Monday, August 20, 2012

Social Media Research: from Listening to Understanding

USA Today recently published a piece on text analysis.  Yawn!  I know.  Really?  Again?  It suggested that... drum roll please... as a culture we are becoming more self-centered and less "we" or "team" focused.  Masters of the obvious.  I think reality television and social media have provided a loud narcissist's playground where everybody is talking so loud that nobody can hear well enough to listen.  And more importantly, who cares?

Market Researchers care.  So much so that TMRE's track on Social Media is not called "social media."  It's called Social Media Listening.  This shift fascinates me because it suggests we've reached a plateau in our initial understanding of social media - its role and mechanics.  And now we have tools in place to listen and learn.  That's cool, but what's next?

Now is the time to plan the next crescendo in social media learning, lifting from the plateau and into higher levels of understanding.  Looks like Jeff Henning from Affinnova will present another inventive thought in a session about listening then asking and understanding, iterating with social media to innovate.  This is a smart first step toward more "why?"

Here's the next dilemma as I see it.  The analysis in USA Today didn't actually consider social media at all.  They measured the text in BOOKS!  A full 50 years worth of books not a 15 minute slice of social media.  It was a Global analysis noting that words like "I" and references to the self far outweigh "we" and references to the collective.   This could just be a stylistic shift to first person narrative - but maybe that's the point.  If we are seeing the trend in books over a 50 year period certainly the trend for self absorption existed before social media.

So the next challenge in social media will be the quality of listening.  For example, could the analysis in USA Today even be performed when 140 characters entices writers to eliminate pronouns?  "I went to the movies" becomes "Went to the movies."  This could be "I," "we," or "the dog," and no one would know.  Maybe its more essential versus the content.  This is a difficult next step but probably imperative for us as we grow more dependent on social media as a source of insight.  Improving the quality of listening so we really know who is talking and the "why?" behind what they are saying would bring truly new insight AND understanding to social media.

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Today's guest post is from Kelley Styring. Styring is principal of InsightFarm Inc. a market research and consumer strategy consulting firm. She has led insights for Procter & Gamble, Pepsico, Black & Decker and NASA prior to founding her own firm in 2003. Kelley is a published author and has been featured in USA Today, ABC News, Good Morning America, Brandweek, Fortune, Quirk's Marketing Research and The Market Research Daily Report from RFL Online.  She will be live blogging from The Market Research Event 2012 this November 12-14 in Boca Raton, Florida.  If you'd like to join her, register today and mention code TMRE12BLOG to save 15% off the standard rate!

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