Tamara Barber [Posted by Tamara Barber]

For those of us who didn’t attend the MRA First Outlook Conference, Jeffrey Henning at Vovici recently provided some great summaries of the sessions on his blog. Of note is one session in which a social media research company (GeeYee, Inc.) and a market research firm (LJS Associates) collaborated to show how traditional market research and social media research can produce polar opposite results. The focus of the study was on Tropicana’s repackaging-gone-wrong from earlier this year, when the company launched a new look for its orange juice cartons. The launch resulted in a backlash in the form of emails, letters, and phone calls from loyal customers; and the company ended up changing back to its original packaging based on the reaction.

After the incident, LJS Associates did a survey of 1,000 US consumers about the repackaging, and GeeYee, Inc, scraped 1,900 web posts about Tropicana. The findings? From the survey, 20% of those interviewed were aware of the packaging; 27% of those consumers were negative about the packaging, and only 1% had posted about it online. As for the social media analysis, the packaging was among the top six topics related to Tropicana. But, talk about the design actually accelerated when the company announced that it was reverting back to the old style, or when posters saw the old style back on store shelves.

One lesson in here that’s relevant to MROCS: Remember that results from both open communities and forums as well as private MROCs are directional in nature, even if the sample is large. Public forms of social media absolutely have a place in understanding consumer sentiment, but (as was also concluded by the researchers in this study) these forums are best used to: uncover hypothesis that warrant further testing, add color to data you already have, or as a litmus test to see what you might be missing from current research.

And for findings from any community — public or private – analyze them in the context of your other research and knowledge in order to fully understand the relevancy and potential impact of what’s being said.