Quirks Marketing Research Review January 2012 : Page 22

// qualitatively speaking Going social with qualitative research | By Kelly Hancock snapshot Social media data offers qualitative researchers and their clients a potentially rich lode of insights. I quirks.com/articles ID 20120102 22 t’s no secret that our world is changing every day: The way we talk to people, the way we seek information, the way we do business. Many of these changes can be attributed to a phenomenon we all know as social media. While many companies are embracing so-cial media as a marketing or public relations tool to interact with consumers or measure how many people are engaging with the brand, a growing number of qualitative re-searchers are latching onto the social sphere as a place to dig into consumer behaviors and opinions. “Most people are focusing on the marketing and PR side of social media,” says Kendall Nash, senior qualitative con-sultant at Burke, Inc. and a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). “But that’s not what we do. As quali-tative researchers, we dig for insights.” “Social media is underutilized in quali-tative research. I spend a fair amount of time educating clients about why that data shouldn’t only be used in the PR depart-ment,” says Kathy Doyle, president of Doyle Research and a QRCA member. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about how it can be used and the insights it can deliver.” Qualitative researchers use a trained eye to look beyond the obvious and pinpoint trends and translate statements into insights. That knowledge is harvested from online forums, such as social media posts and com-ments, and key pieces of actionable infor-mation are identified from the millions of conversations that occur publicly every day. “A lot of companies are using it in a quantitative fashion. It’s really qualitative information that they’re trying to quantify,” says Dorrie Paynter, president and founder of Leapfrog Marketing Research and a QRCA member. “As qualitative research consultants, our role is to help our clients figure out what the data says and how to act upon it.” One piece of a larger approach Many qualitative researchers who use social media agree that it provides unparalleled op-portunities for insight. At the same time, it is commonly viewed as one piece of a larger approach. There are numerous ways that social media analysis can accompany, supple-ment or guide traditional research efforts. “It’s really helpful to use data and analyt-ics to get some context before you talk to consumers,” says Ben Smithee, chief execu-tive officer at Spych Market Analytics and a member of QRCA. “It helps determine what topics need further engagement.” Social media analysis can often be used as the first phase of a mixed methodology. When starting with a broad category, mining posts and comments on social media channels can help pinpoint areas that consumers care about the most. “When a client said, ‘Tell me what people think about electronics’ the research objective was so broad that we needed to set research parameters before we could get to the real insights. Social media expedited that process,” Doyle says. “In this situation, the use of social media analysis as a first step ac-tually saved our client money by allowing us to define the target and identify the issues to www.quirks.com Quirk’s Marketing Research Review // January 2012

Qualitatively Speaking

Going social with
qualitative research

| By Kelly Hancock

It’s no secret that our world is changing every day: The way we talk to people, the way we seek information, the way we do business. Many of these changes can be attributed to a phenomenon we all know as social media.
While many companies are embracing social media as a marketing or public relations tool to interact with consum-ers or measure how many people are engaging with the brand, a growing number of qualitative researchers are latch-ing onto the social sphere as a place to dig into consumer behaviors and opinions. “Most people are focusing on the marketing and PR side of social media,” says Kendall Nash, senior qualitative consultant at Burke, Inc. and a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). “But that’s not what we do. As qualitative researchers, we dig for insights.”
“Social media is underutilized in qualitative research. I spend a fair amount of time educating clients about why that data shouldn’t only be used in the PR department,” says Kathy Doyle, president of Doyle Research and a QRCA member. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about how it can be used and the insights it can deliver.”
Qualitative researchers use a trained eye to look beyond the obvious and pinpoint trends and translate statements into insights. That knowledge is harvested from online forums, such as social media posts and comments, and key pieces of actionable information are identified from the millions of conversations that occur publicly every day.
“A lot of companies are using it in a quantitative fashion. It’s really qualitative information that they’re trying to quantify,” says Dorrie Paynter, president and founder of Leapfrog Marketing Research and a QRCA member. “As qualita-tive research consultants, our role is to help our clients figure out what the data says and how to act upon it.”
One piece of a larger approach
Many qualitative researchers who use social media agree that it provides unparalleled opportunities for insight. At the same time, it is commonly viewed as one piece of a larger approach. There are numerous ways that social media analy-sis can accompany, supplement or guide traditional research efforts. “It’s really helpful to use data and analytics to get some context before you talk to consumers,” says Ben Smithee, chief executive officer at Spych Market Analytics and a member of QRCA. “It helps determine what topics need further engagement.”
Social media analysis can often be used as the first phase of a mixed methodology. When starting with a broad catego-ry, mining posts and comments on social media channels can help pinpoint areas that consumers care about the most. “When a client said, ‘Tell me what people think about electronics’ the research objective was so broad that we needed to set research parameters before we could get to the real insights. Social media expedited that process,” Doyle says. “In this situation, the use of social media analysis as a first step actually saved our client money by allowing us to define the tar-get and identify the issues to explore further with more traditional qualitative methods.”
Nash agrees that using social media analysis as a precursor to traditional research tactics helps prioritize areas and narrow topics that warrant the most time. “It helps eliminate surprises. I look for hot topics that could come up in a fo-cus group or interview so I can be prepared to guide the conversation and get the information we really want to know,” she says. “Social media is a piece of the story, but it’s not a replacement for traditional research.”
Chat candidly
One benefit of social media research is observing consumers in their natural environment. People who are familiar with the product/service chat candidly about what they like, what they don’t like and what they expect from a brand.
Renee Murphy, digital and social media research consultant at Seek, explained one situation where social media revealed a negative connotation around the form name (think liquid vs. gel) the brand was using to describe a product. “We found the form name highlighted some of the inherent issues consumers were having with the product, detract-ing from its proposition. With further analysis, we were able to find a different name that consumers already associ-ated with the product and that didn’t highlight the negative aspects. That gave my client an opportunity to rebrand and emphasize the benefits instead of simply describing the product,” she says.
Taking it further, understanding how consumers talk about a product or understanding what they expect deliv-ers invaluable direction on how to market a product. “If we can discover the language consumers are using, it makes it easier for marketers to relate to consumers and sound like a consumer in their advertising and communi-cations efforts,” Doyle says.
Nash adds, “It makes me a better researcher when I have a general grounding in the category to make sure I under-stand the terminology and nuances surrounding a brand, product or industry.”
Another benefit
That firsthand glimpse of how consumers talk about a product reveals another distinct benefit: alternative product uses. “We know that people are using coffee filters to make their coffee, for example, but what else are they using them for?” Murphy says.
“We’re looking for fun, new or interesting ways people are using the product. We’ve helped clients discover key product benefits they didn’t even know existed,” Doyle adds.
Or, in some situations, it’s less about usage and more about audience. Social media research can reveal groups of peo-ple outside the target audience who are using the product. “I had a client who was targeting athletes trying to lose weight. Through social media research, we found a whole subculture of people using the product who weren’t dieting at all,” Murphy says. “It may have ended up as one small part of their audience segmentation, but knowing there were more people using the product than originally thought – and for a very different purpose – changed the way they shaped their key messages and marketing efforts.”
In addition, social media research can supplement traditional new-product development research. It can be used to discover what people are saying about competitive products or unmet needs in the marketplace. “Social media is a great way to find pain points and compare unmet needs,” says Murphy. “It shows what’s working for you or your competitors and what isn’t working.”
“One of my clients wanted to enter a product category that was new to them, yet a logical extension of their brand,” Doyle says. “We did a social media search to see what people were saying about the existing players in that category. We were able to discover what consumers liked and didn’t like, which played a role in the actual design of the product. It helps you find the white space in a product category and capitalize on it to differentiate yourself.”
Avenue to recruit
With the vast array of lifestyle choices and demographic information consumers post publicly online and their grow-ing willingness to connect with a brand, social media becomes an avenue to recruit respondents for in-person or online qualitative research. As more companies develop a social media presence, consumers – notably, brand advocates – are proactively connecting with brands, sharing and receiving information. Some researchers see these existing connections as a pool of potential respondents for traditional online or in-person research.
“In terms of recruiting, you can’t ignore social media venues as a possibility,” says Nash. “For some research pro-jects, companies want to hear from brand advocates. We don’t actively engage directly with people in this space but if the company already has an audience online, we can provide an opportunity for consumers to link into our screening process, knowing we’ll likely hear from a group of people who are already dedicated to the brand.”
Just as social media is changing the way brands market to consumers, it’s also changing the way consumers ex-pect to interact with a brand. More and more people are welcoming brands into their lives via social media plat-forms. Some consumers expect to experience a brand online and expect that brand to hear their opinions via online channels. “Social media has equalized the opportunity to share a voice,” says Smithee. “I can be a consumer, have a good idea and have a valuable opinion. Social media makes it easier to find consumers who are influencing the brand and hear what they think.”
Develop digital strategy
Social media research can also help companies develop their digital strategy. Just like any other business function, brands need to carefully allocate resources for online touchpoints, including Web sites, social media engagement, online advertising, etc. “Social media can’t escape the metrics and analytics. Executives will always want to see the ROI,” Smithee says. “Where are marketing dollars being spent? How can we effectively manage all of our touchpoints? There’s a huge opportunity for qualitative researchers if we understand those pieces.”
Murphy expands the idea by saying that companies can be overwhelmed by the increasing amount of data and in-creasing levels of interaction happening online. Compiling all the pieces and managing each channel presents an op-portunity for qualitative researchers. “We need to watch digital trends and understand the brand’s objectives well enough so that research is specifically catered to each digital channel,” she says. “There are numerous points of data – Google, Facebook, SEO, QR codes, etc. With all this different data coming in, my job is going to go beyond just under-standing social media data. Now you can put together the bigger story without even asking the questions, then dig even deeper by directly engaging with consumers.”
Kelly Hancock handles communications for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association. She can be reached at khancock@hartinc.com.

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