Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Social Media as Research: Fire or Smoke?

An entrepreneur I respect immensely sent me the link below to an article entitled, "Will Social Media Replace Surveys as a Research Tool?"

I agree with some points made, including the idea that "conversation" is now the expectation and that quality insights matters most.

I also concur about being methodologically agnostic. One size does not fit all. But you also can't be agnostic in thinking every brand needs a social media strategy. It was real consumer insights that revealed to two of my clients that nearly nine in 10 customers and prospects had no desire to connect with them in any way on Facebook or Twitter. BTW, one of those clients is in the Internet solutions business. Kinda ironic don't you think?

This is not to say these clients are impervious to social media backlash. But in as much as assuming everyone wants to get tweets from your company or friend your business, allowing social media chatter or buzz to do much more than inform on a basic level is kinda like using a bucket to put out a building fire. It ain't enough.

Remember the Motrin moms incident in 2008? Motrin quietly launched an Internet campaign on a Friday about hip pain moms can get from carrying their infants. By that Sunday, a few offended bloggers lit the fuse, a thousand Twitter moms poured gas on it and before the weekend was up Johnson & Johnson pulled the campaign to douse the flames.

For argument's sake, let's say J&J was targeting 15 million women (I'm probably way under-stating by millions). All totaled, there were only 1,500 tweets, many of which came from the same tweeters. I'm not a mathematician but I believe that comes to 0.01% of tweets to my estimate of consumers targeted by Motrin. Would you make ANY decision based on just 0.01%?

Reacting is not a strategy. Informing yourself in a methodologically-appropriate manner, using a representative sample and uncovering the real attitudes behind the behavior is one.

Had J&J addressed the "crisis" with a little "crisis research" (companies can turn this quickly) instead of knee jerking, they might not have called in the fire department so quickly. At the very least, gathering real insights might have validated their decision.

Don't get me wrong, social media chatter can inform. But using it alone to make brand decisions is like running into a burning building. It's not very smart.

These are my GUTS feelings.

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