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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.

Meghan Keane

Published 11 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

I don't think anyone in the "social media monitoring / buzz monitoring" space should advocate their services as a total replacement for other forms of stakeholder insight.

The problem is in the terminology. "Monitoring" can mean listening - getting a massive list of verbatims trawled from myriad social media and trying to distill some sense from it (like "herding cats" is the expression I've heard) or even getting some superficial automated analysis that may will give the questions ("our customer service sucks - why?") but not the answers (call centre waiting times, inflexible contracts, rude staff etc.).

For analysis of social media insight to complement other forms of market research it needs to focus on the most visible references (hence the media need to be analysed - traffic, links, interactivity, frequency of update, originality of content) and these references broken down into opinion topics (e.g. customer service) and sub-topics (call centres, other touchpoints, contracts, cancellation policy etc) with sentiment applied at these levels. Add to that defining each opinion by the opinion type (is it a suggestion, question, recommendation, complaint?), the opinion holder (former, current, potential, competition customer etc), product/service line ,language and have access to the big picture (with multiple filtering possibilities) via an online viewer and you have a powerful insight tool.

Does this mean you can drop the surveys or focus groups? Maybe not, you might want to follow up salient issues with some of the opinion holders. They might respond better to these targetted enquiries than they do to catch-all, 10 page exams that I've seen.

Social media insight providers need to work on integrating this with other CRM data and/or market research data to win over potential clients across the business functions.

over 6 years ago

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Synthesio

Some brands find the additional feedback to be more noisy than informative

Llike any type of marketing research, the human component is still necessary, and data must be taken with a grain of salt.

It is unfortunate that some brands have not yet found the monitoring solution that lets them efficiently filter out noise from the data or have found it to be more annoying or scary than helpful. Word of mouth marketing, beit online or off, can sometimes be fuzzy. The key is detecting influencers within online communities, engaging in ways that can be measured, and tracking ROI over time.

As you pointed out, buzz tracking online is only a part of the picture when it comes to gaining insights about consumer behavior. Certainly not everyone is communicating about brands online, and fewer are creating contents that deal directly with brands or companies than those that are reading it. However, gaining an idea of what consumers are saying online is yet one more tool that marketers should not ignore less they ignore a tech-savvy segment that can provide any number of strategical, operational, marketing, product, etc insights. And you're right - marketers are being forced not to ignore this space.

Thanks again for the post.

Best,

Michelle

@Synthesio

over 6 years ago

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