Market Research for Startups and Small Companies – Part 3


Tracking relevant, influential blogs can be a very effective method for monitoring what influencers are saying about your brand, as well as competitor brands. In addition, blogs can be an excellent resource for assessing sentiment and trends within your industry as well as in the economy at large.

Blog tracking can be done “manually,” by simply having one or more people in your organization reading them and then compiling periodic reports. Another approach is to have a social media tracking firm do this work. One firm that specializes in this kind of blog tracking is eCairn. They identify the influencers in your industry, and the track what they are saying about you and your competitors. The cost for this service is reasonable, between $200 and $300 per month.

Social Media Research
Following are two primary methods for obtaining market information through using social media: Social media monitoring, and purposed online communities.

Social Media Monitoring
Social media monitoring, also commonly referred to as social media listening, is all about listening to what’s going on on the Web, from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and all the other social media hubs that are out there, so we’re talking about a huge number of conversations (millions every day) and a vast amount of information to sort through.

Fortunately, over the past few years, a multitude of services have popped up to help us as researchers make sense of all the conversations we’re trying to track. Many of these are free. There are also many fee-based services. Not surprisingly, the fee-based services are generally going to provide a more comprehensive array of tools, provide more robust analysis, and have more accurate sentiment analysis algorithms. In short, you get what you pay for, so generally speaking, if you need comprehensive and robust tools, the fee-based services are the way to go. Some of the more well-known services include Radian6, Sysomos, and BrandWatch. However, even these fee-based services are reasonably priced, typically between $100 and $300 a month, depending upon the company and the level of monitoring you need.

There are a number of important caveats to social media monitoring that need to be kept in mind, however. The top ones are: 1) Not all of the Web is accessible by monitoring bots/crawlers, such as large parts of Facebook; 2) Keyword analysis is still a work in progress in terms of accurately identifying keywords, though it’s quickly improving; 3) The ability to segment the information (e.g., by demographics, geographically, by business identifiers) is still not possible from most social media sources, though researchers are actively looking at ways to layer this onto the information; 4) The conversations we’re listening to don’t pertain to any specific question (as in a traditional survey) or in many cases even a particular topic. Thus, the context of much of the information is missing.

Despite these caveats, the magnitude of the information and ease of obtaining it make social media monitoring, and the fact that the services are either free or reasonably priced, too attractive to ignore. Plus, in fairly short order the caveats/problems noted above should resolve themselves: keyword analysis accuracy is getting better; identifying customers, fans, key influencers, etc., is improving, through source tagging; engagement techniques with customers, fans, key influencers, can help in filling in the context gap by following up with them and asking questions and soliciting advice from them (and this not only provides valuable information, but also nurtures strong relationships with mavens for your brand).

In short, while we’re still in very early in the evolution of social media research, it is fairly certain that it will eventually get to the point where it’s a fairly reliable, robust and comprehensive tool that will be a core component in corporate and organizational decision making in combination with traditional market research, and at a very affordable price point.

Purposed Online Communities
Despite the value gained from social media monitoring, it is passive, and so doesn’t answer specific questions you need answered. Purposed online communities help to close that information gap from social media monitoring. These communities are put together by the company or organization, are comprised of customers or members, and are asked to discuss specific topic areas, and/or asked specific questions, so that the conversations are specific to a topic the company needs feedback on. The benefits of purposed online communities are that researchers can gather a large amount of information quickly, and it is very inexpensive once it is set up, with incentives really being the only out-of-pocket cost.

One of the downsides of purposed online communities is that it takes ongoing management to maintain. The primary downside, however, is that they are composed only of customers, and mostly enthusiastic customers, so you’re only getting feedback from a portion of your customer base, and nothing from dissatisfied customers or those who have left, as well as nothing from potential customers. Thus, you’re not hearing from the “silent majority” of customers, who may not feel as positive about the company as those on the panel. Just as important, you’re getting nothing from past customers, specifically, those who left because they were dissatisfied, and so are missing this very important body of feedback and insights regarding how to improve products and services. Finally, you are not hearing from potential customers, so metrics like brand awareness, brand perception, and usage and perception of competitive brands can’t be gathered via this methodology. For these important metrics, researchers still need to use traditional market research methodologies.

Despite these issues, there is still value for companies that have the internal resources to start and maintain online community panels, as it helps them monitor the general sentiment of their customer base, screen new product/service concepts, solicit advice on how to improve products/services, and any of the other things researchers would use customer focus groups, expert panels and surveys for, but at a much lower overall cost and with a much shorter turnaround time.