Has an inflammatory tweet about your brand ever caused a panic in your company’s executive ranks? Has your market research department ever attempted to put into context how representative that one tweet might (or might not) be of your total market? For many companies we work with, the answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is more likely to be “I don’t know.” Well, the time has come for market researchers to understand the implications of social technologies for their role.

After many months of talking up my social market research report on this blog, via Twitter, and with many vendors and clients, my report is now Web live! It’s aptly entitled “How Can Market Researchers Get Social?”, as this was the core question I began asking myself at the very end of last year when I kicked off this project.

I wrote this report because we heard from our clients that they needed to understand if and how to use social media and social tools in their research initiatives. Every year, our Consumer Technographics® data shows that social media are becoming more mainstream for consumers, and this has driven various roles within companies to explore what this trend means for them. Market research as a whole has been slower to adopt social media and social technologies for a variety of reasons/fears — many of which are legitimate but are also, frankly, part of the reality of social media for any part of any company. However, market researchers must consider the possibilities of social technologies and be able to have an informed discussion with their executives on how, if, and when to incorporate social media and social tools into broader research practices. To this end, we’ve defined social market research as:

The use of social media and tools to gain increased access to and insights from a company’s target segment in a way that adds value and depth to the researcher’s overall responsibility as an expert on the voice of the customer.

And we’ve identified three main trends in how market researchers are using social technologies right now:

  • Accessing consumers through social sample
  • Embracing customers via social tools
  • Listening to audiences by mining the social Web

 In this report, I go into much more detail on these trends and the organizational and methodological roadblocks that are holding market researchers back. We’ve also introduced the idea of using Forrester’s POST methodology as a process for determining whether social makes sense for a given project or initiative.

At the end of the day, social technologies introduce more uncertainty into the practice of market research. It requires ceding some control of the research process, not only in how the research is carried out but also in how researchers must potentially collaborate with other departments. However, after talking to 23 vendors and market researchers on the record, as well as many clients off the record, I can tell you that social market research is real.

Do you have any examples of how your company is incorporating social technologies into the research function? Or are you trying to figure out how to get started? If so, I’d love to hear from you, as this will surely be an evolving space over the next 12 months.