In market research, social networks and social media now form an integral part of research planning and development. Increasingly social media sites are being used as the direct source of a research sample. In this article we’re going to look at the benefits of this method of research and identify potential problem areas that need to be addressed in these sampling techniques.
Prima facie it might seem that social media research is no different from using any other form of online research panel as both serve as platforms to access large swathes of the population in on centralised location. The initial problem is that neither of these platforms is likely to produce results that aren’t at least slightly subject to online idiosyncrasy amongst the respondents. This can lead a less thorough approach into experiencing difficulties in the reliability of the data, but if handled correctly this can be negated at least to a reasonable degree. The first clear advantage we come to is that social networks overcome the traditional research problem of respondent identity and truth. As social networking platforms are usually used amongst friends and co-workers respondents will generally be truthful in their responses to any survey questions they respond to. Plus there is always the opportunity for them to forward the survey to more recipients and spread your questionnaire virally. This active bonus and deterrent mechanism make social network sampling a fantastic approach to modern online market research.
The second main advantage we come to is the sheer size of the platform that you can access. The number of members on traditional research platforms is minimal when compared to that available on social networking sites. Even if a fraction of people respond you attain a much large sample size with relatively little expenditure of time and effort in ensuring sample size. Further thanks to fan pages, groups and designated forums social networking sites offer almost instant access to your existing consumer base.
Thirdly the simplest, though not the most cost effective means of sampling is to advertise. Most social network sites have displayed and paid advertising and you can use this to actively recruit survey respondents. Out of the three methods the first offers the greatest transparency and will return the highest quality of data. In addition it is the most cost effective method of social sampling. Advertising is possibly the least effective in terms of market research as respondent personal data used in profiling is not accessible to you, though you can still attain a useful initial sample.