The Battle Over The Accuracy Of Social Media-Based Consumer Insights Research
In grad school, my marketing research professor used to say “n=1” as her is very geeky way of qualifying her opinion. Professor Escales’ quant humor not withstanding, I guess I will caveat this blog with “n=1” but you’ll find my argument reinforced which quite a few “n’s” so take from it what you will.
Late last night Gareth Price, a UK-based social media researcher, basically used Pew’s latest social media demographics study to debunk the use of social media as a consumer research tool. Though I get what Gareth is saying and agree that you can’t use social media to answer a question that hasn’t been asked, and that social media is still very much a convenience sample – I fundamentally disagree that its not a valid research tool, particularly for brands.
First off, you need to know that I conduct research via social media for brands for a living. Not that this makes me any more or less of an expert but I have seen the use of this type of research before. I’ll also say that Gareth’s focus on Twitter is important because, in my estimation, anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of any topic conversation is based on Twitter, arguably more than any other platform.
The key thing I believe Gareth left out was the fact that social media users, and Twitter users in particular, tend to skew heavily towards users that are more influential offline. Said another way, social media may be a convenience sample but its one that is remarkably powerful in identifying the tip of a much larger consumer insights iceberg.
Sure, Twitter demographics alone speak to the fact it is not a representative sample of the populous:
In fact, Gareth is never more right in his implication that Twitter reaction to large public events should not be considered scientific – the 2012 election proved that. However, Twitter has proven to be surprisingly accurate as a tool to predict stock-market fluctuations and outbreaks of the flu.
More importantly for brands, social media users are a proven barometer of potential purchase intent. This means that despite its flaws, Twitter can and should be a goldmine for helping to pinpoint not only valuable and powerful consumer insights but as a self-selected representation of those who might indeed be most likely to both purchase your product and to tell others about it.
Gareth, I love your insights but let’s admit that there’s much more that goes on, on Twitter that meets the eye. Yes, we need more tools and more geeky marketing research applied to the medium to bring it up to the rigor used in most research tools. However, there are just to many “n’s” out there that speak to the power and impact social media research can have on brands.