One of the things I am frequently asked is what will Web 2.0 and Research 2.0 mean for clients. Whilst it is difficult to be prescriptive about all the changes that are happening a few trends are already becoming clear:
1) If the research department does not embrace and master this change, other departments and functions will. Several client teams have talked to me about how other people in their organisation are setting up brand forums, using mini-polls, and looking at “meet the customer” situations to improve their knowledge about customers and to increase sales. Brand teams, marketing teams, NPD teams, and even boards are all looking to get involved. There are two good reasons why client-side researchers should strive to control the process. A) To protect their jobs! B) The sorts of questions non-researchers tend to ask tend to be pretty dumb, and the interpretation of the replies too naïve.
2) Clients need to devote more resources to Research 2.0 projects. One key element of most Research 2.0 projects is that generate more feedback, much of which requires a rapid response from the client. For example, if the research includes hosting a customer forum, the questions and complaints posted need acknowledging instantly (i.e. automatically) and then need following up quickly. Suggestions need to be acted upon if the flow of suggestions is going to be meaningful.
3) Brands need to ‘prove’ they are responding to customers. Initially customers are delighted to be asked their views and to be given a chance to contribute to the brands, but disillusionment quickly sets in if proof of action is not provided. It is not sufficient to listen to customers and to action their suggestions, there has to be feedback to show customers that their input has made a difference.
4) Brand and researchers will need to determine how to weight different opinions. There are different views about how to weigh the different views of different customers. Should people who post more often be allowed more say than occasional visitors? Should more valuable customers, heavy users, be listened to more attentively? One suggestion is to look at the popularity of a customer or post, buy looking at the number of people who agree with the post or person, similar to the way Technorati ranks sites in terms of the number of other sites that link to it (something Technorati call authenticity).