SEO Blog - Internet marketing news and views  

Qualitative research and Social Media Marketing

Written by David Harry   
Friday, 28 March 2008 07:49

the Wisdom of the Masses …..

In my quest to find meaning in the warm and fuzzy world of social media marketing I touched on the fact that quite possibly valuations from other disciplines should be a consideration. That is to say part of the ultimate value in SMM are not being fully realized. For example it easily crosses over with areas such as;

SEO – there are some inherent link building advantages among others from a SMM campaign.
CRM – customer service and relations are obviously benefited by an integrated program.
R&D – the research and development teams can also be enhaced through your efforts.

These are very important considerations for those of you looking to quantify social media marketing in terms of (engagement) metrics and conversions. By optimally leveraging the cross-over disciplines you can offset some of the actual costs via budgetary diversity. What also avails itself is an entirely new view of not only measurment but application as well. If you are only looking at things from a quantitative view then you are missing the oportunities afforded by also integrating qualitative research into your efforts.


Quantitative V Qualitative.

Qualitative research is not about hard data nor large sets of metrics and measurements. It is more about delving deeper into human behavior; the reasons the people take a given action. It is about questioning the why and how of people’s actions, not so much the what, where, when.  

Some methods include;

  1. Participation in the environment
  2. Direct Observation
  3. In-depth interviews
  4. Documentation Analysis
  5. Micro-Analysis


Qualitative research explores concepts and categorizations often through comparitive analysis while quantitative seeks to present a conclusive theory based upon hard data. One often uses qualitative research in order to establish quantitative metrics to be studied. In thruth they can easily work hand-in-hand and when used in marketing, usually do. Qualitative research is generally applied to smaller data sets including one on one, pairing (2 interviewees), micro-groups (3-5) and focus groups (6-10 people) and thus cannot give data sets that are graph-able or show larger market trends. It is more about defining problems, creating potential hypothesis and unearthing nuances not generally found through quantitative means.

The Social Marketing Connection

Now, there is nothing new about the use of qualitative research in marketing and most of you would better know it as a ‘focus group’, ‘customer satisfaction interviews’ and so forth. Over the years marketers have used qualitative resarch for a variety of purposes including;

  1. Branding research
  2. Awareness and Image research
  3. Feasability studies
  4. Competitive intelligence
  5. Brand equity research
  6. Product testing and pricing
  7. Market Segmentation
  8. Purchasing dynamics
  9. Customer satisfaction research.


Qualitative marketing research plays an integral role in the branding process and measurement. Considering we have already established the role of branding in social media marketing, it stands to reason that applying these concepts should be a direction to look in. Looking at social media marketing from a pure quantitative standpoint seems almost counter intuitive and certainly misses many opportunities for lending further value to the over-all program that you are running.

There is a unique oportunity for marketers if you can harness the power of social communities to reach consumers that are not as easily accessed via offline methods. With a larger global demographic, that can vary in attitudes and intent across geographic locales, online qualitative research may be the best answer in some cases. We can also break the consumer model from one of isolation into more of a group dynamic. We can inquire, formulate hypothesis and observe through a variety of stimulous material or direct interaction.


Pros and Cons

Now there are those that, rightfully so, are resistant to the thought of using an online environment for qualitative research. The main problem being that it is often the in-person observations traditionally one found are not as readily available. Often it is not the mere words but the actual emotion displayed that can be telling from a qualitative standpoint. Equally aspects such as sarcasm and even the interaction of the interviewees themselves is not as readily gleened in an online implementation. There can even be technological hinderances which further take away from the true sprit of qual research. These are some serious considerations, but not debilitating as far as I am concerned. There is certainly still room to gain some useful insights through utilizing the new directions in human social traits in an online world.

Simply put I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. I fully understand the pureists of qualitative research (for marketing) that believe it is essential to be face-to-face and have that intrinsic connection. But I do also believe that in the true spirit of qual research (for sociology) calls me to look at the fact that there are differing personas involved with the internet and that the methodology used by marketers traditionally can evolve as well. The medium nearly dictates that a different response/emotion is to be had online; which persona am I researching?


We’re not reinventing the wheel

Now, while this coversation may seem new to many of my readers, I assure you it is not. A good example is a recent undertaking from the folks at DelMonte Foods to use social group settings to help create products, test marketing campaigns and stir up intial buzz. They created an online community called; ‘I Love My Dog’. They hand picked 400 members for the private network and when looking for a new breakfast treat for dogs asked the community for input. The consensus was something with a ‘bacon and egg taste’ thus Snausages Breakfast Bites was born.

The practice began in the video game industry and now companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney and ABC run private networks that among other things creates a more direct connection with the consumer base and shortens the product development life cycles. They are going beyond simple focus group analysis and creating relationships with the consumer base. What hasn’t been successfully conquered is utilizing the larger public networks to glean insight.

This is where those that are more intimately familiar with the social spaces should be able to add to the process.

So, for me there is much to be considered here. There is more to social media marketing than mere engagement data and conversions. There is more to this than mere quantitative satisfaction. I am hoping that by addressing this topic that some of those more intimately involved in the SMM world will step up to the plate and start to work with those in other disciplines such as qual research to add to the over-all value of social media marketing.

What say you? The qualitative research community is not so sure how to get the larger social networks understood. Is there a SMM eficianado among us that wants to play? Let me know….

Until next time… stay tuned. I intend to follow this trail further.

 Further Reading;

Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative Marketing Research
Basics of Qualitative marketing research
Qualitative and Quantitative research; where the twain meet
Using Twitter for ethnography
Does inexpensive research have to be quick and dirty
Problems with using online qualitative research
Private network market research
 Qualitative V quantitative research
A new era for qualitative research?
Online research; to do or not to do
Are Australian researchers ready to embrace Web 2.0?
Comparison of Face-to-face focus groups to Online Focus groups



Search the Site

SEO Training

Tools of the Trade


On Twitter

Follow me on Twitter

Site Designed by Verve Developments.