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On using social media for research

November 19, 2010

All market research is wrong.

The above link is from Faris Yakob, the Chief Innovation Officer at MDC. MDC is one of the large advertising holding companies. It owns Crispin Porter.

You can read his post if you want, but here are the two reasons he thinks all market research is wrong.

1. We don’t know why we do what we do.
We don’t know why we make decisions, but we’ll happily tell someone when they ask And basically, we’ll be making it up.

2. The gulf between claimed attitudes [and intentions] and actual behavior is vast.
Asking people if they intend to buy something is analogous to asking them if they intend to go to the gym – the results may not correspond well with future behavior.

Since he has a big title at MDC, his post got some attention around the interwebs. He’s obviously trying to be provocative, and get dialogue going, and all that. Some people have commented on his post.

Here’s my take.

On point #1:
Social media offers the rare chance to listen to people when they don’t know you’re listening.
Yes, if you get people in a room and ask them about stuff, their response will have a bias. For that matter, when people review something on a Yelp or some other review-like social network, you risk getting response bias. Meaning people review when they are really happy, or really pissed, but not when they’re content. So the data skews to the edges. That said, when you’re listening, if you know these things, you can interpret accordingly. And again, that doesn’t mean you take the data and fudge it, it means that if you know where to look, and where to listen, then you can catch people when they are thinking about what they want to do. And that can be helpful.

On point #2:
The web offers the chance to examine behaviors.
Just this week, Trulia released a study on home prices. It talks about the cumulative data of many home sellers and begins to make assumptions about the behavior of a home seller. It doesn’t ask home sellers if they will sell their house for 10% less than asking price if they had to make a reduction because some home sellers would say no. And let you know that they would stand firm on their price. But the data tells a different story about their behavior.

This is but one case. Another is AdLab learning a little about people’s behaviors on photo-sharing sites.

These insights come from listening and searching social media. And as people’s participation in these tools increases, so does our opportunity to research them.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2010 1:32 pm

    There is something fundamentally wrong with doing something (spending time, energy, and money), when you have no clue why you are doing it. At its core, it is folly.

  2. November 24, 2010 2:05 pm

    hello there!

    i absolutely agree that social media and the web in general provide tools that allow us to examine actual behavior and actual beliefs – not solicited claimed data created in artificial contexts that provide equally artificial data sets.

    I think unsolicited reviews are still probably prone to resonse bias – but if a brand has made someone happy or angry – they’ve caused action by triggering expectancy violation – then the brand should be listening. The only job is customer service.

    My of course provocative title mostly referes to market research as undertaken ‘classically’: quant and qual gathered by surveys and focus groups. As I said in the piece I think observation is awesome.

    Asking people questions can in itself change how people think or feel about topics. So I also think we should think about how asking people ‘research’ questions on facebook in front of millions of people should be considered ‘marketing’.

    thanks for your thoughts!@

    Rock ON FX

    • November 26, 2010 5:34 pm


      I’m honored that you responded to my post. I’ve been a reader of your blog for a long time, and I appreciate your contribution to my learning.

      I sent your blog post to the head of research at our scrappy little shop. We just launched a department called Insight that is charged with looking for insights in research, technology, consumer behavior, trends, etc to inform the process at the very beginning. And your thoughts were well appreciated and debated.

      I think there’s a really interesting thing happening in ad agencies (there is in mine). There’s a demand to measure social/digital and mobile media down to a consumer behavior. I think this demand stems from people worried about turf (if you can’t measure this digital stuff, we should just do TV).

      And yet, the tools for measuring TV or Print are these quaint quant and qual tools like mall intercepts and focus groups. As this demand for metrics increases on the web, the demand for some sort of metrics in regular advertising will surely increase as well.

      And focus groups aren’t the answer.

      As for the last part: I agree 100% that asking questions on Facebook is marketing. It’s always more about the question, and less about the answers.


      • November 29, 2010 10:10 pm


        Goodness – my pleasure – appreciated your thoughts!

        and oh gosh totally – I laugh into my drink when people tell me “all well and good but we know tv works!”

        i’m like- how? We don’t even have a reliable way to measure the delivery! as for the effect – well – as Feldwick pointed out – we really have got it all wrong anyway

        i think maybe demand needs to be to measure behavior, and then how media interacts and triggers such..

        rock ON sir.

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