Social media research is the new one size fits all


Books about survey research and survey design.

Image via Wikipedia

Inspired by a tweet and after months of teaching people about what SM research really is, I’ve decided to take a stab at proving that SM research is all you really need.

I will admit to my past, present and future love affair with survey research. That will never go away. I’ve done tons of survey research on research and know far too much about the intricate disadvantages of it. Poor question design, lack of probability sampling, biased samples, overly long questions, you name it, I’ve researched it.

SM research on the other hand is all good. There are no survey design errors. Far more people contribute to SM data than to survey data. There are no concerns about incentives biasing the sample. You get data you would never see in a survey, unbelievable data!

Have I irked you yet? I’m sure I have. Because there are pros and cons of survey research just as there are pros and cons of SM research. Surveys are great for their purposes, focus groups for theirs, MROCs for theirs, and SM research for theirs.

The MR world seems to engage in a perpetual competition of which method is better. I think, however, that many of us really believe the different methods complement each other. Surveys and focus groups and, now the addition of SMR methods, are simply collaborations of three methods instead of two (or instead of 5, 6, 7 or more).

Just like the current debates of whether to start qual and then go quant, or to start quant and then go qual, we now have a new dimension to slot somewhere in the cycle. A dimension of people who aren’t intimidated by publically sharing their opinion with the world.

Combining forces gives us different knowledge, new knowledge, more in-depth knowledge. It gives us broader views and leads to new insights. Think about people who answer surveys but never chat online. Or, people who chat online but never participate in focus groups. If you only focus on one type of research, you miss out on all the other voices. We could draw a great Venn diagram of what voices we ignore when we focus too tightly.

Even better, if you think about all the methods researchers have available to them, more than ever we now have the ability to listen to people using the voice they want to speak in. And that can only mean better data.

So what is the one size fits all research method? Collaboration, my dear friends.

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4 responses

  1. Karen Landmann

    This makes a lot of sense to me. Even if you are not a “computer geek”, this is too big to ignore. The debates about quant vs. qual I consider basically useless. Why can;’t we all work together, using all of our skills? I plan to use SM heavily, but not at the expense of my other skills. It is just another tool in the arsenal, another way to get consumers we might otherwise not reach. Bravo!

  2. Love the image of your Venn diagram of the “voices we ignore when we focus too tightly”.

    I’ve always thought of SMR as complimentary to other methods. We get a more well rounded picture of consumers when we both “listen” with SMR and “ask” with traditional research.

  3. If only all subsets of MR could be performed via SM research. You know what people are saying but you don’t really know who they are.

    1. Yep, like all methods, SMR has both pros and cons.

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