EVERY day, millions of people around the world freely express their opinions and interests on blogs and social media websites, providing market researchers with a potential gold mine of insights into the online citizenry’s thinking and behavior.
In a wide-ranging interview with Mark Glaser published on the PBS.org-hosted Mediashift blog, Jonathan Carson, CEO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics refers to the blogosphere as an “efficient and economic way to collect consumer feedback.”
His company, which provides the free BlogPulse blog research tool, keeps tabs on what people on blogs, forums and usenet groups are talking about. It provides big companies like Sony and Coca Cola with information about what people are saying about their brands.
The interview is informative, but it’s a bit laborious to wade through the verbatim Q&A. The short, short version is that:
- There’s a big revolution underway;
- No one is absolutely certain yet how or what to measure, although they have a basic idea;
- Social media is fraught with pitfalls for companies (and consumers); and,
- Product marketers are the corporate pioneers into this brave new world.
My more detailed notes follow.
Why companies should care
Social media is a “as a pretty big revolution” that introduces “a whole new set of dynamics in the media landscape.” This requires a new set of measurement tools.
Carson tells Mediashift that “we know some of the basics, and some of the core technologies to do it, but it’s still very early in figuring out what it’s going to look like.”
Due to the Web’s ability to provide unprecedented data on user activity, Carson says a problem is that researchers are “swimming in way too much data.” This means it is difficult to agree on industry-standard metrics.
However, he says “the market research world is headed for a real revival where whole new types of data and intelligence will be accessible to support the new media landscape and new marketing paradigm.”
An interesting example is given of how buzz in the blogosphere can be a leading indicator of consumer behavior. His firm has started to analyze how online chatter correlates with product sales or television viewing. In one study, they found that people were talking about low-carb diets on blogs “four to six months” before the trend showed up in food sales. (That has some interesting applications for stocks!)
How you can screw things up
The interview address some recent controversies over company blog campaigns like fake blogs and paying bloggers for coverage. Carson offers good advice to companies and expresses confidence that the blogosphere will not let marketers get away with sleaze.
“Companies have to be extremely careful about the way that they approach [blogs]. Any time you approach a new medium, you’ve got to have a good understanding of how the medium works and how your brand would work within that medium. Certainly this year there were some major lapses of judgment by some of these brands,” says Carson.
Interestingly, he tells Mediashift that he sees the “swift and effective” condemnation of fake blogs and paid blog posts by bloggers as a “pretty encouraging” sign of the blogging community’s ability to withstand such perversions.
“Companies are not really able to get away with a lot,” he says.
But isn’t BuzzMetrics itself sleazy?
I like how this question comes up in the interview and also how it is answered. It’s particularly relevant for investor relations websites that are using personally identifiable user data to keep tabs on investors and analysts. There’s a lot of sensitivity over this and companies need to be aware of the risks.
Personally, I don’t buy Carson’s position that because marketers are monitoring consumer behavior in public places like supermarkets and sidewalks that it’s fine to mine the public Internet for data. I think there’s a big risk of companies losing perspective on what is public and what should remain private.
This is especially true in an environment where there’s increasing interest from marketers in personalized marketing.
As Carson tells Mediashift: “The fact is that the world is becoming more focused around the individual, and individuals have much more control over what they purchase and consume. These are fundamentally good things, and what we’re trying to do is change the world of media measurement that responds to that new reality.
“If companies are able to participate in that new reality, then that will speed up the process of people getting more control and autonomy.”
Yeah, but at what cost to privacy? That said, Carson makes the point that his firm is selling public information rather than the private web activity of known individuals. That’s a big difference between what his firm does and what at least one well-known IR website host does.
So who is buying?
Not surprisingly, there’s no mention of investor relations or PR departments being Carson’s main market. Just like with the early adoption of Web 1.0, it’s marketers with sales targets to meet who are leading the charge.
“The companies that we see changing the most have either always sat outside the traditional and never bought into the broadcast model, or they are companies that are very product driven, rather than brand marketing or image,” he tells Mediashift.
It’s just a matter of time before IR and PR departments start showing more interest in social media. We’re seeing early signs of life from the IR community, but there’s a long way to go…