A research agenda for collaborative consumer engagement and research methods

We’ve known for about half a decade, if not more, that the Internet allows deep and wide collaboration. We have tried to apply this new tool to academic research, open software development, creating business alliances, reinventing retail and, why not, sharing music (legally or not). More recently, there have been whispers about using social media for market research. Unfortunately, these are only whispers. It is time that we give a voice to these thoughts. What would a future market research universe empowered by new media might look? In what follows, Colleen Brown, MS and new media consultant and Sorin A. Matei (papers, projects, bio), an Associate Professor of communications at Purdue University are trying to outline a research agenda for socially mediated market research. The text posted here is the executive summary of a larger paper whose full text can be found below.

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· The array of online tools that encourage collective intelligence and support collaboration grow and become an important part of the everyday lives of consumers—and by extension an integral part of brand awareness, brand loyalty, and consumer research.

· The people that compose our markets are engaging in conversations about our businesses and products. This is happening with and without us.

· In today’s conversational economy, it is about communities and leveraging these communities to build stronger consumer relationships and garner better consumer research.

The Internet Evolves—The evolution reveals revolution…

· ‘Information-transfer’ phase in the mid-1990s where much of the same information found offline was simply moved online. Characterized by ‘push’ tactics such as pop-ups and static web pages filled with brochure-like information. As marketers, we told them.

· By 2000, the ‘commercial’ phase was well under way. Marketers transformed their information-based sites into places to purchase products and services. Characterized by consumer feedback systems and traffic analysis. As marketers, we asked them what they thought of what we told them and sold them.

· About 2003, entered its ‘networking’ phase prompted by the proliferation of social software tools. Characterized by social interaction, self-expression, communication, and community building. Now they’ve started telling each other and we don’t have to simply be bystanders.

· Networked markets are tired of business-as-usual market speak; they crave genuine conversation and engagement in the process of creation. If we don’t give it to them, they will move on—but not before letting everyone in their network know how we failed them.

Implications for Marketing—Oh the tangled Web 2.0 we weave…

· The opportunity to read/write brought with it new consumer segments, brands, products, channels of distribution, media options, and most notably the opportunity to glean more complete insights into what makes consumers tick.

· Web 2.0 refers to the new generation of tools and services that allow private individuals to publish and collaborate such as blogs, podcasts, mashups, RSS feeds, tagging, bookmarking, social networking sites, and wikis.

· In response, marketers must begin the move away from the conventional marketing mix strategies that have for decades worked in a traditional media environment.

· The traditional 5 P’s can be re-evaluated to reflect the impact of social media on the way consumers interact with brands and products.

· Along with these changes in the traditional marketing mix must come equally new and inventive ways of collecting and analyzing consumer research, much of which is still experimental and ‘fuzzy’.

New Market Research Methodologies—Into the great wide open…

· An unavoidable result of operating in the new media revolution is being willing to relinquish top-down control and to experiment with the unknown.

· Leveraging social networks and social media takes savvy, nimble marketing management and a culture of outreach, social interaction, and effective use of research and experimentation

· Harnessing social computing tools and understanding social networks allows us to build new types of research communities in which respondents interact not only with researchers and clients but, most interestingly, with each other.

· Market research has been flawed in that it has been largely individualistic in nature, removing people from their true nature which exists in give-and-take groups and communities.

· Combined with social network analysis methodologies and the latest advances in spatial statistical analysis, we can more discriminately deal with issues of where, who, and when individuals interact with a message or a product.

· This also means we can shift from studying individuals to communities as we try and understand how consumers interact with and assign their own unique meanings to our brands.

· In this modality, research insight is just as likely to be derived from the interactions among people as it is from formal survey-type questioning of individuals that characterizes traditional market research methodologies.

Online Participatory Research Panels—Enter the wiki…

· A wiki is a permission-based web page or site that allows users to add content, add links, and modify existing content via an easy-to-use browser-based interface. Wikis enable site visitors to add their own content and build, in an additive fashion, upon the content created by others.

· Wikis free writers from the burden of mastering HTML editing and file-transfer protocol before they can publish on the Web. Instead, wikis use a very simple, text-based markup to format page text and graphic content.

· The properties of wiki platform make it easy to track activities such as the viewing, reading, adding, and editing of content, changes to content over time, the most active contributors, as well as the opportunity to recruit specific users for more focused research projects.

· When done right, wikis can drive key metrics that online marketers labor to achieve including increased page views, a higher level of consumer engagement, and higher rates of user contributions.

· Provides passive market intelligence gathering—listening to the dialog and analyzing the content added by consumers can alert companies to possible future trends or to competitor offerings.

· Provides active market research gathering—researchers enter the discussion and conduct focused surveys or discrete experiments that approximate field tests that can provide metrics of, for example, consumer price elasticity, preference for product features, or message effectiveness.

· Wiki sites offer companies the opportunity to encourage and perhaps employ user-generated content. User-generated content can serve multiple purposes as a market intelligence tool, a competitive intelligence tool, as forums for advertising, and as a platform for consumer interaction.

· This approach to engaging with the consumer in a specified online environment can be called a networked online panel—a research community or participatory panel in which the lines that historically distanced researchers from participants are blurred in favor of creating and sustaining authentic relationships and surrendering some control over the research process.

· Similar to anthropological participant observation and other similar qualitative techniques. Online it has been coined netnography.

Summary—All good things must come to an end. Or not….

· Journey from the evolution of the Internet to the widespread acceptance of social media tools and their impact on the way consumers engage with brands, with marketing messages, and with each other.

· In essence, there is not much new here because the overall objective of marketing remains the same: to get and keep customers.

· This objective will never waver—the Internet has simply introduced new and different supporting tools. And as the supporting tools change, so must our investigative methods.

· The beauty of the media revolution is that it has increased the number and variety of consumers who are ready, willing, and able to tell us everything we need and want to know. We just have to authentically engage them.

· Wiki sites are just one platform to accomplish this engagement. The properties of wikis—their collaborative nature and ease of use—offer unique and clearly underutilized opportunities to engage the consumer and to precisely track and analyze the varied kinds of interactions supported by this software.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

6 thoughts on “A research agenda for collaborative consumer engagement and research methods

  • July 11, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I agree with much of what you’ve written. We are actively engaged in social network marketing, connecting consumers and marketers; providing information to consumers and a promotional market with solid feedback to marketers.

  • July 11, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Right and thanks for the comment. If you want a copy of the white paper, let me know.

  • September 15, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Thank you – Im really interested in the concept of relinquishing control and yet influencing the direction – I would appreciate a copy of your paper.

  • September 19, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Measuring consumer engagement in a Web 2.0 world is a challenge. Would appreciate a copy of your paper.

  • January 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I love the creative thinking represented in this piece and would love to read the paper. My applications of this are in better understanding health consumer needs, especially in light of the growing popularity of health-related social networks.

  • February 10, 2009 at 3:08 am

    I love this piece of information,it is adding so much to marketing research,and marketing as a whole.


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