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Social Networks: a new field for marketing research

Social media

The social networks boom arouses the curiosity of marketing professionals. Some see in it the solution to the increasing issue of the evasive consumer. We hope to more easily reach him/her, to understand him/her, to seduce him/her and to retain him/her through these new spaces. Number of books about this subject increase and the interest of marketers does not decrease when they hear about social networks in the press or during professional manifestations. Many big B to C companies are well positioned with their social network. Others prepare themselves to it by exploring the contribution they bring and what they can do with them in order to not misuse them. And it is understanble: for instance, Facebook counts today 1 billion of open accounts. In France, there would be about the half of the population using this network (about 25 millions of open accounts!). Other platforms also have such numbers: 190 million of users for Linkedin, 200 million for Twitter and 300 million for Google Plus!

Attracts for these studies

The social networks universe offers an impressive quantity of advantages for the marketing research:

- Low costs or even no costs at all are present on the support (via a profile creation).
- The ability to easily target and choose qualified samples of a big size.
- Facility to contact and to solicit responding people without having to search e-mail, addresses or phone numbers.
- Freedom of speech for the asking people who do not interact with a researcher anymore.
- Rapidity to get answers and feedbacks.
- The permanent availability of asking people (reachable at any time and anywhere thanks to mobile devices).
- Facility to follow the feedbacks (in real time with an immediate highlight of evolutions that enable to adjust the approach).
- Abolition of interaction with the researcher or the rewriting of collected information.
- Improvement of the link between the brand and the consumer and building of privileged relationships.
- Ability to talk with professionals via B to B networks…
- Social networks can enable to easily identify and contact the population to be asked.

Possible applications

Here are the main actual applications’ fields:

- Sampling: The identification of social networks users and the access to their personal information (age, sex, training, region, interests…) enable to make an exceptional targeting. Institutes begin to develop services of consumers sample group on Facebook.
- The surveys’ diffusion: Facebook is the second most visited worldwide websites after Google, it counts 800 million of users in the world and more than 23 million of accounts in France (one user out of two regularly logs in). There are more than 100 million of accounts on Linkedin and an incredible frequentation (65 million of unique visitors in December 2010). The share of information is the first aim of social networks so the surveys’ diffusion on these media is obvious.
- Consumers platforms: Creating a group on a community website is easy to do. Adopt their operating in order to create our own website as well. This is what famous brands do in order to amass reviews about test products or consummation habits from their consumers sample group.
- B to C communication but also B to B: Social media is now a part of the inbound marketing. Releasing information on social networks enable to attract people who will spontaneously come. Groups also enable to enforce relationships between colleagues and to optimize the information and ideas stream into a company and its environment (customers, suppliers).

The survey realization via social networks is globally similar to what we usually do for any survey. The 3 steps consist in:

- First: designing, laying-out and spreading the questionnaire
- Then: soliciting responding people and manage the surveys’ field
- Finally: treating the collected data to analyze them and presenting the results.

Let us now learn about the concrete realization method for each of these 3 steps.

Step 1: Questionnaire designing

It exists to way of proceeding in order to create a questionnaire and to use social networks afterwards:

- First thing to do is to is to use your habitual software of online surveys creation as you would do for any other questionnaire (Net-Survey for instance) in order to design the questionnaire and to deploy it on a website. The solicited people will be proposed to open an URL link, via the network, that will lead them to the survey website.
- The second method consists in using the used social network functionalities (if there are) or the surveys applications designed in and for the community website in order to define the questions to ask. Usually, opportunities in that field are quite reduced compared to the use of specialized tools, which is why this method is used for simple cases or for punctual utilizations.

Each of these two possibilities has advantages and disadvantages:
The first solution is more professional but more expensive. It offers the opportunity to manage long and/or complex questionnaires with advanced functionalities (conditional masking, rotation of modalities or rotation of questions…). These questionnaires can adopt the graphics standards of the company. Collected data can be analyzed in depth and lead to advanced graphical representations. In order to know more about the design of professional web surveys, give a look at the Net-Survey software presentation by Soft Concept.

The solution linked to the social network offer the benefit of a bigger simplicity and a bigger speed. The designer does not have to manage the deployment of his/her questionnaire on a website because his/her questions are not directly taken in charge in the social network and the asking person stays on the website to answer. However, the questionnaire is linked to the used community website and must always be rebuild if operations on several social networks. Otherwise, the utilization of the results is limited to generally simplified restoration predicted by each internal application to the used social network. In each case and with any method, you have to propose optimized questionnaires in terms of presentation, clarity, concision and content in order to guarantee a maximum of responses. You can find useful advices in our article: Online surveys: how to optimize your answers rate.

Management of the surveys’ field

In order to administrate a questionnaire on social networks, the principle is usually to diffuse the invitation to the questionnaire to profiles of wished responding people and/or to place the invitation on its own space or profile. Social networks offer an extraordinary target potential. Actually, the knowledge of members detailed profiles enables to propose selection criteria extremely precise: age, job, hobbies, interests, geographical area… The survey designer can so define his/her criteria in order to display the message with the matched link (to a survey in the social network or an external website) in the space of all members matching with these criteria. The social network indicates in live the number of matching members according to the chosen criteria in order to make the targeting easier. Usually these options are not free and they are similar to advertisements displaying. The payment is calculated for a numbers of displaying chosen before.

To focus on specific samples, websites that develop users groups give the most interesting opportunities and these opportunities must be chosen according to the survey’s aim: for instance, Facebook enables to target people having a common interest. Professional websites as Video or Linkedin give the opportunity to reach people having the same job or the same training.
The perfect tool to make the buzz is called Twitter. This network enables to display an informing message about the survey (with the link leading to the website where the survey is available). Interested people can “re-tweet” the information and give it to other potential responding people. This “viral” diffusion is like word of mouth. For the surveys concerning consumers, it is better to avoid professional websites as Linkedin or Viadeo because the answer rate would almost be zero. However, for the surveys concerning professional people, you should not avoid to use Facebook or Twitter.
Here are some practical advices to highlight your survey on the most used social networks:

- On Facebook, you share your survey via the share box on your wall. Target your responding people thanks to different groups more easily identifiable. You also can create a target advertisement that will diffuse your questionnaire.
- On Linkedin, you can post your survey on two different places in addition to the sending of an advertisement: via the share box on the home page or in the “Responses” category with the option “ask a question”.
- Twitter is an incredible media to create the buzz. Even if the mention “re-tweet” (post again) is automatically available below each post, do not hesitate to ask it again in your message. Test different messages in your tweet until you find the most attractive.
- Display a video on Youtube that explains why you do this survey and display the URL of you survey at the end. Then, display you survey link below the video.
- On your website or on your blog, you can create a pop-up (be careful to no bother visitors by displaying it too frequently). The best is to well draw the attention of one part of you website. Allow your visitors to subscribe to the newsletter or other advantages. Of course, do not forget to put buttons linked to your page on different social networks on your website.
- E-mail: Classify your responding people base in order to be able to send your survey to specific groups by one click. In your email, think to integrate you profiles from different social networks.
- Of course, if you belong to some groups (forums…), you can post your survey. Seek (into you contacts) some key influencers who will influence people and get them to be interested in your survey.

Step 3: Results utilization

You must have in your mind that the main aim of data collecting on social networks is the results analyze. The questionnaire must have been designed according to this aim and must having questions and variables enabling to obtain the wanted analysis. It is the same when the interviewed sample of people has to allow by its features to make statistical analyzes valid for the survey.
Opportunities of treatment depend on the used method to design the questionnaire

- The questionnaires designed with the internal functions or internal applications to social networks can be analyzed with the chosen functionalities in each social network used. This is why on Facebook, the basic functions enable to indicate the number of responding people who has used the same question for each question. Some internal applications of Facebook enable to produce histograms or repartition bars but not more. Some of them propose to export the answers recordings to the Excel or CSV format for an external retreatment.
- The questionnaires designed with usual web surveys software (ex: Net-Survey) can be treated with the chosen tool (for Net-Survey this is an Ethnos software of surveys treatment and reporting). These tools generally give the enlarged opportunities of data crossing and of productions of tabs and advanced statistical graphical analyses. The Stat’Mania module from Ethnos can produce with only the questions concerning the satisfaction, an importance/satisfaction matrix that automatically calculates the importance of each criterion in the global satisfaction.
Some of these software have production functions of automatically recalculated reports and generated for each wanted level (by population, region, sector, product type…)
Some tools also have modules of dynamical application of access to web results (ex: Web-Reports).

Viewpoint of future

This is now a fact: social media represent the new barrier to marketers. By paraphrasing Kennedy, we could say that there are unexplored fields beyond that, unsolved problems, ignorances and prejudices non reduced and questions without answers for the moment.
If the main international brands perceived the potential and show them today on Facebook and on other social networks, many companies do not know yet how to position and how to use the new opportunities. Market surveys and knowledge of the customer are part of the opportunities and will develop themselves very fast, given the multiple advantages they are given by the social networks.
The arrival of Google with Google+ and the impressive arrival of Facebook and Twitter will enforce this movement.