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If You Want to Gather Insights on Consumers, go Where they Hang Out: How Social Media is Changing Research

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There’s an old joke that asks, “Why do people rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.” Corny as it is, we can apply the same thought to consumer research. If you want to get insights into what people are thinking and doing, go to where they are having conversations and hanging out. In today’s world that means online, and more specifically social media. With more than four billion people (more than half of the current world’s population) using various social media platforms today, it is the single most enormous trove of potential consumer insights available.

So why has the research industry been so slow to adopt it as a channel, to leverage not only its massive reach but also its ability to pinpoint people by any number of criteria — location, demographics, buying preferences, etc.? Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and the rest offer advertisers very efficient ways to reach the precise audiences they want to target. Marketers, retailers, brand managers and others who care about consumer insights should consider that type of precision as well in their research mix.

We have seen first-hand how social media’s power can be used not just to passively monitor but actively gather people’s thoughts about what was going on in their immediate vicinity, regardless of where that is. Social media allows researchers to leverage targeting capabilities to reach any person with a social account, anywhere in the world. This approach might seem obvious, but the reality is that sampling in social media as a research methodology has been largely overlooked as a great way to reach niche audiences and fresh respondents on a global scale.

The key to nailing social sampling boils down to really understanding the medium. Social channels’ dynamics are quite different from those of very controlled environments like focus groups, online panels or even face-to-face interviews.

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To gain insights from social users, you need to understand how the social ecosystem works: people use social media mostly when they have downtime — moments of free time they dedicate to browsing their feeds, a golden opportunity to interact with them. On average, the world’s internet users spend two hours and 24 minutes using social networks across all devices each day, accounting for more than one-third of our total internet time. “Intercepting” them during this time increases their chances of taking a survey and focusing on expressing their opinions. Non-intrusive research, and how companies approach potential respondents, also play an essential role in conducting successful sampling. The messaging not only needs to be appealing to them but also relevant and delivered at the right time.

Social media is the perfect place to reach respondents, no matter the incidence rate or the quotas you have set. The beauty of targeting people via social networks is that you can reach them at a broad location level (country, state, zip code), down to a half-mile radius.

Through geotargeting or more conventional location-based targeting, businesses can survey highly relevant audiences. People who live, work, study or just transit through the targeted area are real-life respondents that have a treasure trove of insights to share, from in-store CX to people’s experience attending an event or having seen a particular billboard at a specific location. And social media-based surveying allows you to reach people who haven’t bought from you, and who may even be customers of your competitors, giving you a much more well-rounded view.

We’ve worked for many large retailers and brands to help them reach very niche and specific audiences, where online panels tend to struggle. Hitting the bullseye with targeting on social guarantees a more representative, diverse and genuine sample of the broader population, with fresh respondents that reflect real people living in the real world.

As we witness a new world order emerge as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, surveying people now comes with a set of limitations. Social distance and lockdowns are a no-go scenario for in-person or intercept interviews. People are spending more time than ever online and at home, and a third of that time on social media. Again, social sampling presents itself as a unique opportunity to reach people in impossible places and situations under these circumstances.


Rodolphe Barrere is the CEO and Co-founder of Potloc, an innovative tech firm focused on new ways to conduct market research. As a leader in consumer research who collaborates with world-class brands and researchers to help them make better-informed business decisions, Barrere is driving a new methodology that uses social networks and geotargeting to extract more accurate insights about any specific consumer group. At Potloc, Barrere has raised CAD $20M+ with Canadian and international VCs, and manages four offices across Europe and North America. He has worked for the LVMH Group in Paris and New York, holds a trilingual BBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from HEC Montreal, and is regularly invited as a guest speaker to share his expertise on consumer research and retail.

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