Three Barriers to Accepting Social Media Research Methods

Three Barriers to Accepting Social Media Research Methods

A common question I get from friends and mentees in the market research industry is, “Why are social media research methods so hard for my organization to adopt?”  This is a good question.  Especially as more and more social media research companies emerge.  In a world with slick, visual, social media dashboard capabilities like Simply Measured, Brandwatch, and Synthesio, social media research is easier than ever.

At Netizen Insights, LLC we are convinced social media will become a big part of the market research industry’s future.  That is why we acquired, a leading provider of YouTube analytics, earlier this year.  Nonetheless, the prevalence of the question, “Why are social media research methods so hard for my organization to adopt?” suggests these methods are far from mainstream today.  A passionate market researcher who is trying to socialize social media research methods should look to overcome the following three objections from her peers.

Social Media Research Barrier #1:  Normlessness

One of the common critiques I hear about social media research is that it is unfamiliar and normless.  Capabilities like social listening and social monitoring are new tools in an already wide arsenal of research capabilities.  Even seasoned researchers can struggle with how and when to use these methods.  Further, some research purists may complain that there are no norms for using social media research.  Unlike surveys or qualitative methods, social media is unrestrained, untested, and largely uproven.  As a result, it’s hard to know what is trustworthy and what isn’t.

My response to these objections is “really?”  As a researcher, how many times have you seen businesses make strategy-altering decisions based on the feedback of one or two focus groups?  Focus groups have plenty of flaws, and one or two groups may be twelve people max.  In social listening, you are getting thousands of natural, unsolicited qualitative responses on a topic or issue.  A simple social media dashboard is like having a transcript of the world’s largest focus group right at your finger tips.  The norms that apply to social media research should be the same that you apply to qualitative research.  Namely, your good objective judgment.

Social Media Research Barrier #2:  Social Media Supports the Answer But Rarely IS the Answer

Integrating social media research into a research report is also unfamiliar.  It doesn’t exactly fit the end-to-end narrative of context, action, results so many research reports follow.  This, admittedly, is a draw-back to using social media gathering techniques.  However, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, a good researcher never relies on a one-source bibliography.

In the section above, I described social media listening dashboards as the “worlds largest focus groups.”  I also like to think of these tools as the “Nielsen Answers On-Demand of Qualitative Research.”  Just like Nielsen AOD and other POS databases, you can pull social media data point-in-time.  You can use social media listening to follow the evolution of a product conversation and see where, when, and why it changes.  This is a very powerful way to bring your share and POS data to life.  The POS data can tell you what happened, but pulling the overlapping, evolving social conversation from the same time period can tell you why that happened.  Even if the social media data isn’t a stand-alone answer for every research question, it’s addition makes every insight and recommendation stronger.

Social Media Research Barrier #3:  Social Media Research is Primary Research

Sadly, this can be the toughest barrier to overcome within an organization.  Social media research requires real research.  That takes time, and time is a scarce commodity for researchers.  The volume of social information available means real effort is required in order to judge the quality of the information and integrate it into the story. Further, “more-established” research techniques are often supported by companies that have vast client service arms.  These consultants can do a lot of heavy-lifting for their clients.  Since social media monitoring and listening is still an emerging field, it is less full-service today.

I find this unfortunate.  I also believe barrier will soon wear-down.  With the focus on big data and data analysis, organizations are becoming more used to mining databases.  It’s only a matter of time before social media listening becomes and equally common skill.  My best advice to new market researchers is get ahead of this curve.  Be the early adopter of social media research in your organization, so that way when the industry catches up, you will already be an expert.


In conclusion, I recommend that passionate advocates of social media research be “patiently impatient” with their peers and organizations.  The amount of data and insight available from social media is too big to ignore.  Position yourself to be your company’s leading expert once the industry catches-up to you.

Do you have any advice on how to “socialize” social media capabilities?  Tweet, like, or post in the comments below any thing you’d like to share.

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