Market Researchers Resources The 2018 Guide to Qualitative Research Methods

Social Media as a Catalyst for Growing a Marketing Research Firm’s Business

By Kathy Doyle & Thomas Malkin

I met Tom Malkin, President of GeeYee, in the fall of 2008 at a conference I was speaking at. He was my first real introduction to the idea of social media as a business tool. Yes, I was on Facebook, but that’s not what Tom was talking about. He was talking about tapping into the vast quantities of data available for the taking, and using them to inform business decisions.

I was intrigued by GeeYee’s process, and social media analysis in general, but it didn’t take long before I also saw the threat to my industry. After all, social media is truly qualitative data on a quantitative scale. And I had to ask myself: If data is that easy to obtain, why should clients continue to hire qualitative research firms such as mine? Where is our value?

Being an optimist, I chose to embrace this new tool, explore how it worked, and look for that opportunity. And I soon found it. Yes, there are now mass quantities of qualitative data available for the taking, but now moreso than ever, there is still a place for traditional qualitative research, and for qualitative researchers to embrace social media and use it as an opportunity to add value for our clients. Here’s why: because the data raises as many questions as it answers, and those questions need to be explored further; because the data can be overwhelming and our busy clients need an interpreter; and because we can help them frame the data, analyze it, and tell the story behind it. And with our “outsider” perspective, that very quality our clients have always valued, we can often see stories in the data that they cannot see for themselves.

So how are we using GeeYee’s tool? Doyle Research uses GeeYee’s social media analysis service to search millions of blogs, forums, review sites, and other social media for “chatter” around specific brands and/or topics. Information is then organized into reports that we access online, and use as a discovery tool prior to qualitative research. We use this tool to 1) Discover issues to explore further with qualitative research; 2) Clarify research parameters, or identify and define target markets; and 3) Supplement more traditional secondary research as “background” prior to a major qualitative initiative.

In other words, we are currently using social media analysis as a complement to the qualitative methods we already employ, not as a replacement for them.

“We are currently using social media analysis as a complement to the qualitative methods we already employ, not as a replacement for them.”

Two examples of how GeeYee’s service has been used by our firm:

Brand X is in a declining category. We were asked to help them understand the reasons behind the decline, and help them identify areas of future opportunity and growth. We began with GeeYee’s social media analysis service, Opinion Observer, and used the tool to discover issues and consumer segments to focus on in the next phase. The resulting learning helped define study parameters and identify a target segment on which to focus in phase two qualitative research.

Another client was asked to reposition its brand to deliver against a new corporate mandate. To begin with, they wanted to understand the mandate from a consumer’s perspective. GeeYee’s social media analysis service was proposed as a complement to Doyle Research’s MineSights® service (qualitative meta-analysis) to help focus new product development efforts.

While we are still experimenting with social media analysis as a tool, learning the strengths and limitations of social media, and the best ways in which to utilize it, we have come to view it not as a threat, but rather as another tool in our toolbox, not to mention an additional source of revenue.

In addition to how Doyle Research is using social media to complement and grow its business, GeeYee has seen marketing research firms generate new revenue streams by using social media to 1) Benchmark prior quantitative and qualitative research and customer recommendations; 2) Support hypotheses (or “hunches”) with the purpose of pitching and winning new business to prospects or existing clients; and 3) Get the full story on the voice of the customer to maximize client recommendations.

Furthermore, GeeYee’s ACTION formula has served as a guide for firms in using social media to complement their core value proposition: Traditional Marketing Research + Social Media Insights + Monitoring = ACTION.

This formula emphasizes that marketing research firms want insights over listening, for you can listen all day long and never come up with insights. Additionally, the combination of “classic” quantitative and qualitative marketing research with social media insights is a constant reminder that social media is directional and traditional marketing research is representative (hence the need to have both in order to obtain the full story of the voice of the customer).

You’ll notice that the formula also includes “monitoring” as a necessary component to ensure actionable results are obtained for your customers. This is because the large volume of constantly changing voices of customers can have sudden impacts on a brand that need to be detected in the form of an emerging trend rather than an after-the fact. For this reason, the need for a firm’s customers to have monitoring has created a recurring-revenue opportunity for marketing research firms whereby they can anticipate insights rather than service their clients solely in historical snapshots.

“The combination of ‘classic’ quantitative and qualitative marketing research with social media insights is a constant reminder that social media is directional and traditional marketing research is representative.”

In monitoring, it is important to pay heed to the following: 1) Insights into product development, brand perception, emerging trends and crisis management are optimized when entire product categories and their respective issues are visualized (and not just brands or products); 2) Alerts are more meaningful if they are beyond the subject and at the issue-based level; 3) Monitoring on the basis of relevant social media data is critical (i.e. you don’t want Tropicana Suntan lotion in the Tropicana Orange Juice study); 4) You want to ensure your automated solution can account for context-dependent opinions, implicit subjects, and implicit product features/issues since people communicate in a more familiar manner in social media; and, lastly, 5) A machine learning capability will provide consistency and refined accuracy over time that will come through your domain expertise.

In conclusion, social media has created a data point that can optimize decision making. Just make sure that the social media solution you ultimately choose complements your core competency and doesn’t take you away from it.

Kathy Doyle is the CEO of Doyle Research, & Thomas Malkin is the president of GeeYee.

“I have used Doyle Research on numerous occasions, and have found the team to be knowledgeable, creative in recommending solutions for qualitative that works, able to turn on a dime when we needed it. We’ve had solid results and some highly insightful analysis that opened business partner eyes to some things they didn’t know but needed to.”

Consumer Insights | DeVry University

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