For my current research on social media and market research, I’m interested in listening platforms (and the text analysis that’s usually packaged with them) for the purposes of mining the social Web – be it on blogs, open community sites, social networks or the like. 

There’s a lively debate around the value of social media listening for market research, and there are many people willing to share their opinion. Last week, I attended a Webinar on this very subject, hosted by Peanut Labs, with multiple guest speakers from the industry. Here are some of the key points that market researchers should consider when assessing the need for – and effort in — social media research. 

“Process and methods need to be developed to make social media data be another source for Marketing Research” — From Jean Davis, co-founder of Conversition, and former president of Ipsos Online, North America. This means:  Platforms need to be created with the market researcher in mind.  They must be able to reliably sift through online conversations to sort out low-quality data; apply weighting schemes to that data reflects that true share of volume that different sources have online; and create constructs so that data from social media can be proxied to represent common measures such as five-point scales and top-two boxes. 

To “connect the dots” on text mining data, you need to extract noun-verb relationships, sentiment, suggestions and intent. – From Catherin H van Zuylen, VP of Product Marketing at Attensity. This means: Meaningful text analysis for Social Media research is not just about keyword counts and brand mentions. It’s about the context around the words and being able to parse out meaning from multiple phrases and word relationships that occur around each other. This kind of analysis can also be applied to any unstructured data within a company, be it in open-ended survey responses, customer emails, or other customer points of contact.

“[In social media research] 80% of your time is spent on identifying the right content, getting it into the right shape, and getting the gems out of it. Social media research is not magic.—Jim Schwab,  VP of Business Development for social media at Alterian, and former SVP of Sales and Marketing at Harris Interactive. This means: Well, the quote really says it all. In this kind of research, technology is one tool to help streamline the process of collecting and parsing data; however it still takes a human brain to drive the technology and find meaning in the output. His overall advice is to tread carefully and spend the time finding the right tool for the job. Don’t just rely on someone – or something – else to do all of the analysis for you.

This is of course a very over-simplified version of only a few points for consideration and debate. But these quotes alone show that vendors like those on this panel recognize the needs of the market researcher to go deeper than understanding what share of online content is ‘positive,’ ‘negative,’ or ‘neutral’ about their brand or category. And the fact that two out of the three panelists had significant background in the MR industry is promising for this kind of research as well.

As always, I welcome your thoughts right here on this blog, via email, or on Twitter.