I was recently asked by a brand manager in an FMCG company if social media insights (specifically buzz monitoring) should replace traditional consumer insight methodologies when creating consumer brand strategies. My answer was a definite ‘no’!
Social Media (and buzz analysis in particular) can provide hugely valuable consumer insight to a brand, but it is not the most robust of research methodologies which takes place in and uncontrolled environment. It can be extremely difficult to understand basic demographics of the audience which leads to problems with segmentation and also understanding the neutrality and accuracy of the comments i.e. posting a negative comment about a brand in a moment of anger might not represent your true view of that brand. This is compounded by the fact that certain demographics are more likely to post comments than others, and negative comments are more prevalent than positive ones.
So how social insight should be used? It definitely should be monitored, no question, but if it is going to be used to inform brand or consumer strategy then it must to sit alongside a robust research study. Indeed the findings from you buzz monitoring could be used to frame the questions of a research piece, ensuring the two can be easily compared. By doing this the true insights can be discovered and the anomalies identified – both can then bet treated accordingly. It will also allow the application of some demographic profiling to your social insight allow for the creation of a more robust social strategy and specifically the social audiences.
In my opinion, social media is an excellent and cost effective way to keep track of your brand online, but to maximise the value of its insights it must be periodically cross referenced with a more robust piece of consumer research to ensure that rational input from all of your audience is received. Synergy between the two methods is the clearest path to success.