Whenever I talk to clients about social market research, the conversation inevitably and quickly turns to listening platforms and how/if market researchers can use them. Platforms like those from Radian6 and Alterian are attracting a lot of attention right now due to the fact that social media have become so mainstream among online consumers in the US and increasingly so in Europe. And the hope among researchers is that these conversations, when tracked and analyzed appropriately, will yield meaningful insights that would have been hard to come by through other means.

The reality is that listening platforms require a significant human touch in order to sift through mountains of data and extract golden nuggets of insight. I truly believe that it’s not too much of a stretch for market researchers to get comfortable with the methodological challenges of this kind of research, such as the fact that you never know the true demographics of the sample. Instead, what’s holding market researchers back is that it’s hard to do this research in an efficient and meaningful (read: insightful) way using just a platform alone.

That leads me to question what the dominant business model will be for this kind of research at the end of the day. Right now, most market researchers are interested in the platform model — which is inexpensive and may be a good entrée into understanding (at the very least) what this kind of research is all about. If platform companies can get better at their standard reporting, then this model may have some legs yet among client-side researchers. In my view, though, unless a corporate market research department has loads of time on its hands (yeah, right!), most will need some level of service in order to help with the heavy lifting of custom analysis. Some platform providers offer service options as well or partner with other companies that can provide them, but few are proactively targeting market researchers for their services.

The current interest in listening among market researchers represents a significant opportunity for market research agencies to build up their services in this arena — and for technology vendors to seek out partnerships with agencies. I can tell you that I’ll also be keeping my eye on companies that have a value proposition specifically for market researchers, such as NetBase Solutions, Wise Window, and the SocialVoice offering from Conversition Strategies and Peanut Labs.

My take on this is actually much like my stance on MROC business models. Market researchers need a certain amount of flexibility in how they can work with listening platforms and social media research providers, but they don’t usually have the staff to do the necessary analysis both of overall content and sentiment that’s aggregated by listening platforms.

So, my challenge to listening technology vendors is this: Start looking at market researchers as a viable segment for your solutions! Consider how their needs differ from those of the departments you traditionally serve. Who knows, you may actually find a new stream of revenue.

What companies do you think are succeeding in working with market researchers on listening to the social Web? Are there other key issues that are holding market researchers back from engaging in this kind of research?