Advertising Age had an interesting story that was brought to my attention by a colleague, where a Procter & Gamble exec speculates that social media is already changing the world of market research. It's an interesting story, mostly because of who is quoted. When a company with the marketing chops of P&G says something, you've got news. But the news is actually much bigger than what you are reading in Ad Age.

So, yes, the world is changing, but in an even bigger way than we think. Social media is not able to replace all uses for market research today, and won't for many years, in my opinion. But I work with clients every day who use social media for market research. [Full disclosure: I serve as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leader in social media listening platforms.] In fact, one of the largest companies I know has worked on social media for several years, led by its market intelligence team.

Not only is social media listening replacing some traditional market research already, but P&G (as quoted in Ad Age) says that it's changing the willingness of consumers to even be part of panels because there are so many other different ways that they can tell a company what they are thinking. The allure of being part of a panel went far beyond the gift the participant received--it extended to the ability for a consumer to tell a big company what to do. But now they can do that every day through social media.

But that client (and a number of other smart clients) has always known that social media is only one part of market research. Market research has always depended on the statistical sample that is representative, something that social media cannot easily deliver today. But traditional research also suffered from the dilemma that you can't get the answers to questions that you don't ask. And that you can't control how the act of surveying changes people's answers. So smart clients have used social media listening to find things they didn't find with traditional research, using surveys and focus groups to confirm social findings when needed. So social is only a part of market research.

But while social media is only a part of market research, it is much larger than market research, too. Yes, customers have many ways of giving feedback to companies besides being chosen for a focus group. But you can't just look at that for how it affects market research. You must recognize that social media has implications across many functions in the modern corporation. If market researchers recognize how these changes affect themselves, they ought to take a minute to tell their colleagues how it affects them.

The same tweet that complains about the poor battery life in your newest electronics product might need to be seen by many areas of the company:

Market research. Well, sure. We want to collect the voice of the customer through all means necessary, including social media.

Customer service. Wouldn't you want to reach out to that customer and help?

Marketing. If power users are running out of battery life, might it make sense to target your marketing toward people who are lighter users?

Public relations. Is this meme taking off? Will this become a viral story that you need to respond to?

Product development. Shouldn't they be thinking about how to fix this in the next version?

The list can go on and on. As each group (market research in this case) discovers how social media has an impact on them, they are reminiscent of the blind men examining the elephant. If they hadn't shared their opinions with each other, they would have learned only a small part of the story. Don't be seduced into thinking that social media will neatly affect your specialty without blurring it into five others. Those neat functional lines that we draw on our org charts won't hold up as the new transparency comes crashing in.

The smartest clients I know are breaking out of these traditional roles and taking an enterprise approach to social media. You would be wise to follow.

Originally posted on Biznology.
November 20, 2014

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Well, social media have added more value than ever in market research. It is easier now to get consumer feedback, product advertisement and reach maximum people. It is now easier than ever to know the needs of people and how to meet their needs. So what I believe that social media is a very important part of market research. :)

Social media is valuable but it can't replace market research completely. People are doing research and preparing their charts for future planning but Market research has its own value.

I agree with Tarun. Social media nowadays is very important for market research, but it's dynamically changing and we shouldn't overestimate it. In my opinion of course.

The best thing that I've ever used social media for was to do market research. I've never found social media to be a venue to generate sales, but it definitely is a venue to generate feedback.

The power that feedback provides when launching new products is amazing. It's the difference between having your eyes open or eyes shut when doing 110 MPH down the freeway. You have to be constantly asking for and retaining feedback when your launching a new product. It's not even an option.

Nice post Mike.

This is an goodarticle. I found this line particularly interesting.
"Market research has always depended on the statistical sample that is representative, something that social media cannot easily deliver today."

How do you think that they will square this circle?

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