Let social media and surveys work together: get deeper insights from your consumer

What makes your target audience tick? What do people like, hashtag, tweet or say about your brand? And then, when you’ve listed all of that, you can start wondering: why did they do it? And, is this info useful for my brand?

Social listening (monitoring your social media to discover what people are saying about your brand) has gradually been bringing us closer to our target groups and their inner most thoughts in a more ‘natural’ environment. True believers even think this can one day replace traditional market research entirely. But will it?

Call us a bit biased, but we can’t agree.


Can research via social media help you gain the necessary insights?

A few thoughts to take into consideration:Only 9percent of all tweets are directed to the brand

  • How big is the difference between social media metrics and the actual market reality? Consumers’ networks are personal, but they aren’t private. How influenced are the reactions on those social networks? You can never be certain that people speak their minds freely. In what way does the presence of their peers affect their opinion?
  • Did you know only 9, 16% of all tweets are directed to a brand itself with the @-symbol? (A figure by Brian Honigman that got us thinking, read more about this over at Socialmouths.) Now that’s a clear sign that your company is still a bit of an intruder in the personal networks of your audience. And even when people talk to you, it’s usually about the brand and service you deliver, and rarely about the whole experience.
    A good example is the customer platform that Proximus (a major European Telecom company) set up via their social media where they could ask more specific questions to their customers in a social environment. The tryout unfortunately didn’t deliver the qualitative and deeper insights that were needed. The ‘free’ and personal characteristics of the medium were lost when Proximus tried to shape it.
  • We also wonder who those big online voices are. Only 23% of online adults use Twitter and only one-fifth of those accounts post at least once a month! (Pew Research Center has more interesting numbers and facts on social networking.) Ok, there might be a part of your target audience present in that percentage, but even then, are all of them as vocal? You can always keep a larger margin of error in mind, but still it’s very likely you’re listening to a part of your audience that’s just too small to be representative.
  • Less than 5 percent of online adults tweet once a monthAnd, following the above, how do you go about gathering basic information such as region, age and gender? How much data is made up by users to protect their identity? Just one easy example: How many children are on Facebook that have lied about their age to be able to sign up? (Apparently more than 80%!) So be prepared for gaps and inconsistencies where specific survey-questions would have been helpful.
  • The Belgian company Ecover, like many others, draws overviews from comments and likes from their customers on social media. Manually. And afterwards, those need to be studied internally: both time consuming and difficult to automate.
    It illustrates the increasing need for human’ interaction in research via social media. Compared to a regular online-survey at least. If your social media isn’t constantly monitored by an army of employees, you should invest in automation to develop solid monitoring. And even then, there are only so much keywords or emotions you can anticipate on. What about jokes? Sarcasm anyone?

Don’t worry, we know social media has it’s uses in market research! We’re not trying to tear it down entirely.
“Social networks are where you get to be spontaneous as a brand, you can engage directly with your clients. But it’s not a replacement of current research-methods, rather a necessary extra.”
Now that’s a statement we can agree with! (Ray Poynter wrote a guest blog for Greenbook, read more about his views here.)


Surveys aren’t dead! They answer a lot of the thoughts we had above

The classic survey is still very able to give you a deeper insights into the ‘why’ of things. And, with modern technology and current available tools (like ourselves, yes!), it is both easy and inexpensive to set up a strong research-campaign.

  • You get the answers you were looking for, because you meticulously created the survey-questions to do just that.
  • And you can offer your target audience a sheltered, private environment to talk about their experiences. Without social judgment.
  • Traditional surveys might sound just as time-consuming and might feel too staged. It’s true. Even in surveys, a new way of thinking is necessary. Take them where people are: online and go mobile. Make sure you can ask your question as close to the experience itself as possible.
  • If you focus on making nano-surveys: short and to the point, you’ll get higher responses and more qualitative data in the long run.
    Give this a try: Why don’t you ask just one or two questions on a regular basis, it’s fast and easy for respondents. And a positive experience will make them more willing to answer another of your questions next time.

“When you use surveys exclusively, you’ll never get a chance to understand the deeper reasons behind the responses you receive. So use your surveys as a starting point.”
Lars Lofgren from KISSmetrics had some great ideas about this that you can read here.

Next to e-mail, social media is great to follow up on respondents. Let them know what you did with their input, react on a specific answer they gave, … The end of the survey is not the end of the conversation!


4 ways to combine the best of two worlds

Here are a few guidelines to get you started on surveys with a social touch:

  1. Get inspired: Use social listening as a source for creating new survey questions. Rather than starting from the questions your company decided upon, this will give you room for new, sometimes surprising insights.
  2. Start a conversation: Direct some extra attention to respondents that express their opinions clearly and in a detailed way in your surveys. Transferring to an online environment, a social network, allows you to start up a more spontaneous conversation. And get extra/more qualitative insights.
  3. Quality versus quantity: your survey will get you the founded, quantitative and representative data you need to fuel your strategies. Yet for very specific and personal insights, which can be just as valuable, it helps to ask a single question online, via social media. Original answers are just a tweet away.

  4. Be bold and just ask consumers if you can access their online information to complement your survey data. They may be more receptive than you’d think. “In a recent survey that aimed to study wine and beer preferences, 53% of respondents agreed to share relevant data from Facebook and Twitter in order to provide a more accurate picture of their preferences.” A good point, made by George Terhanian in the Wired blog (have a look at it here).

There’s absolutely no doubt that investing in social media monitoring and holding on to your surveys is worth your while. The combination of a traditional survey and social media monitoring will get you all the strategic information you were looking for, accompanied with personal and more spontaneous insights that are shared freely on the web.



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  • Sofie Nelen

    September 24, 2015

    Hey Patrick, it depends on the objective of your survey. In case of a more entertaining quiz or test, social media might be the right choice for you. Think of how 'fun' or 'shareable' your content is in that case. But if response rate and qualitative data are the primary objective, then I'd advise you to use the audience you know, send it out through a targeted mailing list. Good luck!

  • Patrick Masson

    September 18, 2015

    What about sending out a survey invitation through social media? is this an effective technique?

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