OK, let’s get one thing clear from the outset; I am not saying social media mining and monitoring (the collection and automated analysis of quantitative amounts of naturally occurring text from social media) has met with no success. But, I am saying that in market research the success has been limited.
In this post I will highlight a couple of examples of success, but I will then illustrate why, IMHO, it has not had the scale of success in market research that many people had predicted, and finally share a few thoughts on where the quantitative use of social media mining and monitoring might go next.
There have been some successes and a couple of examples are:
Assessing campaign or message break through. Measuring social media can be a great way to see if anybody is talking about a campaign or not, and of checking whether they are talking about the salient elements. However, because of some of the measurement challenges (more on these below) the measurement often ends up producing a three level result, a) very few mentions, b) plenty of mentions, c) masses of mentions. In terms of content the measures tend to be X mentions on target, or Y% of the relevant mentions were on target – which in most cases are informative, but do not produce a set of measures that have any absolute utility and usually can be tightly aligned with ROI.
An example of this use came with the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010. Listening to SM made it clear that people had detected that the phone did not work well for some people when held in their left hand, that Apple’s message (which came across as) ‘you should be right handed’ was not going down well, and that something needed to be done. The listening could not put a figure on how many users were unhappy, nor even if users were less or more angry than non-users, but it did make it clear that something had to be done.
Identifying language, ideas, topics. By adding humans to the interpretation, many organisations have been able to identify new product ideas (the Nivea story of how it used social media listening to help create Nivea Invisible for Black and White is a great example). Other researchers, such as Annie Pettit, have shown how they have combined social media research with conventional research, to help answer problems.
Outside of market research. Other users of social media listening, such as PR and reaction marketers appear to have had great results with social media, including social media listening. One of the key reasons for that is that their focus/mission is different. PR, marketing, and sales do not need to map or understand the space, they need to find opportunities. They do not need to find all the opportunities, they do not even need to find the best opportunities, they just need to find a good supply of good opportunities. This is why the use of social media appears to be growing outside of market research, but also why its use appears to be in relative decline inside market research.
The limitations of social media monitoring and listening
The strength of social media monitoring and listening is that it can answer questions you had not asked, perhaps had not even thought of. Its weakness is that it can’t answer most of the questions that market researchers’ clients ask.
The key problems are:
- Most people do not comment in social media, most of the comments in social media are not about our clients’ brands and services, and the comments do not typically cover the whole range of experiences (they tend to focus on the good and the bad). This leaves great holes in the information gathered.
- It is very hard to attribute the comments to specific groups, for example to countries, regions, to users versus non-users – not to mention little things like age and gender.
- The dynamic nature of social media means that it is very hard to compare two campaigns or activities, for example this year versus last year. The number of people using social media is changing, how they are using it is changing, and the phenomenal growth in the use of social media by marketers, PR, sales, etc is changing the balance of conversations. Without consistency, the accuracy of social media measurements is limited.
- Most automated sentiment analysis is considered by insight clients and market researchers to either be poor or useless. This means good social media usage requires people, which tends to make it more expensive and slower, often prohibitively expensive and often too slow.
- Social media deals with the world as it is, brands can’t use it to test ads, to test new products and services, or almost any future plan.
Social media monitoring and listening is not going to go away. Every brand should be listening to what its customers and in many cases the wider public are saying about its brands, services, and overall image. This is in addition to any conventional market research it needs to do; this aspect of social media is not a replacement for anything, it is a necessary extra.
Social media has spawned a range of new research techniques that are changing MR, such as insight communities, smartphone ethnography, social media bots, and netnography. One area of current growth is the creation of 360 degree views by linking panel and/or community members to their transactional data, passive data (e.g. from their PC and mobile device), and social media data. Combined with the ability of communities and panels to ask questions (qual and quant) this may create something much more useful that just observational data.
I expect more innovations in the future. In particular I expect to see more conversations in social media initiated by market researchers, probably utilising bots. For example, programming a bot to look out for people using words that indicate they have just bought a new smartphone and asking them to describe how they bought it, what else they considered etc – either in SM or via asking them to continue the chat privately.
There are a growing number of rumours that some of the major clients are about to adopt a hybrid approach, combining nano-surveys, social media listening, integrated data, and predictive analytics, and this could be really interesting, especial in the area of tracking (e.g. brand, advertising, and customer satisfaction/experience).
I also expect two BIG technical changes that will really set the cat amongst the pigeons. I expect somebody to do a Google and introduce a really powerful, free or almost free alternative to the social media mining and monitoring platforms, and I expect one or more companies to come up with sentiment analysis solutions that are really useful. I think a really useful platform will include the ability to analyse images and videos, to follow links (many interesting tweets and shares are about the content of the link), to build a PeekYou type of database of people (to help attribute the comments), and will have much better text analytics approach.