Twitter is Not a Focus Group*

I have seen a lot of articles lately discussing how Twitter and social media is going to kill traditional market research.  Here is an example from the Creativity Unbound blog:

Yes we all want to get closer to our customers, know what they’re thinking, and unearth the insight that might make us, as marketers, more responsive to their needs and wishes.  But with all the alternatives available to us today, the question becomes even more relevant.  Are focus groups necessary at all?

Here is the main problem that I have with these statements:  unless you are developing a product that just happens to correlate exactly with the Twitter users that are giving you feedback, you may be missing parts of the picture.

So let’s go back to Evernote and use it as an example.

Let’s say you are looking for insights from your users.  Are Evernote users also engaged on Twitter (remember “5% of Twitter users account for 75% of all activity” )?

If you do get feedback, will it represent power-users or new users (with Evernote, only 25% of users continue after four month)?

Will non-power users be heard from at all ( my guess is that Evernote users and Twitter users are not a mutually exclusive in the first place so parts of the segment will not be representative)?

What demographic is represented on Twitter in the first place ( did you know that while the median age of Twitter users is 31, the 12-17 year segment has grow the fastest in the second half of 2009)?

Knowing who is giving you feedback is critical for developing consumer insights.  You need to know where this feedback fits in your segmentation and how it aligns with the target you are aiming for (see Getting the Right People to Respond).

I am not saying that you shouldn’t use Twitter and other social media tools to get close to your customers, just don’t use it as your only tool.  You can listen (critical first step), discuss, and connect (great article from GasPedal on connecting with your customers), but use this as a starting point for more investigation.

Twitter is also excellent for tracking sentiment since it can give help you keep track of the pulse of the market ( See Twitter market research case study: Paranormal Activity for an excellent post on the topic).

The end goal should be to develop directional insights and then use other tools/methods to dig deeper.


*Note – with any rule there is always an exception and I can think of several here.  If you are working with a small base of customers, at a start-up, or in a field that is already very specialized, all feedback is critical.

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