn’t ready to rely completely on social, it can still get many benefits from starting with social.

Analyzing the online conversation can be a valuable first step in a larger research program and the first corner point in the process of triangulating research – if a company is committed to doing that.

Gathering and analyzing social data before spending time and money on traditional research methods can expedite the research cycle by providing preliminary information that enables researchers to immediately dive into more focused and valuable studies.

For example, using social analytics, researchers and decision-makers can now quickly and cheaply check on whether an idea presented to them is worth further research and development—before spending time or money on it.

Social analytics can complement surveys in several ways, including:

  • Expanding the analysis to new categories and products
  • Informing questions in upcoming surveys
  • Providing qualitative color on existing survey results
  • Providing current data between survey runs
  • Segmenting audiences by, demographics and geography

Answering the Key Questions

Three key questions marketing research tries to answer are:

  • What should we do?
  • How are we doing?
  • How did we do?

Social analytics and traditional methods can both provide answers to all three, but it’s in answering the middle one where social really shines.

Why? Because surveys, interviews and focus groups take time to prepare and analyze. Companies trying to practice real-time marketing and make rapid changes in campaigns can’t wait for the results from those methods.

Social media, in contrast, can provide immediate feedback that companies can use to optimize content and tweak campaigns to get better results.

Finding Valuable Insights You Weren’t Looking For

New Topics and Issues

Social analytics can surface topics and issues you may not have been explicitly looking for—that’s something surveys, with pre-planned questions, are less likely to do.


Discover New Topics & Issues

Easier Slicing and Dicing

Social analytics also lets you quickly and accurately analyze several dimensions of data gathered from the online conversation. A survey or interview would have to specifically request this information from respondents; with social, it’s already present in content and information associated with posts.

Dynamic Social Data Segmentation

An Ideal Way to Find Influencers

One more inherent advantage of social is that it enables you to identify key spokespeople, influencers and advocates for your brand so you can pay special attention to their comments and can choose to engage with them.

With traditional methods, it would be a much more time-consuming process to identify these individuals, and connecting with them would be much more cumbersome than simply responding to their posts or otherwise engaging them online.

Spokespeople, Influencers, Advocates

The Handwriting Is on the Wall

For the moment, social and traditional co-exist, and one can serve to enhance or validate the other. But as social network participation continues to grow, and social analytics become ever more sophisticated, the day when social completely replaces traditional may not be all that far in the future.

To read more about how winner of the Best Toy, Hanz Toys, was invented using social analytics versus traditional methods, check out this paper Find Better Ideas for New Products with Social Listening.

eBook: Find Better Ideas for New Products with Social Listening

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