There are more ways than ever to listen to consumers in the digital age, but some brands find the additional feedback to be more noisy than informative. And according to a new study by the Advertising Research Foundation, many don’t want to spend the money on something they don’t always find rewarding.

Thanks to Twitter, other social media and the internet generally, companies are able to get more up to the minute information from their customers than ever before. But according to ARF, social media monitoring has not advanced consumer research to the point where companies should start abandoning the good old survey. 

The ARF has compiled its recent research into a book called “Foundations of Listening” that covers various methods of listening to and dealing with consumers. But while tapping into to the din of consumers online has made it easier to hear what customers are saying about brands, the deluge of information doesn’t necessarily give a better picture of the consumer landscape than analytical research prepared by the marketing world.

According to AdAge:

“Research departments are seeking funds for new ‘listening’ tools while
trying not to sacrifice existing survey spending. To solve the problem, [Steve Rappaport, ARF knowledge solutions director] suggests spreading the wealth, or perhaps the pain.”

Rappaport suggests splitting the cost of research across multiple departments, from marketing, market research, and product
development, to quality control, public relations and legal.

But increasingly, attaining survey research is an uphill battle. It’s getting harder
to solicit people to express their opinions in guided ways, in part
because the venues for expressing unsolicited opinions online are
growing so rapidly.

But ARF notes that it is nevertheless important, as the results from more traditional marketing research often differ from what can be garnered from real-time info online.

Buzz tracking online helps diffuse urgent customer care issues, but it doesn’t necessarily give a full picture of how a brand is viewed among consumers. And according to Bill Keller, author of the book “The Influentials” and principal of the research firm Keller Fay Group, the correlation between offline and online buzz is often limited.

He tells AdAge that offline discussion composes around 90% of
word-of-mouth for brands. And according to a study cited in AdAge’s article, out of 100 brands
most talked about
online, only two of the top 10 were also the most talked about offline. Meanwhile, only
about 25 of the top 50 most-talked-about online brands were also the most-talked-about
offline.

The problem is that while online buzz tracking may not be a perfect way to track consumers, it does have the
benefit of being the loudest. Now, thanks to Twitter, Google and
constant reblogging, marketing snafus are immortalized in the digital
record.

But the unavoidability of consumer opinion online also has the benefit of forcing marketers and researchers to pay attention. Even if the data does not correlate to offline research, having it out there will be a boon as we figure out how to integrate its findings into existing research.

Compiling and analyzing all that info may be harder than it
seems, but getting a more complete picture of consumer insight is important to
brands. And eventually, all of that data being voluntarily shared online will help form a better picture of how consumers interact with brands, both online and offline.