Social Media: Generation C - The implications for researchers, marketers and advertisers.
Generation C: What do you understand of this terminology? What is the first thing that comes to mind? Does it mean 'consumer', 'connected', 'creation', 'content', 'conversation', 'community', 'customise', 'curiosity', 'communication', or something else perhaps?
The characterisation of "Gen C" has evolved over time and is still a widely debated topic. However from a psychographic point of view, "Generation C" can be summarized as the digital natives who share information with people like friends, family, colleagues and consumers through the use of content (RSS, blogs, Podcasts, Wikipedia, YouTube, social bookmarking, etc.) and communities (social networking, forums, etc)1. Social technologies have directly influenced how this generation socialises and interacts. How they gather and consume information, engage in their daily activities or choose their products and services.
The Rise of Social Media
Social networks, forums and blogs are visited almost daily by online users and this is understandably creating a lot of buzz and excitement amongst researchers, marketers and advertisers alike. As a result, some early trends2 have emerged so far:
- Consumer-to-consumer - By e-word of mouth (e-WOM), consumers are now gaining more control by driving conversations with or without direct input from brands.
- Business-to-consumer - Many businesses are jumping aboard the bandwagon in the rush to integrate social media into their overall marketing activities, thus revolutionizing the way they communicate with consumers and subsequently grow their businesses. In Asia for example, Foursquare provides location-based apps to Topshop and Topman the fashion retailer to offer check-in promotions in an attempt to engage in a more rewarding shopping experience with their target group.
- Social listening via brand communities - Businesses are discovering new and potential ways to target and research niche markets. Through the use of online community technology they are able to both assist in the development of new products and services, also giving their consumers a voice and actively engaging with them.
- Web scraping - A process whereby content and media files are mined from numerous social media sites, blogs and forums to generate unstructured, albeit valuable, insights around an organisation's brand, product or service. Even information seeking tasks are also being redefined via online Q&A technology like Quora, Facebook Questions, Asks.com and Google's Aardvark.
- ROI measurement - It has become increasingly important to measure return on investment via social media. By selecting the social media platform relevant to your business, and then tracking of sales generated from online activities such as visitors to your website, followers via 'branded' Facebook or Twitter pages, online display advertising and campaigns, e-WOM and blog comments regarding your brand, product or service, etc. Increasing brand conversion and loyalty and thereby increasing sales and profits represents a positive ROI via a social media approach.
- Online commercialisation - Interactive ads via various social media platforms are on the rise. According to ZenithOptimedia2, online video and social media are now key portals for display advertising within the internet category, with a forecasted 33.9% contribution to the internet ad-spend in 2010 and 35% in 2013.
- Campaign dynamism - Building brand awareness via social media directly benefits search engine ranking and exposure, which is therefore capable of turning what started as local campaign into a global phenomenon due to the spillover effect of online dialogues. One of the examples is the 'Old Spice' online ad campaign - a male grooming brand by Procter & Gamble which accumulated close to 6 millions of video views within 24 hours and generated 22,500 comments.
The Social Media Phenomenon
Before making the decision to adopt social media as part of a marketing, communication or research strategy, one must first explore and understand the terminology of different social media sites. Here are a few examples :
- Social networking portals - Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, etc.;
- Image, audio & video sharing - Flickr, PhotoBucket, last.fm, ShareTheMusic, YouTube, Dailymotion, etc.;
- Weblogs - Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, etc.;
- Forums / online discussion boards;
- Social bookmarking sites - Digg, Delicious, etc.
- Looking at Asia Pacific (APAC) in particular, let's explore in more detail the social networks that are prevalent within this region.
Popular Social Networking Sites : The below table summarises the Social Media brand hierarchy within APAC. The data presented being was obtained from Alexa Traffic Ranking, with the ranking for each of the website's popularity based on average daily visitors and pageviews over a rolling 3 month period. As of January 2011, we can see Facebook was the dominant social network site in the APAC region, as it is worldwide.
So what are the implications? The overall ranking indicates that online users are connected to the internet for a variety of activities besides social networking. A quick glance at the Alexa Traffic Ranking site shows that in general APAC online users are:
- Searching information via search engine sites (like Google, Yahoo!, MSN.com, local search engine), Wikipedia, etc.;
- Reading breaking news in local newspaper websites;
- Watching online videos via YouTube and photo sharing in Flickr and Photobucket;
- Blogging or browsing local blogs and forums;
- Visiting local online banking sites for the necessary services and managing online transactions via PayPal;
- Doing some online shopping at eBay, Amazon, etc.
Since the number of active members and site usage patterns will continually change through time, one should not base their choice of social media platform solely on site popularity as those sites with lower site traffic may be a better fit for an organisation's needs or attract proportionately more of their target audience. Below are a few considerations which researchers, marketers and advertisers should be aware of:
- Understand the effectiveness of your current initiatives, whether it is your marketing mix or research strategies and approaches. The key is to understand your intended objectives and adopting social media as part of a new initiative should accomplish your goals and maximizing your ROI;
- Determine the right social media approach to map behaviors and insights via information-rich websites and social landscape by category;
- With the fast-changing online environment, conducting a tracking study will be helpful in order to understand the online activities of your target audience, their involvement in social media space and monitoring the influence of technologies on them.
New Metrics and Methods
From a market research perspective, current social media platforms make use of newer type metrics and methods to harvest valuable data through continually analysing online conversations and behavior. Below are a few examples :
- Data mining via sentiment analysis3 - an analysis of consumers real-time opinions, attitudes and emotional state in respect of selected brands, products and services;
- Real-time content monitoring and search analysis via ''Google Alerts", ''Twitter Search", ''Social Mention" etc. will help you to track and measure the visibility of your brand, product or service or even that of your competitors within the social media space. How people interact with this volume of information can influence their choice in terms of consumptions, preferences, demands and budget allocation;
- Trend analysis via ''Google Trends" and ''Google Insights" - can offer a quick snapshot of general market trends using a collation of keyword search data over a period of time. This can be anything from brands, news, events, online commercials, etc. By categorising the data by countries, cities and languages organizations can detect a growing trend, indentify new opportunities for their product lines and uncover unmet needs within a market.
Each method has its own intrinsic benefits and the challenge is to have the right blend of expertise and resources to gather quality contents.
Research Gap via Social Media
Here are some benefits social networks can offer from a market research perspective:
- Real time quantitative results through simple poll data and commentary from consumers as they interact with a brand, product or service;
- Leveraging passive recruitment - Recruitment of qualified respondents for selective studies through ongoing engagement and communication;
- Idea generation and co-creation - Brands can engage and challenge consumers to answer questions or test their research hypotheses, or by inspiring better products and services through bottom up R&D, or stimulating purchase behavior. One of the influential case studies is the Swarovski Innovation Research Community (IRC)4 . By combining market research and co-creation with users in an online community setting, Swarovski was able to determine consumer preferences regarding the designs of a wristwatch with gemstones;
- Content analysis - To provide an holistic view of your brand, product or service, looking at variables such as general awareness, share of attention in social media (e.g. potential reach across different online channels or sites, number of recommendations / referrals you received, users bookmarking your content), and thus keeping track of relevant conversations and associations.
Below are some limitations for carrying out research via social media platforms5:
- Restricted demographics - Sampling is normally based on website individuals with unique online behaviors and activities;
- Simple poll format - Single response for each question thus limiting the level of insights. However the user can be directed from a social media platform to a bespoke online survey application, thus allowing a researcher or marketer to leverage those insights through the deployment of a more complex and sophisticated research survey tool;
- Reduced ability to accurately measure brand penetration or awareness - Zero brand mentions in a social media space doesn't necessary contribute to non-usage or awareness. Volume of social media buzz /mentions will be low if your product is effectively for niche market or not a top-of-mind brand;
- Finding the balance for data extraction - The challenge here is to equalize the voices from websites with different traffic ranking and active users. A skillful keyword search, a well-developed sampling plan and effective weighting are required to ensure the validity, reliability and consistency of the findings;
- Unmoderated qualitative insights - It can be difficult to organize answers to specific questions since it is open for people to discuss anything and therefore hard to control the multiplier effect of non-relevant discussions;
- It is now more difficult to provide assurances around issues such as privacy, citing and referencing of online sources, monitoring of legal ages for participation in online research-related activities, etc.
Establishing an online research community or ''brand community" is one notable method of communicating via a social media platform. Some of the key benefits of opting for this particular approach are:
- It can help create an interactive and engaging relationship, one that gains, and more importantly retains, mindshare from consumers through increased brand interaction and association, as well as maintaining stronger connections and loyalty amongst its consumers and brand loyalists.
- With a wide range of standard and customized demographic measurements, targeted profiling can be effortlessly undertaken to quickly establish sub-panels for a range of specific research topics and cost effectively controlled for a multi-country study. Researchers can easily access a sample to match a specific objective. They can also benefit from quick turnaround times on reliable research data and insights via an interactive and secure survey environment.
In short, an online community with a well-defined strategy can prove to be an invaluable tool in researching your goals and uncovering new market insights, thus assisting your organization in the realization of their strategic objectives.
Conclusion Looking forward is it possible to conceive that social media could become the future vehicle of market research? Presently from a research point of view, social media is best used for directional information around your business strategies, preliminary testing before implementing your marketing mix, or to develop your research hypotheses and benchmarking before execution. Already social media has become an integral part of the toolkit to enlighten modern market research practices and challenges, offering genuine insights that are aligned to best practice from a research and data collection perspective.
Client Development Manager
i-Link Research Solutions - South East Asia