The last year has brought a groundswell of mainstream marketers integrating social media considerations into their marketing-communication planning. My last post talked about the potential for achieving marketing ‘co-creation’ as one outcome and as a way to improve marketing personalization. In fact, venues such as blogs and Twitter have become indispensable tools for PR functionaries, and forums such as Facebook and LinkedIn are presenting new opportunities for ‘micro-targeting’ of advertisements and offers based on social graphs.
The next frontier is leveraging social media to innovate the process of new product/service development (NPSD) — supporting co-creation in this arena. The fact that social media is interactive, honest, transparent and potentially highly targeted presents tremendous opportunities for garnering incredibly-valuable insights into customers’ wants and needs. In fact, at a time when marketing researchers are questioning structured surveys and they are pushing for more observational, behavioral and ethnographic research, social media represents a way to evolve the process of insight-based marketing to the next level.
“In the age of social media, I would argue that this is becoming easier, not harder,” commented Liz Moise with Boston-area marketing firm BluePoint Venture Marketing in a recent post on the firm’s blog. “… [Y]ou can get online and find your customers. You can listen in on their conversations, or grievances. You can speak to them directly.”
Social media is also an important tool to help brand-companies respond to the fundamental power shift in NPSD — from ‘brand push’ to ‘customer pull.’ Customers are at the center of their universe more than ever. Brand-companies must contend with a highly-sophisticated customer with many options and choices in the marketplace. Understanding the nuances of a customer’s needs is critical — especially when it comes to the aspects of a customer’s existence you are not servicing today.
“As a business, you ought to be watching how people — especially your customers — are expressing themselves outside the context of being your customers,” commented social media marketing guru Amber Naslund on her Altitude Branding blog earlier this month. “They’re multi-dimensional people … .”
But what is the best way to approach social media as a tool for marketing research and for NPSD innovation? What is a framework we can use to better match social-media platforms with our objectives for garnering customer insights?
Approaches to integrating social media into the NPSD process range from idea/innovation aggregation sites, such as halfbakery, to the social-media monitoring system built by Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), a provider of syndicated consumer insights to to the CPG world. IRI built a system to “… glean product and industry intelligence by ‘listening’ to unfiltered conversations taking place on social networking sites, blogs, chatrooms, message boards, and other consumer-generated media,” according to a March company press release. “Customers can then integrate this research data with other research to develop products more in tune with consumer interests, as well as launch and promote them more effectively.”
Regardless of the approach, the key is to choose the right medium for the right task at hand. Below I’ve presented a working normative framework for thinking about approaching social media in this context.
What is the best way to assess and align the ‘point of view’ of various social media platforms with our marketing research/NPSD objectives?
One way to look at social media platforms is to consider two issues — the context of the customer-brand relationship and the nature of engagement via the social-media platform — in a 2×2 matrix. Doing so allows us to then assess the relative positions of various social-media platforms and to understand how the insights gleaned from these platforms are different.
> Context of customer-brand relationship refers to the degree to which interaction with a brand-company was the primary motivator for a customer’s engagement in that social-media platform. This is arranged on a continuum from low context (such as building a LinkedIn profile, which is primarily about a customers’ own life and not at all motivated by engagement with a brand-company) to high context (such as commenting about a product on Amazon or seeking out a corporate blog, which is clearly motivated by engagement with a brand-company).
> Nature of engagement (observation vs. surveying) refers to the role of the marketing researcher in the platform. This is arranged on a continuum from passive engagement (such as reading an individual’s personal blog) to active engagement (such as putting questions on Twitter and observing responses).
Below I’ve made a first attempt at placing key social-media platforms within this framework.
What are some other considerations for best aligning the capabilities of social-medial platforms with marketing research objectives?
Beyond the context of customer-brand relationship and the nature of engagement, there are other factors to be considered.
> B2B vs. B2C: Are you going after a business user or a traditional consumer? Different platforms have different orientations. For example, LinkedIn tends to have a professional user base; whereas, MySpace and Facebook are more traditionally forums for socializing among consumers. This may be an obvious consideration, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
> Narrow vs. wide targeting: Are you attempting to go after a very specific ethnographic segment, or is your goal to reach the widest group possible? Different platforms lend themselves to different NPSD needs; moreover, the capability of different platforms to provide insight into social graphs varies.
> Representativeness of the sample: This is something that is always important in any type of marketing research, but it is critical in a social-media arena where perspectives might be skewed by early adopters and Lead Users. How representative is the sample of groups represented on a social media platform to your larger target customer population? It may be tough to know this with statistical accuracy; however, we can at least embrace the concept of proportionality and work to ensure that we weight our consideration of insights in accurate proportion to the makeup of our larger customer base.
What’s next? What do you think?
As always, this dialogue is just beginning.
- What are your comments on my normative framework, above?
- Do you think the social media platforms listed are in the right place within the framework?
- Are you using social media for NPSD today?
- What are your opinions on the opportunities and limitations of social media for NPSD?