What do customers want? This is the question at the heart of all successful businesses. Many businesses turned to market research firms to find the answer via focus groups and surveys. These channels gave customers a voice which businesses were eager to hear. But now, in the era of social media, customers don’t wait to be asked for their opinion; they voice it freely on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Google reviews – just to name a few of the most popular platforms.
According to a recent article in Advertising Age, Proctor & Gamble marketing executive Joan Lewis speculates that by 2020, social media will have greatly reduced the importance of customer surveys. Lewis explains that, “The more people see two-way engagement and being able to interact with people all over the world, I think the less they want to be involved in structured research.” Mike Moran, Chief Strategist for the digital media marketing agency Converseon, adds that people used to view panels as the only way to get one’s voice heard by big business, but thanks to social media, that’s no longer the case.
Negative online conversations by disgruntled customers pose the greatest threat to a business’ bottom line because the complaints can remain online for years, causing long-term negative effects to a brand’s image. A Harris poll and numbers from the global marketing firm Tealeaf show that social media conversations about usability problems, “cost U.S. businesses more than $44 billion in lost transactions during the past year.”
On the other hand, businesses that listen closely to social media have been rewarded with increased revenue. Domino Pizza, for example, had developed a national reputation for bland pizza in 2010. This reputation seemed to have come from complaints made through both social media and traditional market research methods like focus groups. Dominos publically acknowledged their culinary misstep and revamped the recipes – a move that resulted in a rise in sales from $11 to $23.6 million in one year.
Though social media is becoming an essential new communications tool, the old tools are not yet obsolete. According to Ad Age, Joe Tripodi, exec VP-chief marketing and commercial officer of Coca-Cola Co., said that standards and measurement calibration in social media engagement aren’t sophisticated enough to rely on them for market research purposes.
As social media’s importance grows, market research firms will need to find better ways to direct online conversations about client brands. Social media monitoring will certainly become more advanced – but how? Can market researchers develop an effective way to prioritize customer complaints across the Web? Will marketing research firms take their cue from Dominos and use social media not only to listen to customers but also to help them feel heard?