What are the limitations of using social media as a research tool? Are there certain questions it cannot answer? Is it only valuable for certain types of companies/industries? How can social media be used as a research tool for social media campaigns?
I believe social media can be a great research tool for social media campaigns:
1. It lets a marketer do real-time research and create online focus groups devoted to a specific topic or product that really needs it
2. It lets a brand, service or company reach out to a wide audience and build new relationships and/or enhance existing relationships with them – both online and offline
3. It lets marketers share their developments just prior to a product launch, line extension or brand repositioning: these direct announcements from a company are highly valued by early adopters and innovators
Research and strategic planning lend to a successful media campaign
The researcher/marketer must ask the right questions and have the ability to change/update objectives if they are not being met. If said objectives are being met, documenting what was successful and why it worked could be a useful tool for future social media campaigns in the as analysis of the saved data could lead to a winning template for replicating great results.
I do believe social media does have limitations e.g. you can’t rush research data; you can only encourage participants to respond to you in a timely fashion based on their priorities (even if you have contest deadlines).
Let’s say Subway is running a free sub promotion but it requires the participant to answer a short facebook survey about which locations they like to go to, what time of day they usually go there and what they like to order. I believe that this kind of promotion has an inherent bias in it because:
1. people who like to enter contests and get free stuff would enter (not that this is a bad thing)
2. there could be people who want to do the survey but since they are new to being online or even using computers, perhaps they find the whole filling out the survey thing too confusing or even intimidating (this would limit the type of audience participating in the survey)
3. there would be a cross-section of the population who are either too busy or don’t care to receive a free sub coupon to participate in the survey
All 3 point to the usefulness of having more than one version of this promotion in order to widen the target market reach i.e. offer entry to a free draw for gift cards, discount coupons, and/or limited edition Subway memorabilia like hats or t-shirts to provide incentive for people to participate in the research.
In terms of research, perhaps have something else available aside from the survey, something like a focus group where if people agree to come into the certain stores at certain times, there will be a research-interviewer that can verbally ask them questions before/after the customer orders a sandwich then they can be rewarded with a free sub coupon or one of the above alternatives I provided.
A great method …
… could be to get customers to do a scavenger hunt around a chosen city for collectible coupons and then tweet the location thereby providing a viral marketing component to this research. Not only are you getting data about who is engaging in the research study (track-able online, of course), you are also getting publicity/free advertising. People love to re-tweet stuff for contests (I’ve done it myself for Vancouver Buzz).
Over the Christmas season, this Vancouver Buzz (on its facebook page) promoted a host of really cool contests. Obviously, I had to “like” their facebook page, follow some more instructions like post on their article page that “I entered and tweeted” and actually tweet or re-tweet a pre-set line that links back to their contest sponsors and the original contest article. I’ve entered a dozen of their contests because it was easy to do, I already have a Twitter account and I really wanted my hands on the prize!
Rushing won’t work
There are more limitations with social media, since it’s about building relationships (and successful ones take time, trust and engagement). Just like a real-life relationship, I feel that one cannot really force the relationship to develop quickly. It’s like dating, you can’t rush it. You need to go out on dates and find out stuff your date likes, if you mesh well together, how your date reacts to different social situations, etcetera.
If you are aggressive as an advertiser or if you do something people find distasteful (as a researcher, marketer or brand/company), people will get turned off, offended or worse: they could be trolls so instead of giving you free lip service on social media sites, they could be saying “how lame that contest so-and-so is running” and you’ll find that this could bring traffic to your website. It could go 2 ways: you could end up with publicity nonetheless which could be good for pay-per-click ads or you could get a whole slew of people slamming you publicly like what happened to the Skittles website (when they left it unchecked).
Social media can be useful …
… to anyone and everyone provided they know what they want and they understand the limitations. To be honest, I’m not sure if social media has questions it might not be able to answer – I like to believe that all questions are answerable provided the scope of the research parameters are taken into consideration, as well as the limitations of the people engaging in the research. I think some semblance of an answer is always possible (I like to be optimistic).
Social media gives great value
I am not sure of which companies or industries would find social media research/campaigns non-valuable; I do believe that it could be incorporated into something pre-existing. For example, researchers that need hard data from field research or require in-depth, in-person interaction (like mood monitoring for psychological research studies), social media research as a stand-alone would be a bad idea since it could be perceived as cold, mechanical and confusing for the participants. I’m sure some might argue it could be inhumane since it’s all automated.
How to make it work better
For the psych research example above, if you have participants who are technophiles and are open to a new method of research that combined having an initial meeting with a researcher and participant, it’s already more humanized because of the structure of the the social (meeting) component. You can have a clinician explain the procedures/guidelines explained to participants. The latter have on-going access to contact the clinicians via email or Skype for further clarification. For future sessions, a 6-week on-going, online questionnaires could be filled out by the participant weekly until it’s time for the study to wrap up and do an in-office check-in and debrief.