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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on February 21, 2010

In a previous post I discussed using social media to collect feedback from customers and channel partners. That is one way that social media is being used by companies. Another is as a research tool -- social media makes it easy to reach out to large populations without renting research facilities and paying people large sums for their time; it’s also a great way to generate user insights – which can be difficult in a purely research environment.

Here are three ways that companies are using social media for market research:

Content Mining

These days, content mining is seen as ‘grabbing as many opinions as you can with regards to a certain topic, industry, news event or company.’ That’s a tongue-in-cheek definition, but not far from the truth. As mentioned in the previous post, content mining is a great customer satisfaction assessment tool – though it can also be used to perform more general market and competitive analysis.

Content mining doesn’t require highly skilled researchers and is relatively easy (if tedious) to perform. It’s also inexpensive to outsource - Cymfony http://www.tnsmi-cymfony.com/ is one company that provides content mining services.

Moderated Social Groups

These consist of corporate-created groups, such as consumer forums, panels, sponsored online communities and online focus groups. Because they are moderated and the ‘theme’ is already set, they are easy to set up and maintain. They can provide good consumer insights and can give you an idea of what consumers might be looking for in future products or services.

http://mystarbucksidea.force.com – which I mentioned recently – is a good example of how this can be done on a large scale.

http://forum.matrox.com/rtx2/ is a smaller example of an artificial, company-sponsored online community.

Netnography

‘Netnography’ is a qualitative, interpretive research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to online cultures and communities. Like the other two methods I mentioned above, it tends to provide actionable insights in an unobtrusive manner and in a context that is not fabricated by the researcher. Unlike the two other methods, it requires highly-skilled researchers who can participate as natural members in these communities when needed, and know which cues to pick up on.

If you’re interested, Robert Kozinet’s “Netnography” is a good place to start. It can be read for free here, but you do need to sign up for an account, and the link will only work for 30 days.

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