Most everyone agrees that consumer research is key to extracting valuable insights that can be critical across all aspects of a business, whether its product development and positioning, marketing and strategy, customer experience and satisfaction, or major company decisions about market expansion, M&A, or corporate transformation. Having a finger on the pulse of your key stakeholders is essential.
But existing market research methods have limitations, particularly in the pandemic age. Phone surveys, web portals, focus groups all have been used for decades to gauge consumer sentiment, and they still have a place in the researcher’s toolbox. But in today’s ubiquitously connected, ultra-mobile world, new ways to reach consumers need to be explored.
The rise of social media offers such an opportunity. Today, it is possible to survey a very vast population directly by recruiting respondents via channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. There are approximately 4.2 billion social media users worldwide (and the number just keeps climbing). That equates to about 45% of the current world’s population and that’s where most consumers are spending their time nowadays.
Those channels have become one of the most effective, time-efficient and inexpensive tools for recruiting target respondents and collecting data on their consumption habits. This is a natural evolution from the more passive social scraping and social listening tools that are used to gauge sentiment and drive analytics. It’s a proactive and targeted method we call social sampling and it borrows from the highly effective playbook of advertisers who have recognized the precision and effectiveness of targeting niche audiences on a global scale.
Here are three reasons why it can be so effective:
Reason #1: The right targeting leads to the right people
The main advantage of social media is the ability to target a specific population. This takes into account age and gender, but also interests, language, geographical area, and even brand and product preferences. By surveying consumers virtually, it is possible to effectively target the different participants’ by their known niches – whether those are buying behaviors, personal interests, unique demo- or sociographics, location or other criteria important to build a highly relevant sample. On top of that, the inherent precision of targeting via social allows for participants to be surveyed on topics they actually care about, resulting in higher response rates.
Think about it: by opening any social media profile on any platform, you are already providing a lot of information about yourself, your habits, your location, the things you like or dislike. For example, we can identify people who own a specific breed of dog in Tokyo, parents of children with a specific learning disorder, or specific job titles within a particular type of company. The truth is that millions of people trust these channels with a lot of their information, and while some not so scrupulous organizations have used this power for sinister purposes, it can also be harvested in an honest, people-respectful way. One such way is consumer research.
Since this method allows companies to target real people who are out there in the real world who specifically use their services and buy their products (or their competitors’), they are also guaranteeing a more representative, diverse, and genuine sample of the larger population. By securing this type of accuracy and the sourcing of truly interested respondents, companies are a step ahead of the curve when it comes to obtaining precious data they can leverage to increase their bottom line.
Reason #2: Non-intrusive research increases the chances for success
Not having enough time is the number one reason people use to justify not participating in a survey. Who hasn’t been intercepted in the street when they were in a hurry? Or received a phone call for a survey in the middle of dinnertime? Not to mention the emails that get deleted before they’re even read.
Researchers from UCLA have discovered that our brains are predisposed to preparing us for social interactions during our rest periods, otherwise known as downtime. Whether sitting on a bus or in a waiting room, people are more inclined to visit their social media accounts during their downtime. Also, according to Hootsuite, people spend an average of two hours and 24 minutes per day using social media. That’s the equivalent of 33.5 days per year dedicated to navigating social channels.
That means a whole month of downtime where people are not working and dedicating their attention to their phones and computers. That’s the perfect time to reach people to survey them about things they care about. It’s non-intrusive, non-annoying and, when delivered correctly and in a timely manner, almost irresistible to respond. This consequently eliminates the intrusive aspect of traditional methods (telephone surveys, intercept surveys, or email).
Reason #3: Spoken from the heart: Non-incentivized respondents answer because they want to
One thing we have discovered while conducting consumer research through social channels is that companies don’t need to pay respondents to answer your survey. Why? If you are nailing the targeting, presenting the survey in a way that is compelling to that target audience, and your questionnaire is not more than 10 minutes long, people answer because they have an interest in doing so. And if the topic is of direct relevance in some ways, chances are that people will want to make their voices be heard.
There are two psychological principles behind this behavior:
The first one is called “Social Proof.” Social proof is the concept that people will follow the actions of the masses. The idea is that since so many other people behave in a certain way, it must be the correct behavior. This is the main reason why people like, comment, share and repost on social media. It’s also why things go viral online. When people see others liking, commenting, or sharing content that resonates with their values and interests, they feel the gregarious impulse to do the same. It’s part of human nature and we believe it’s the reason why social sampling can be so effective.
The second concept is also tied to human nature: Altruism, a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. In the era of Social Media, this is called “Digital Altruism” and it refers, according to Psychology Today, to “recognizing that we can make a difference in the lives of others by sharing our knowledge on-line, and seeking out websites designed such that our everyday activities ends up benefiting others.” In other words, people want to share what they know so they can help others in the process, and we believe this is what compels people to answer targeted surveys without any incentive, other than having their voices heard.
Higher quality data leads to smarter decisions
The main goal of collecting consumer insight is to obtain the highest-quality, most representative data possible. This means companies need to get in touch with real consumers, who are out there buying their products or using their services in real world scenarios. Knowing what a target audience really wants gives company decision makers the tools to develop better offerings, streamline the customer experience, understand demand, competitors, develop new products and services, and so much more. It all permeates from conducting sound market research.
Just as the methodologies used to conduct consumer research, the quality of the data obtained from it is improving. The truth is, the data will define how successful the decision-making process is and therefore, how companies can shape their revenue streams. The trick is making sure the data that comes out of that research is sound, accurate and a fit to your objectives.
This is where the method used to conduct quantitative research is important. Social media has not only brought billions of people into a hyper-sharing new world, but it also provided opportunities for businesses, marketers, product owners, and researchers with targeting capabilities that enable them to reach almost any demographic or consumer group around the world. Social sampling using the reach and precision of social media networks is proving to be an effective method to consider.