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Social Media for Market Research

April 12, 2009

Companies are joining social networking sites at a rapid pace in hopes of increasing their authenticity and accessibility. A lot of the motivation to join social networking sites stems from the mentality that everyone (individuals and corporations) participate in these networks. This mindset and knee-jerk reaction to join causes companies to miss out on an essential opportunity. The idea behind the groundswell is that people are using these new technologies to talk to each other and get information about companies, brands and products without having to interact directly with corporate entities. If companies listened to the groundswell before they blindly started to join social networks, they would be able to better understand their audience and thereby, adopt a strategy that would aid them in improved communication. Companies pay, on average, $ 15 billion per year on market research (Bernoff and Li 79). By merely listening to the groundswell, companies can supplement traditional forms of research and gain powerful consumer insights with relatively little effort and financial investment.

Bernoff and Li suggest a few different ideas that will allow companies to use the groundswell as a tool to compliment market research. A quick and simple way to get started is to do a google search of the brand or product along with words such as “sucks” or “awesome.” Additionally, searching blogs or tagging sites such as can help companies learn from the conversations regarding their brand.

The authors of Groundswell champion that gaining valuable consumer insights can be achieved from two different strategies. On strategy is to set up a private virtual community that acts like a continuous focus group. Companies like Communispace set up private communities for their clients. They recruit a couple hundred people in the client’s target market and the members form a social network complete with profiles, forums and online chat platforms. However, the network is only visible to the members, the client and Communispace. The members spend a certain amount of hours per week on the site and are usually compensated with online gift certificates. Meanwhile, the clients benefit from observing the interactions of the members and come up with insights that are more authentic, and likely stronger than those harvested from traditional focus groups (84).

Another way corporations can benefit from the groundswell is through brand monitoring (82). This is achieved by hiring a company such as Nielson to search blogs, YouTube and sites where users can rate or discuss certain products. The activity and discussions are summarized and reported back to the company. This helps companies become aware of the problems or issues their customers are talking about and gets them thinking about how to address and solve those problems in the most effective manner (82). Again, this approach leads to a much more transparent and authentic set of results than a traditional customer satisfaction survey.

These methods of listening to the Groundswell will help companies learn about the conversations and perceptions surrounding their brand. As brand theorist Ricardo Guimarães asserts, the consumers define brands, not the corporations that claim to own them (78). Therefore, it is extremely important for companies to learn about the current interpretations of their brand before they enter into the realm of digital discourse. This enables them to successfully engage in current conversations instead of trying to create new conversations that might be irrelevant or even contradictory to what consumers are already talking about. Further, by listening, companies are able to acknowledge they understand that ultimately brands, on and offline, belong to the consumers.

Hilary Jones

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon Beaumont permalink
    April 13, 2009 7:10 am

    Hi Hilary

    Virtual Surveys has some presentations freely available on its website that you and your students might find useful. Some focus on using online communities for research, which we do for a number of blue chip clients:


  2. April 20, 2009 9:52 am

    Hilary – Interesting post. We have customers who could vouch for the strategy of using an online community for insights. One of our clients is actually getting more than half of their usable product ideas from a community, driving an 8-week innovation cycle. Much cheaper, much faster, much more in line with what customers want. Here’s a little more info:



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