Since the lockdown in March, there have been huge changes in consumer behaviour and mindset. So it was no surprise that a large FMCG company had many questions about how consumer behaviour with respect to personal hygiene had altered after the lockdown — were people showering as often, when were they brushing their teeth, how were they taking care of their skin and hair? Answers to such questions would have strong implications for how they market their existing products and indeed on what new products they should introduce.
Unfortunately, two important sources of data – face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions – had dried up on account of the lockdown measures. The FMCG companies and countless others turned to social media for answers and were not disappointed because consumers like you and me are continuously expressing ourselves publicly on social media platforms.
What is social media research and how is it different from conventional research?
Social media research involves studying the conversations on social networking sites, blogs and forums, where consumers have expressed themselves, freely discussing their sentiments, emotions, opinions, brand experiences, product feedback, complaints, queries and need gaps.
All of these provide rich qualitative insight to marketers who rely heavily on consumer research for their decision-making.
There are several differences between traditional market research and social media research, the foremost of which is that traditional research aims to answer questions that a marketer is concerned about, while social media research uncovers what is top-of-mind for the consumer.
This is why social media research and traditional research often complement each other where social media research is more open-ended and traditional research is focused on key questions that the marketer is trying to answer.
The pros and cons of social media research
Social media research is usually conducted using a social media listening tool that pulls in thousands of conversations on a topic that a marketer wants to study. These conversations represented unsolicited opinions of thousands of consumers and hence social media research usually has a much larger sample size than traditional market research. Social media research also tends to be faster and cheaper than conventional research, but it is not without drawbacks.
While on the plus side, it is not impaired by biases on account of memory lapses and being influenced by the interviewer bias because it is usually unprompted. However, it has issues of its own that a skilled analyst must deal with — like fake or promoted content, limited control over the demographics of the consumers being studied moreover strong, extreme opinions by a vocal minority of consumers.
How marketers use social media research
Social media research helps a marketer make several important decisions relating to the 4Cs of marketing – Consumer wants and needs, Cost, Convenience and Communication. A common use case involves using social media research to uncover what consumers feel about an existing product or services.
This method can be used to make improvements to an existing product or to come up with a new product.
For instance, when a large youth-oriented TV channel wanted to understand why its new show had poor TRP numbers, they turned to social media research to understand whether it had to do with how they had promoted the show or whether the show itself didn’t resonate with the audience.
Through social media research they were able to understand the wrong expectations that had been built up about the show before its launch and also helped them understand what their audience felt about every aspect of the show and about each episode. The insights from this research resulted in an improved product, namely a show whose future seasons generated much higher TRP ratings, and hence more advertising revenue.
The same kind of analysis has been applied to new product development, too. For instance, when a FMCG company wanted to launch a new hair product in the Indian market, they decided to try social media research. This is because such products did not exist in India, and conducting conventional research in foreign markets would have been expensive and time-consuming.
Through social media research they were able to understand consumer sentiments for various aspects of the usage of similar products in foreign markets. This helped them design a successful new product that factored in consumer feedback from other markets on various aspects related to packaging, variety, pricing and communication.
Social media research has also been used to uncover consumer insights related to campaigns, product categories and interests of target groups, all of which result in a more customer-centric brand.
What happens when marketers ignore consumer sentiment in social media
Consumer sentiment and emotions in social media represent a rich source of consumer insight, but it is also a potential powder keg that cannot be ignored. Brands that ignore the negative sentiment expressed in social media do so at their own peril.
When a brand voluntarily chooses to do this, it is basically telling consumers that they don’t care enough to respond. This leads to a loss of brand reputation and brand loyalty and results in higher churn and a lower NPS score.
Positive sentiment too should not be ignored. Users who express positive sentiment are potential brand advocates. It is imperative that brands track such positive conversations in real-time and engage with these consumers. Failing this, these consumers feel ignored and will turn to a competitor brand if the opportunity arises.
Consumer sentiments and emotions from social media are a vital source of consumer insights for marketers, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic when conventional research has become more difficult. Social media research should not and cannot replace conventional research completely, but even if one doesn’t use social media sentiment for understanding the consumer, it cannot be ignored because of the damage it can do to brand reputation.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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