There’s a whole world of data out there and it’s yours for the taking.
The insights that are publicly available through social media research are vast, but it is still a little-used methodology to capture consumer insights. Why is that?
It can be a difficult process to get your head around, especially if you’re solely using social media for engagement and brand listening. Or if you’re a market researcher who has not yet taken on social media as a research methodology. Marketers are accustomed to using methods and metrics they are comfortable with. Social research throws a wrench in that, since it’s different and may seem more “messy” than traditional research data.
To further complicate matters, software platforms that provide listening tools offer standard metrics that do not ‘fit’ with research. Automated reports tend to focus on vanity metrics (likes, shares, comments) and do not yet fully explore or highlight the deeper analytics that are valuable when it comes to research. Given this information, it can feel as though social media content is a square peg that marketers are trying to fit into a round hole.
To clarify, social research goes beyond looking at what consumers are saying about a brand or products. It can dive into how consumers are using products and services when they tend to use those products and services, or even shed light on reasons why products do well or not so well once launched. On a broader scale, it can also be used to learn more about consumer perceptions on a broader level. For example, by researching consumers talking about eating sushi, marketers can go farther to find out if they tend to eat out or order in, eat sushi for celebratory events or everyday dining, etc.
To conduct social research, marketers need to shift their way of thinking from what they’re used to. Taking data and looking at it beyond your brand can be exciting and provide you with rich data to learn more about consumers, make your marketing message stronger, and find new ways to reach consumers.
Here’s what you need to know about conducting social research:
It’s more than vanity metrics
Vanity metrics are those that marketers use to “pat themselves on the back” – likes, shares, comments…you get the picture. While vanity metrics are useful and have a specific purpose that is valuable for digital marketing and social strategy, it’s not deep enough.
There is a method to the madness
Many will shy away from social research, thinking there is too much out there, it’s too overwhelming, and it can be difficult to analyze the content beyond the typical vanity metrics that are automatically generated by social listening platforms. A marketer in charge of an ice cream campaign may think it’s as easy as setting up a query for “ice cream” or maybe something a bit more focused, such as “ice cream and favorite flavors.” The results? A million results that are too broad to look at effectively, and many that are not relevant. At that point, they deem social research not useful and too noisy and abandon the project. Like traditional research, there is a process that needs to be followed.
While the process is the same, the data collection & analysis is not
This is another area where traditional market researchers struggle. They ask questions like, “What is a good sample size when looking at social data?” or “Is this data statistically significant?” These considerations cannot be applied to social research; applying traditional research metrics to this “new” type of research is a recipe for failure. To better understand this, take a listen to Dr. Jillian Ney, the UK’s first Dr. of Social Media, who has been in this research space for over a decade.
She likens the shift to social research to the time when cars were first being developed; they needed a way to show the power of a car, but up until this point, only had horse and buggy transportation as a reference point. While consumers were no longer using horse & buggies, they understood horsepower as it relates to the strength and power of the vehicle. This is a great example of applying old metrics to a new methodology.
So, you want to conduct social research, but still feeling overwhelmed? As mentioned, there is a method to the perceived madness and volume of conversation available. Following the steps below will give marketers a starting point to guide them as they conduct social research and apply findings to business decisions.
Start with an objective
As with anything, whether it is a business plan or development of a social media strategy, you need to start with a question. What do you want to find out specifically? It has to be more focused than something along the lines of, “What is the best ice cream?” It’s a start, but needs to be refined – is the focus on prepackaged ice cream, ice cream stores, flavor preferences, etc? Is this for marketing a new product, launching a retail store into a new market, or what cones consumers buy when making ice cream purchases? Identifying what you want to learn and why you need the information is the first step.
Set up the search for success
This part can take a bit of time, and that’s okay. It’s better to set up a careful search from the beginning to be efficient and getting the best data straight away. If you’re not yet familiar, spend some time learning how to use Boolean search terms, as they can be your best friend. It is also important to spend time learning about Boolean search strings as they relate to the platform you’re using, as each can be slightly different and offer different options.
Start with brainstorming
Similar to keyword research, this step is vital. By taking a look at the research objective, come up with not only keywords but phrases and terms that may be product or brand specific. You can think of this as “product slang” – some examples include referring to Walmart as “Wallyworld” or, if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll often see the Washington Nationals referred to as the Nats. Make a list and include them in the search query. While doing this, keep in mind the objective of the research – this can streamline the process.
Remember that exclusion terms can save your life
Similar to brainstorming keywords, brainstorming words to exclude from a search can make life much easier. This is a tactic that is also used in brand listening. For example, if your company’s name is “Big Dog Services,” you know that running a search for this will produce results related to dogs and maybe grooming and pet training services. Essentially, the results will include a lot of noise.
Make Google your friend
Run a search on the topic you’ll be researching. This helps in finding more “product slang” or terms that you may not have been aware of that are used in relation to the topic at hand. It can also reveal potential words and terms to include in the exclusion portion of the set up that your team wasn’t aware of or did not consider. As an example, a recent project that focused on “drunk online shopping” was conducted, and a Google Search revealed that a study was conducted on a large scale that was being circulated in the news outlets. It was important to exclude news items as a source, along with some key phrases from the study as to not generate news related content, as this particular research focused on consumer reports of their online shopping habits while intoxicated.
Set up the search, run, and look for anomalies
No search is perfect, and it may take a couple of revisions to get it set up correctly. A good tip is to set up the search parameters as carefully as possible, using the steps above, and then let it run. Now look at themes, common phrases/words, and trending reports within the platform. Are there terms or words that are completely irrelevant? For example, when researching a brand’s products, are there results coming in that relate to the CEO’s political views or maybe an unrelated news item that’s currently trending? If any of this is found, it’s easy to go back to the search parameters, adjust to include/exclude terms as needed, and re-run. This may take a couple of tries before it’s clear the search is set up as carefully as possible. A bit of caution here – don’t get TOO specific. We’ll talk about the rabbit holes in a moment, but being too restrictive can also hurt the overall objective.
Pay careful attention to the “unknown unknowns”
This is when you may find the most useful, rich information. This is the rabbit hole that researchers refer to when conducting social research, and it’s where the good stuff lives. A great example is a case study on Talkwalker’s website – the case study illustrates how visual images collected around research that set out to identify the most popular pasta yielded interesting information on wine selections that consumers pair with different pasta types. The case study is available on Talkwalker’s website, and you can also listen to Todd Grossman, CEO-Americas of Talkwalker, discuss this case study on a recent social media podcast.
Analyze the data
Here is where the magic begins. It’s also the point where anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed set in. Before starting this phase, it’s important to review the content collected to make sure it’s relevant to the search query, sentiment is reviewed, and the analysis process is set up to answer the questions that were initially set forth at the start of the process. Once this is done, go beyond the default analytics. Look at emerging themes/keywords, sentiment, keywords relative to sentiment, etc. A story should form around the objective. It’s also important to look at results based on the segments that were created to look for similarities and differences and to start to draw conclusions. Finally, look at the unknowns; that is, results that do not fit into a specific segment, category, or search criteria. This may be a rabbit hole worth exploring, or it may be data that is ultimately irrelevant and can be disregarded. Analysis takes time and is not easily generated in an automated report; it’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed at this point. Like any other research, stay focused on answering the questions set forth and taking time to really dig into the content collected.
The Social Intelligence Lab has a fantastic downloadable worksheet available when you join the site to walk through the research steps for an effective search. This free download gives a solid foundation to work from. It goes into more detail on the steps above, provides additional considerations that are important to the research process, and offers a solid step by step approach to break down the research process and make it manageable.
Social research can be overwhelming, like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. By changing the frame of reference and looking at research as separate from general social listening, and using a step by step research methodology as suggested above, marketers can realize the impact this type of research can yield and will become even more valuable to consumer insights departments, marketers, and researchers.