With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of social media as a crucial communication tool for information generation, dissemination and consumption has tremendously accelerated. As a result, marketers and businesses of all verticals have had to rush to meet consumers who spend a big chunk of their time scrolling through their feeds.
To put this in perspective, there are now 4.2 billion social media users around the world. That’s more than half of the world’s total population. The typical user now spends 2 hours and 25 minutes on social media each day, equating to roughly one full waking day of their life each week.
As businesses scramble to meet online demand and create digital and social experiences to match people’s renewed expectations, it has become evident that social media and online sources of information are now a must-have and no longer complementary channels. As a result, marketers see a clear path-to-consumer within social networks as they expand campaign budgets (case in point: social ad spending in 2021 grew by 14.3%).
So, social is good for marketing. How about for research?
Most people who conduct market and consumer research are familiar with online panels. They are basically a community of survey respondents with various demographic characteristics who agree to answer questionnaires on a regular basis in exchange for an incentive (cash, gift cards, points, unlocking game levels, etc.). They are a proven and effective way to extract insights from specific audiences, and, like everything else, they come with certain advantages and disadvantages.
Given the number of people using social media platforms, we can safely say they constitute the largest online panel on earth. But how can you tap into that vast ocean of consumer knowledge? For research, it all boils down to social media sampling. Using the same tactics and strategies that marketers use to deploy campaigns, social media sampling uses the advertising tools from popular platforms to reach people with ads that are hyper-targeted, visually appealing (using the language people use in social channels), and shown to them at the time they are most likely to answer—when they are looking fo fill up spare time.
SOCIAL SAMPLING IN FIVE STEPS
1. Researchers define a target audience that best responds to clients’ needs.
2. The audience is targeted with ads while browsing social media.
3. People click on the ads and are taken to an online survey on a topic that interests them.
4. After completing the survey, researchers verify the data to ensure quality.
5. Researchers analyze the data and extract the most relevant insights.
WHY IS SOCIAL MEDIA SAMPLING A GAME-CHANGER?
With such a vast pool of potential respondents, researchers can use social sampling to reach any audience—niche or broad, B2B or B2C—anywhere in the world. But this methodology comes with additional benefits that traditional methods simply cannot offer:
• A wide range of targeting options: Social media ad platforms offer spectacular granularity when it comes to targeting people. From a one kilometer radius to a whole continent, you can reach anyone, anywhere. This is especially true for hard-to-reach niche audiences that most research methods struggle with.
• Fresh respondents: As opposed to traditional online panels that recruit people to answer surveys on a regular basis with incentives, with social sampling, you can get respondents who are somewhat new to the market research world and never or very rarely answer surveys. Non-professional respondents inherently offer more candid, real, and fresh answers.
• No incentives needed: Reaching people through social media with social sampling means targeting them with surveys that are relevant to them. For example, if you are running a study about moms who feed formula to their kids, chances are good that if you are a mom who feeds formula and you see an ad asking for your opinion, you will contribute with your knowledge. This is the case mostly for B2C audiences, where people want to give their opinion about services, products, and things they have experienced because they have an interest in sharing their knowledge.
• Better data quality: The lack of incentivization is one reason the quality of the data improves. People are more candid in their responses, which produces a more accurate picture of the reality and more opportunities to enrich the data. Something panels have to deal with often is what’s called “straighliners” and “speeders”—basically people who just give the same answer over and over or just click through a survey as fast as they can to collect the reward.
Another important factor here is the medium. Because these surveys are distributed on the platforms people already know and trust, there is less friction and more willingness to answer and interact with the surveys, resulting in better data quality from the get-go.
REACHING PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW: GROWING YOUR BUSINESS WITH NON-CUSTOMERS
Most market and consumer research focuses on extracting insights from known audiences or even existing customers. Other in-house methods like loyalty programs also tackle just that one segment of customers or users who already know about your business. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t know about your products and offerings, or who used to be your clients and have since gone to your competitors.
One of the most appealing aspects of social media sampling is the fact that you can target people who are off your radar. With geo-targeting, for example, you can get people who are visiting your competitors and understand why they are choosing them over you. The same applies to people who are interested in your products and services but haven’t discovered you. Learning what they want, when, and how is a great way to build tailored experiences, messaging, and campaigns that attract them, giving you access to your fair share of the market. Non-customer market research allows your business to innovate and craft stories that resonate with wider audiences.
Rodolphe Barrere is co-founder and CEO of Potloc, an innovative tech firm focused on new ways to conduct market research.