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By Kate Minkner

Big Data. Researchers and brands – even the government – are using analysis to employ savvy data-driven strategies and create real success stories. But what is it, exactly? Big data is just what it sounds like: massive amounts of data. While big data comes from all kinds of places, the majority of it comes from unstructured sources. Social media – easily accessible and often overlooked – constitutes perhaps the biggest source of unstructured big data.

There’s 3 key considerations related to big data sources:

  • Volume: there’s a huge amount of data to collect.
  • Variety: there’s both structured and unstructured data.
  • Velocity: historical data as well as real-time.

Why Social Media for Market Research?

In this digital age, we have access to so much information about what people think about just about anything. The “always on” nature of consumers means that brands who listen and explore the social conversation are ahead of the game in finding areas of opportunity as it relates to the industry, their product or service, and the competition.

At InterQ, we conduct social media listening research because it offers several benefits:

It’s real time. Traditional market research – surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews  – reflects the feelings of a small group of people at one point in time. Social listening is “always on” – and it’s easier to quickly track changes over time.

It’s unfiltered. Because information gathered is unprompted, it is more likely to reveal customers’ true feelings.

It’s flexible. Data collection on social platforms happens instantly, so it’s simple to change course and gather more data as you learn.

It’s fast. Social media analytics can produce insights in hours or days, as opposed to weeks or months.

It’s cost effective. Social media reports can be a fraction of the cost of conventional research methods.

Essentially, there is a goldmine of consumer insights that can be gained from digital conversations. Social listening is tapping into online conversations at any given time, and organizing information in a way that answers key questions about consumer behavior.

Social Listening Is Not Social Monitoring

Tracking your brand content, engagement and reach – while important for brand accountability – is not the same as accessing the unfiltered dialogue happening online in real-time. How does social listening differ from social monitoring? Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights, described it like this: “Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.”

Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords, phrases, brands or industries, and leveraging your insights to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences. It’s more than watching @mentions and comments via your social profiles, mobile apps or blogs. If you’re only paying attention to notifications, you’re missing a huge group of people that are talking about you, your brand and your product.

Social listening goes beyond monitoring and replying to incoming questions or comments about your brand. It’s about extracting key insights from social conversations that you can apply to your overall strategy.

Social Listening – Where to Start?

It’s long been said that social listening provides brands the “largest unbiased focus group of consumers” and the place for unprompted brand conversations. And 71% of business owners say they know marketplace insight is one of the most valuable benefits of social media, according to Social Media Examiner. But where to start?

Subscribing to a social listening tool is a great option for ongoing conversation monitoring. But hiring a research firm for social reports on a quarterly basis – or for specific project objectives like those listed below – is the fastest way to brand insights on a budget.

First, know the question you want to answer. The more clear your objective or question, the easier it is gather information and actionable insights. At InterQ, social media research has been leveraged for insights related to the following:

  • Consumer perception / sentiment
  • Identifying product opportunities
  • Measuring the social impact of campaigns and influencer marketing
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Trend tracking
  • Audience analysis
  • Crisis management

We’ve helped brands understand the long-term impact of a PR issue, discover potential partnerships and learn about untapped audiences and content. Most often, clients just want to know how people view their brand next to the competition, and areas of opportunity.

Some argue that social media listening can replace conventional qualitative research. We believe that while it can answer key questions about your brand, product and competitors, it’s usually a starting point for more targeted and in-depth research exploration. Our recommendation is to combine social listening research with methods that include qualitative and quantitative. Combined, you’ll get a far more robust view of your customers.

Interested in social listening research? Request a proposal today >