Social media offers an opportunity to get real-time feedback into the mind of the consumer. The sheer number of regular internet users today is staggering. It is estimated that 88% of Americans are online, and of those, at least 8 out of 10 are using some form of social media.
At any given moment, there are over 5,000 tweets, 50,000 Facebook messages, and 800 Instagram photos being exchanged. What does this incredible social media data stream mean for businesses? How can you capture all of these fleeting data points in time? Moreover, how can you utilize this data to help form insights into your product and your consumers?
The Scandal Tweeted ‘Round the World…
After the recent VW emissions scandal, researchers Swaminathan and Mah compiled and analyzed tweets, from September 2015 to January 2016, to determine if the content and sentiment of the tweets correlated to real-life events.
Their findings: The total volume of tweets related to the news headlines provided a rough indication of public interest in the event. In addition, the authors’ analysis of the content of the tweets during that time offered a window into the changing nature of the public’s concerns. When the scandal first broke out, tweets featured more mentions of “cheat” and “cheating”, whereas later, speculation of a recall prompted more mentions of “Beetle” and “Jetta”.
Among other results, the Swaminathan and Mah study provided a brief demonstration of how social media can be harnessed in the time of brand crisis, enabling companies to shift the conversation from scandal to recovery.
However, analysis of social media does not have to be just about brand management in the face of adversity and crisis. It can also be proactive and prospective, yielding current data regarding public sentiment in a rapidly changing world.
Optimizing Social Media
When Is It Valuable to Use Social Media?
- When your target population is geographically widespread
- When your target population is well-represented in the wealth of social media users
- Don’t discount the value of social media. At the end of the day, you’re marketing towards humans, and humans use social media.
How Should You Use Social Media?
- When faced with negative feedback - utilize social media to monitor customer complaints and quickly address them. A well-timed tweet may gain a new customer or save a repeat customer.
- When trying to engage customers - use social media to start and hold a conversation, instead of simply sending out your message and hoping it’s received.
Social media has opened a world-wide conversation whereby (potential) consumers everywhere engage in an open discussion about products, concerns, complaints, and future steps. An immediate advantage is that it enables us access to populations of people that are geographically spread out and are also historically harder to reach. However, you can’t fully utilize social media as a platform for data analysis and marketing research guidance unless you understand its limitations as well as its strengths.
The answer depends on which social media sites you use. Facebook boasts the largest population of online adults, followed by Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Let’s take one step closer. The Pew Research Center estimates that 79% of online US adults are currently using Facebook, 28% are using Instagram, and 21% are using Twitter.
If we segment by social media platform and age, we can see that younger people are more likely to be using Twitter and Instagram.
Due to the default (public) settings, tweets are the most talked about and the more likely to be used in social media analyses. However, Twitter users represent only 21% of online adults, and are also disproportionately more likely to contain 18-29 year olds (as compared to Facebook).
Why Is It Important?
Before jumping headfirst into a convenient and readily available data stream, it is important to understand that the potential for social media to offer real-time insights is limited to its population of users (whose accounts are also public).
What Are You Looking For?
Tweets are not useless, although it is important to look beyond the total number of mentions. What exactly are they saying? What kinds of words are they using? Is it positive or negative? These are also important considerations moving forward.
How Do You Use this Info?
Put it all together. Social media provides one data point among many. By itself, it is not enough to make actionable conclusions, but rather is valuable in its ability to provide context, perspective, and direction. Social media analysis can be used, for example, prior to the creation of a survey to gain an idea of current brand sentiment or target market mood.
Back It Up
Harnessing the power of social media certainly does not replace traditional marketing research. The implications of social media are particularly transcendent in that they enable companies to put their finger on the pulse of society. You can correlate tweets to real world performance (i.e. real interest, real purchase, etc.). One of the biggest questions regarding using social media to understand public opinion is “Is it reliable?” The answer depends on who your population is: “Maybe” with a few caveats…
The best way to be sure you’re getting reliable feedback is to turn your social media data into a hypothesis that can be tested with reliable, scientific marketing research.