For social researchers, the inundation of publicly available social data presents many enticing and important research opportunities that have never before existed.
Already, social media research has uncovered interesting insights on the ways we behave and interact online. In our latest guide on social media monitoring, we have outlined many of the ways brands use social media to inform their decisions.
While it has been proven to be an effective source of insight for many businesses, social media research is a pioneering venture, and as such we are still trying to grasp the range of capabilities and the limitations that may exist in such research.
Before we can understand the important role that social media research plays, let’s examine a few of the other popular ways that businesses have used to study human behavior in the past.
Free Guide: Market research
By bringing a hand-selected group of people together to discuss a specific topic, it’s easy to get naturally flowing dialogue and organic feedback.
However, focus groups are essentially qualitative opinions from a small group of people – it lacks the definitive and statistically-backed conclusions of other research methods.
Through surveys, brands are able to ask specific questions to a specific group of people and receive quantitative, measurable information that can drive data-backed conclusions.
However, surveys have many drawbacks. Firstly, they are very regimented, with responses lacking the organic nature of focus group conversations. Also, surveys are often plagued by malingerers, people who are compelled to respond untruthfully.
Controlled experiments allow researchers to understand how people behave under specific circumstances in a measurable way.
While they are considered a reliable way of identifying natural human traits, they are also timely, expensive and often cannot answer the types of brand-related questions that businesses usually ask.
So how does social media research fit into this mix?
There are a number of advantages that make social media research the ideal method for businesses to find answers to their questions.
Social media research can yield answer over the course of a few minutes or hours as opposed to the weeks or months required to run a survey or commission an experiment.
With historical data, researchers can instantly capture conversations around any topic and analyze them at free will.
Social media research, requiring only a single researcher and an effective social media intelligence platform, is significantly less costly than other forms of research.
3) A large sample size
The rapidly growing amount of public online conversations means that researchers are equipped with vast amounts of data to draw insights from.
4) Organic data
Social data is comprised of the naturally occurring public opinions online.
Since researchers are not asking questions directly, they can be assured that the conversations they collect are not confounded by their own research methods.
The unique advantages of social media data have made it an important component for many brands’ research mix.
Of course, social media research has its own limitations as well.
For example, since only certain users on certain websites will provide information about their location, gender, age or profession publicly, the data can be somewhat fragmented. Furthermore, there is also an open debate on whether social media is an accurate representation of the larger population, or really a select subgroup.
Yet despite these potential limitations, the volume, interest, quality and value of social media research continues to develop.
To uncover many of the ways brands are leveraging social data to inform their research teams, check out our free guide to social media research.