In my earlier posts I look at the two main forms of social media research (in terms of revenue), namely communities (MROCs, Community Panels, and Other Communities) and social media monitoring. In this post I look at what I have termed the third type of social media research, i.e. all other social media research.
Other Forms of Social Media Research
This third category briefly reviews the breadth and diversity that constitutes social media research. Although this group includes some innovative and interesting manifestations of social media research, it should be borne in mind that all of these are currently of much smaller financial importance to the market research industry than communities and social media monitoring.
This catch-all grouping includes the items listed below:
- Smartphone augmented research
- Network analysis
- Social media as a sample source
- Research into social media
Netnography is sometimes used to describe social media monitoring, but Robert Kozinet’s highly readable book Netnography has clearly defined Netnography as human-to-human investigation conducted via social media. Indeed, not only does Kozinets exclude the automate processing of conversations, but he makes the case for a participant-observer model with the researcher engaging with the participants.
Netnography can be a very powerful technique in terms of obtaining insight, but it is not seen as a scalable approach as it requires time and skill, so it is likely to remain a specialised niche, applied to a sub-set of research situations, for example research conducted prior to creating a survey or even before submitting a research proposal.
Smartphone Augmented Research
The combination of social media and the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone is opening up a range of research approaches. Communities are tasking members to capture slices of their lives as images and videos and to upload them, systems such as Revelation Project allow respondents to use their smartphone to engage in auto-ethnography, whilst other researchers have started using smartphones as links to surveys, blogs, and research tasks.
Like most of mobile research, the use of smartphones in social media research has added colour and definition, but has not been a major force yet. The material gathered from smartphone augmented research tends to be unstructured text, images, and video, all of which make the analysis expensive, time consuming, and hard to scale.
Network analysis is based on processing large amounts of behavioural data, including website analytics, social graphs, the flow of terms through social media, the use of bandwidth for social media, geolocation data (for example from FourSquare), media behaviour within social media (for example ads viewed, videos watched, and virtual sites visited).
Research companies are also linking social media analysis with conventional data, for example Gemius provide methods of tracking the online behaviour of panel members, subject to panel members agreeing.
Outside of market research, network analysis is a very large business, part of the business information industry. Within market research network analysis is still relatively undeveloped and it is quite possible that the network analysis services utilised in conjunction with market research will be conducted by mostly non-research organisations.
Social Media as a Sample Source
Social media is where the people are, so the idea of using social media to recruit respondents to conventional surveys is very appealing and fits well with the river sampling approach that has become more popular in recent years.
There are several approaches to using social media as a sample source. Some organisations, such as Peanut Labs (now part of Research Now), have created systems based on a wide variety social networks, with the sample being directed towards conventional surveys. A number of brands with popular social media presences, for example Facebook pages with a large number of fans, utilise them to attract respondents. A number of software vendors have apps or options that facilitate brands to run surveys directly from their social media presences, for example Global Park’s Social Insight Connect works directly from a brand’s Facebook page.
Research into Social Media
One of the big divides between academic and commercial research in the area of social media research is that whilst a large part of academic research looks at the medium itself, most commercial research treats social media as a channel through which to research the wider world, in particular brands and services.
Commercial research into social media tends to be focused on understanding how to generate viral campaigns, to market services in social media, and to understand the nature of influence. One phenomenon that holds back the commissioning of more research into social media is the widespread practice to develop social media tools, approaches, services, and apps by trial and error rather than by prior research.