Chapter 13: Market Research on Social Media

Previously, I have given enough incidents in HR, lead generation and crowdsourcing chapters that prove social media platforms can help businesses do some basic research using listening tools or by asking questions ins communities and seek consumer opinions. In this chapter we will explore how social media is benefiting market research in detail.

A blog post made by Tamara Barbara, an analyst at Forrester, shares three main trends in how market researchers are using social technologies;

  • Accessing consumers through social sample.
  • Embracing customers via social tools.
  • Listening to audience by mining the social web

To further explore on this subject, I managed to do an interview with Mr. Pravin Shekar who is a council member at ESOMAR | kreator-in-chief at Krea (an India-centric panel research firm focusing on healthcare and youth). The objective of the interview with this international speaker on market research was to gain insights on how social media is used from market research perspectives. According to him, the information gathered on social media is more timely, accurate, and honest than the one received on surveys these days. Having said that, he also believes social media gives market research a new horizon completely. In the past, market research analysts used to research on data to bring conclusions or host focus group interviews and surveys, whereas social media has made things simpler. Communities now allow people to ask questions and get responses from the people from different parts of the globe in fractions of seconds. Responses = Perspectives = Data = Deriving Conclusions or Making Assumptions. However, he believes social media research is built on top of traditional research and therefore a mix of tools and methodologies are at play.

While discussing further with Pravin on trends, I have received some insights on how social media is used popularly in market research process.

1. Collecting Surveys:

Social media has become a mode of collection opinions—through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Groups or LinkedIn InMails, research analysts or students doing dissertations have started sending online surveys across communities, individuals, and groups. The process of reaching out to relevant people through relevant community has now become easier. Various cloud tools such as, Google Forms (in Google Drive), and Facebook and LinkedIn polls have helped further market researchers.

2. Identifying Right Respondents:

Social media has been used for finding out, validating, and recruiting the right respondents to obtain insights. When some employees from Beroe Inc. (a market intelligence company) had participated in my social media workshop, they showcased how they used LinkedIn Answers and Quora to get their country-based research questions answered and the respondents who were identified as relevant analysts, thought leaders in the space were employed to get further insights.

3. Social Media Ethnography:

A process that involves studying or analyzing social media setting while being immersed in it, is now practiced by MR professionals to collect relevant and on-time data on variety of topics. This could be made through observation or listening or analyzing content and blog posts.

4. MROC (Market Research Online Communities):

Researching on existing online communities or developing a new one extensively to understand market has now become a process run by various market research companies across the world. The post made by Tamara Barabar on Forrester Blog also supported the concept of MROC. There are various types of online research communities as explained in Figure 13.1.

There are about six different types of online research communities discussed in a Vovici blog, which can be distributed in temporarily (for specific projects, short period) and permanently (regularly engaged community), which are sometimes closed or open communities.


Insight Community—Highly interconnected communities of 300–500 members. Helpful for in-depth qualitative research. Data mined here are highly insightful.

Community Panel—An adjunct to an online panel, where only some panelists engage in discussions with one another. The community may be either public or private. Typical sizes range from 10,000 to 100,000 members, who have weak relationships with one another. Qualitative insights raised within the community site can be tested for representativeness using surveys of the panel (assuming, of course, the panel itself as representative of a target audience).

Idea Voting— People are not interconnected or relationship oriented on these communities. Some members of the community posts some ideas and other members validate it by voting it thus helping new ideas evolve with mass support. This requires extensive vetting and prioritization.


Idea Jam—Bringing offline community to online platform to discuss on a particular topic. The Idea Jams are usually a three-day-long community built and dissolved once the ideas evolve. Usual purposes of such community are brainstorming and planning.

BBFG— Bulletin Board Focus Groups last for 3–7 days or more than that depends upon the depth of research. Around 30–50 participants are involved in the community to discuss on a particular subject. With time the relationship and interconnections among participants happen.

OLFG— Online focus group chats are hosted for a few hours. Usually hosting happens only with the small size for few hours. It is quickly formed involving a group of individuals. Interconnections and relationships are rarely possible here.

Different Research Reports Generated Using Social Media:

Essentially market research agencies or individual research analysts observe or collect information into a database and mine millions of posts (tweets, updates on Facebook and LinkedIn, opinions on blog, review sites, and more) to understand the motivations behind people buying a product, responding to a trend, sentiments behind experienced service or purchased product, and demographic behavior from sex, age, and cultural perspectives. However, social media is the easiest place to share opinions and hear the same; the reports that are usually generated are as follows:

Brand-Monitoring Reports:

Understand customer’s opinion about the latest product or services or evaluate their opinions on competitors by surveying online, listening on social media channels, and initiating conversations with MROC methodologies. The other name for this could be sentimental analysis mostly done post-launch of a product or service.

Analyzing Market Trend Report:

Many thought leaders, popular opinion makers of industry, and individuals share their opinion on different industry perspectives and they are heading to help marketers to analyze current trends.

Mapping Customers and Vendors Report:

Social media has been used extensively by businesses to map their customers, track them, and connect with them or run a virtual credibility check before they own them as a client.

Figuring Out Unmet Needs:

This process helps report deep and unanticipated consumer insights about unmet needs and alternate uses for products. Process involves a lot of behavioural studies of existing customers and the defined target audience on social media with reference to industry or products.

Advantages of Using Social Media for Market Research

  1. There are no limitations on survey questions; the on-going engagements in community help marketers learn almost everything in minds of target audience at different time intervals (as and when required).
  2. Hearing social media buzz helps marketers understand customers in their own words. While hosting surveys or running a focus group, a marketer might look at questions from a particular angle, whereas customers might have opinions from all the possible perspectives of product.
  3. The insights received on social media are timely unlike the traditional survey processes that take long time in due course of which the actual incidents might change. Insight on a new movie launch is available from day one on Blogs and Twitter and public Facebook updates come direct from theatre in fact from the premier launch show of the movie itself.
  4. Surveys and questions limit the depth of research; you are to know what you have asked for and you have to know what you need to ask in order to get solutions. Social media listening has helped many brands discover intelligence and opinions that could be directly incorporated in business or that favors business value in a completely unusual way. For example, The Blue Eno (a digestive soda powder) was used for digestion purpose; usually only after looking at some cake recipes and discussion forums online, I had realized that this could also be used for baking cakes—so that is a two-purpose solution from a single product.
  5. No limitation on size unlike panels and forums. Helps get larger perspective and opinions from the online discussions.
  6. Market research on social media is cost effective. An organization with effective listening tools and a full-fledged community can always benefit from it by obtaining regular insights and save cost on involving a market research agency or expensive tools.

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