You would have to have been living on the moon for the past six years to not realise the importance of social media in modern society. The digital world has vastly transformed how we live and (perhaps most importantly) how we interact with one another. One thing is for sure, it doesn’t look set to go away anytime soon. In fact it has been widely speculated that, due to the projected increase in marketing spend on social media campaigns, social platforms will not only going increase in size but be increasingly utilised as a public information source; essentially usurping websites, newspapers and other ‘traditional’ media. As social media communication increases amongst friends, family and peers so too does its use in marketing campaigns; profoundly changing the way brands talk to their customers.
So if brands are turning to social media to gain day-to-day, real time insight into their consumers’ behaviour, perhaps it’s time that the MR industry followed suit? This week our A-Z series takes a look at the incredible opportunity that social media represents for the MR industry whilst also considering the problems associated with harnessing such information.
First, an incredible statistic: four out of five active internet users engage in social media. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this equates to an unparalleled pool of (uncensored) information ready for the taking.
For many, the digital world gives an illusion of anonymity that allows us to communicate freely, with other like-minded individuals; without feeling the need to censor opinions, thoughts or ideas. Add into this equation extraordinary levels of access and convenience, and you suddenly find that many of the usual personal boundaries disappear.
Theoretically time constraints become a thing of the past too (the draw backs of this are discussed below). With social media working in real time, immediacy stops being a buzzword and starts becoming a reality. Answers are at the click of a button, allowing us to react quickly to new trends and ideas, whilst simultaneously gaining insight much quicker than we ever have been able to previously.
One thing which speaks to every business owner is money. The glaringly obvious cost saving benefits of utilising digital technology over more traditional methodologies (which are more often than not, costly and lengthy in their approach) seemingly places contemporary MR in serious danger of becoming obsolete. Fundamentally, the greatest advantages of going social are its speed and low cost execution.
On paper social media research may well look damn near perfect; however, there are some massive draw backs that are deterring researchers from heavily investing their time and resources.
Firstly a quick return to issue of time; yes social media allows us to collect large quantities of data but currently there is limited technology in place to quantify it in anything close to real time. So whilst it has the potential to be much faster than traditional methodologies, until affordable technology is developed, the efficiency of social media research is not yet fully optimised. Additionally just how much would we be prepared to trust an algorithm?
A very difficult balance to manage is privacy vs. identity verification. As it is legally impossible to use information available online without the respondents acknowledgment (and currently we can’t utilise personal details Facebook and the like provide). Without anything definitive, the collated information becomes almost speculative in the eyes of the client. There is also the danger that, should researchers push for clarification on personal details, participants will not engage due to the infringement of privacy (or the perception of it).
An aspect of the popularity of social networks is the opportunity for individuals to (re)define themselves online. This allows them to tell you what they want you to hear; a completely subjective self-portrait, making it difficult to know what the truth is. Of course even in traditional methodologies there is an element of trust required to accept that the people taking part in studies are who they say they are.
There are some other more basic problems, such as restricted internet access, making it difficult to get responses from a broader cross-section of society. Chances are the homeless single teenage mothers your clients want you to research aren’t going to be on Twitter; so there will always be a place for traditional methodologies.
The digital world (and all of its social media platforms) is clearly an invaluable pool of insight. The benefits are evident but they aren’t without their shortcomings; namely quantifying such large amounts of data whilst not infringing on participants’ privacy. The complexities of such a balance are too extensive to discuss here, but it is interesting to think how we will move forward as the digital realms continue to rapidly expand. MR is going to have to jump on-board at some point, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later if it is to have any chance of keeping up with the advanced world it so closely observes.
Do you believe that the perceived veil of anonymity on social networking sites encourages greater candidness or a reconstruction of an individuals persona?
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