Firm News

Is Social Media the New Focus Group?

July 13, 2017

​In traditional marketing, focus groups have been used as a means of measuring the consumers’ relationship with a particular brand. With the advent of social media, marketers have a new, more modern way of monitoring consumers in relation to their effectiveness as a brand. Here, we outline a few of the advantages and disadvantages of using social media as a focus group.

Fast and Far Reaching

Social media is fast and immediate, rapidly reaching more people in mere minutes than some traditional pre-Internet advertising could in hours, even days, at a time. When people think of focus groups, many imagine a handful of people mulling over a product in a fluorescent-lit room. But as social emerges, the focus group expands to far more than just a handful of people, therefore gathering more responses from a wider (yet targeted) demographic of people in a shorter period of time. For example, Taco Bell uses Twitter polls to conduct basic market research, asking its followers which Doritos Locos Taco they prefer. This method of research allows for the brand to directly reach its consumers and appeal to their tastes, which will ultimately turn data into a decision.

Less Thorough Answers

Though social collects more responses in less time, it has its disadvantages. Due to the nature of social and the constraints it presents, the responses garnered via social are often less thorough and thought-out than those collected within a traditional focus group. There can be several reasons behind unclear consumer social media responses, ranging from character limits to simple apathy.

More truthful responses

In a traditional focus group, the participants are face-to-face, discussing products in person. On one hand, this setup may result in more comprehensive responses, but on the other hand, tradition focus groups may cause a sort of peer pressure, ultimately prompting the participants to answer in a specific way despite what they really think. When people are being watched, they behave differently, and it’s not uncommon for participants to lie in focus groups, whether those lies be conscious or unconscious. Sometimes it is the anonymity that social media provides that actually draws the truth out of people.

Some focus group participants seek out as many of these opportunities as possible for monetary reasons. Some focus groups pay individuals hundreds of dollars to participate. This can result in individuals lying to get into the focus group, even though they might not be the best fit, causing the study to be invalid. In fact, this Slate article advises potential focus group members on which lies to tell in order to get into the higher-paying focus groups.

Lack of reliability

In many cases, the aspect of social media market research that can occasionally disrupt its reliability is the issue of anonymity. Internet trolls may undermine your brand’s market research efforts, which leaves room to question if the responses honestly reflect the consumers’ interests. This is an important question to keep in mind, and equally as important is the fact that anonymity can deliver just as much harm as benefit.

When a brand hears the truth, they are able to take steps toward adjusting their product into something potential customers will want. With social, this adjustment process involves more than just curating content consumers will respond to, but also hearing what they have to say about it, as well as the conversations surrounding the brand’s industry. Elizabeth Harper from SproutSocial wrote an article about social listening, detailing the ways in which social listening can improve any brand’s social presence, strategy, and literacy. Aimlessly hopping onto the latest hashtag without any relevance to your brand won’t help in receiving meaningful feedback, cultivating appropriate conversations and sincere relationships with potential customers can do just that.

Nurah Lambert is an intern at Bond Moroch.