In 2012, will social media data analysis still give us fits?

We’re getting ready to field our annual researcher salary survey and so I’ve been rereading some of the output from the 2011 study. One of the goals of this blog will be to give readers some tips and guidance on keeping their skills in line with current market demands and as I’ve been assessing the changes from last year to this year, I feel like these passages from my July 2011 Trade Talk column are still applicable today. (We had asked 2011 salary-survey respondents to tell us what they viewed as the biggest challenges facing MR in the coming years and my column focused on themes that emerged from the verbatims.)

Respondents were generally of two minds on the topic of social media data. While they recognize that it’s here to stay and acknowledge that it has a role as a listening device, many seem overwhelmed by the thought of having to make sense of it and are also alarmed that internal clients view it as a (potentially free) replacement for ad hoc research projects.

As one Quirk’s reader put it, social media makes some marketers feel, “that they know their customers sufficiently without marketing research. These days, members of the general public make their voices heard through all sorts of media, including social ones, and some may feel that those voices are representative. In essence, they are saying, ‘We’ve given the public sufficient attention through listening to what they’re saying in letters, blogs, tweets, etc.,’ but not really recognizing that simply giving time to ‘the public’ does not equate to understanding the feelings and motivations of their customers.”

Further, said another, “there’s a trend toward mining social data as a substitute for conducting research, which may be useful in some regards, but could also end up ‘listening to all the gossip in the neighborhood’ rather than providing actionable data.”

Some researchers expressed feelings of being damned if they do, damned if they don’t when it comes to social media and other new data-gathering techniques. By ceding ground to or giving too much legitimacy to social media data, researchers could be rendered irrelevant in the eyes of those hungry for “insights.”

But despite anger over “the perception that social media is the answer to EVERYTHING!” these data sources can’t be ignored, especially when internal calls for mining them grow louder by the day. And the researcher who ignores them or denigrates them runs the risk of being seen as out of touch (at best) or unhelpful (at worst): “By not keeping up with newest Web technology, social media, competitive intelligence, we will allow others to supplant what should be a market research function.”

While a host of external factors were mentioned as problematic, some respondents pointed a finger back at themselves and their peers:

“Too many researchers see/envision the value of research in and of itself. Too few can make a clear business case for their research. In particular, non-commercial (govt. and academics) give research a terribly bad name/image (i.e., eggheads who are theoretical twits, suck off other peoples’ money/resources and do little other than study ‘stuff’ that matters little if at all). I’m quite serious about the foregoing comments.”

“Staying relevant. Researchers need to adapt their presentations to actually drive action on the insights obtained. The ones that get it get rehired and/or promoted. The ones that don’t get stuck in the same job for 15 years with no advancement, always wondering why.”

“We need to focus on the quality of research. With the number of companies, different technologies, new methodologies, overseas analytics, we need to be very diligent with the data. Make sure our findings don’t end up under the heading of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics.’”

Watch for our June issue to find out what the focus of this year’s angst will be!

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