Where does social media fit in the research mix?

One of the questions I am often asked is where does social media fit in the research mix and over the last couple of years I have developed the following four point response:

  1. What is market research? It is what you do when you can’t get customer/user information in a cheaper better way. This means that over time MR changes, some new things become possible, but some new alternatives are developed, making some aspects of MR redundant.
  2. Social Media gives us the chance to listen to real conversations, and sometimes that will replace market research, on other occasions it will add something. Listening to social media is now a necessary action for brands.
  3. However, people are not always talking about you, so the answers to your current questions may not exist in social media, so social media is necessary but not sufficient.
  4. If people are not talking about you, then you need to ask questions or create discussions. In the old days this meant surveys and focus groups, but now it includes creating ongoing discussion via communities (and I think it will also include creating conversations in social media).

The key point is that there is no single and permanent answer to the question about where social media fits in the research picture. In some ways it is as odd a question as where do pens fit in the research process, or words, or pictures. Sometimes, social media is the message (to misquote Marshall McLuhan) but for researchers social media is usually just the medium.

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