Like most people involved with social media on a professional level I’ve been reading Groundswell and getting a lot out of it, particularly their insights on social media engagement. However reading it while observing the constantly changing social landscape brings out a big problem with business books and traditional print media devoted to trendy subjects: the rapid loss of relevance.
For example, Groundswell devotes quite a bit of time to a company called Communispace that creates artificial social networks for market research projects. Basically they recruit people to join a network by incentivizing them to participate. They then analyze the results to uncover trends and sentiment about their client’s product or service.
The problem I see with this is that they are essentially using social media to create an old school research tool: focus groups. The problem with tools like focus groups, polls and surveys is that the participants are having questions pushed out to them. This inevitably skews results or misses something that was unpredictable. Social media monitoring, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem- what you hear is the unvarnished and unguided natural conversation.
The Communispace model, which I’m sure is quite useful, looks transitional to me, an attempt to mash together social media and traditional market research into something most marketers feel more comfortable with. The problem is that if you have to entice people to join something they would not otherwise be interested in and incentivize them to participate, you have colored the results.
If you use monitoring to discover a real community, perhaps one you didn’t know existed, then you’ve found a treasure trove of real opinions, reactions, reviews, etc. The difference between these two approaches is where Groundswell has a bit of a problem. Their Communispace example feels quite dated to me because it is still an attempt to use older marketing survey techniques in a medium that doesn’t require them.
Rather than being a problem, this looks like a breakthrough to me, one that the Groundswell authors acknowledge to some degree. The conflict is that they are Forrester researchers and companies like Forrester have built their expertise on surveying and polling, focus groups, etc. The ability to actually listen in on market conversations made possible by social media will drive a sea change in the market research industry, one that today’s early adopters are starting to understand.