Archive for April 2009

Is social media making it easier to take research inhouse?


In February this year a survey on the market research industry in 2009 showed two very different pictures. The research, sponsored by online-oriented companies Cambiar, MRops and Peanut Labs, found that whilst clients and agencies alike predicted a small growth in the market of about 1%, this did not tell the full story. Although they saw the market growing slightly in 2009, they thought that the proportion of work that was brought inhouse would increase significantly.

There are a number of reasons for clients bringing research inhouse. The current economic climate is making organisations review external contracts more thoroughly and spend money more carefully, and also making employers use their own staff in the most efficient way possible. So rather than paying  external agencies to do some tasks, clients are using their internal teams instead.

But even without the current economic climate there are deeper reasons for this move inhouse. The survey showed that one in five clients would use social media and social networks to generate sample, and that one in three clients intended to build their own branded community for research. The use of social media as part of the research process is changing the role of agency and client and changing the range of tools and methodologies available to us all. It can seem to make it easier for us all to do research, find people, watch what they are discussing and ask them questions.

We wrote yesterday about the promise of online research communities, and how too often they don’t quite live up to this. Whilst social media is empowering clients and agencies alike to do research in different ways, there is still a role for both. A good online research community is not just about asking the right questions, it’s about engaging people, building a real community that is vibrant and active and ready to contribute to research, innovation, word-of-mouth and in many other ways.

To do this isn’t easy. Whilst social media may make access to people and the ability to build a community site easier, it does not make motivating, moderating, and working with community members any easier. In fact it adds a whole range of new problems. How do you design a community that really meets your business needs? How do you find and engage the people you want to? How do you grow and build members, conversations, activities and word-of-mouth? How do you make sure that the brand is represented well in the community, and that the community is represented well in the organisation? How do you deal with negative discussions as well as positive ones?

These and other questions are the new challenges that social media and online communities present for research. If there is a move inhouse that is not necessarily a bad thing for the industry. It may be that certain parts of the research process are taken inhouse, whereas others are left for agencies to support. Agencies can operate where they add value most and where their expertise is best put to use. Clients, for their part, can take more control or have greater influence over some parts of the process. Exactly how this relationship changes is not yet clear, but change it will.

Clients will take more things inhouse, but have greater need for agency support in new areas. To cater for this, agencies need to change and some of their traditional roles may become redundant. For me that’s the bigger story for the market research industry in 2009.

I’ll be talking about the changing client-agency relationship, and in particular how clients can manage their own online research communities at the Online Research Methods conference in London in June.

When online research communities don’t live up to their promise


We’ve written before about the real power that online research communities can bring to a brand, and also of the way in which you can get insight from any online community. The promise of rich insight is great - real people talking to each other about your brand, market and competitors. They provide a real hub for innovation and co-creation and give you access to real-time insight. But sometimes they just don’t seem to work, they just don’t deliver what you might expect.

At FreshNetworks we have built online communities from scratch, and also worked  with organisations who have an incumbent online research community that isn’t living up to its promise. Through this experience we’ve developed the following four tips to help discover what the problem might be:

1. Do you actually have a panel, not a community?

Research panels and online research communities are very different. They work in different ways, deliver different types of research and insight and are useful for different business objectives. The biggest failing that we see with online research communities is that what you really have is a panel of people and not a community. The discussions tend to be between the brand or agency and community member, rather than peer-to-peer in the community. And you find that the majority of your traffic comes when you send an email about an activity, survey or discussion that you want people to respond to.

This can be the most difficult problem to solve. You need to think again about who you want to engage and why and  build an engagement strategy alongside your research plan.

2. Do your community members actually want to engage with you?

Wanting to engage with people in an online community is really only half of the story. There are probably lots of things that you want them to do, but do they really want to do them? And if so do they want to do them in your community?

The difference between an online research community and other forms of market research is that you want to build and grow a community of people to work with to help you for insight and research. You can’t call through a list of people until you find those who want to answer your questions. You need to build a community that targets and meets the requirements of the people you want to engage so that they will be there to answer your questions when you have them. If they don’t actually want to engage with you, this can be difficult.

3. Are you incentivising in the right way?

The topic of incentives is one much discussed in market research - should you incentivise people, for what behaviours and with what reward? Get your incentive structure wrong and you will encourage and grow the  wrong behaviours. People will only contribute to your online research community to an extent they think appropriate for what they are getting in return.

The signs that your incentivisation structure is wrong includes unusually larger churn-rates. Indeed you might see the higher rates of churn typical of a research panel, rather than the low churn rates we see in online research communities. You’ve moved people from the social context of the community to a market context where they aren’t engaging with you but transacting.

4. Are you part of your community?

The role of the brand and agency is changing with the growth of online research communities (a topic I shall be returning too at the Online Research Methods conference in London June). One major change is that rather than the agency and brand always asking the questions, and the respondent answering, the playing field is levelled somewhat. Online research communities only really work if you play a role in the community as a peer, rather than trying to lead or direct it.

You have questions to ask and activities that you want people to do, but you also need to join in the conversations. Don’t always ask questions, but answer some too. Join the forums, talk about yourself - give a face and a name to the research and the brand. This makes the experience better and fairer for everybody. And also more enjoyable for you. Where this doesn’t happen, where the agency or brand hides behind an ‘Admin’ name, or doesn’t engage in the community, you miss out on a whole range of real, rich benefits.

So, if you see an online research community that you think just isn’t living up to its promise then ask these four question of it. Of course, identifying the problem is less than half the battle. The next step is to fix it.

  • The Best Market Researchers to Follow on Twitter (
  • Getting insight from online communities (
  • Maximising the insight you get from your online community (

People are fed up of joining brand pages on Facebook


Research released by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the UK suggests that people are growing increasingly tired of requests to join brand pages or install brand applications in Facebook and other social networks. The research found that almost two in every three of the 2,000 respondents to the survey were fed up with the constant requests to join groups and try new applications.

Digging deeper into the research reveals more information. When asked what they disliked most about social networks, the most popular response (with 31% of respondents citing this) was too many invites to install applications. The second most cited dislike (16% of respondents) was advertising that “isn’t relevant to me”. Remaining dislikes have relatively low incidences (such as the 5% of respondents who dislike the “addictiveness” of the social networks themselves). And 12% of respondents reported no dislikes at all.

It is the insight into the attitudes to branded content, pages and applications that is, however, most interesting from a social media marketing perspective. With so many people saying they are turned of by invites to join pages, install applications or join groups, brands need to work harder to get a consumer’s attention and to get them to engage with them.

Of course, this has never been easy. In fact, engaging people in social networks has always been difficult for brands. Social networks are very personal spaces where users go to connect with their network of friends - to share photos, plan events, keep up with what they have been doing and to message them. They are personal spaces focused on the individual user and their connections and as such can be difficult for brands to enter. People are having a personal conversation and interaction and are sometimes sceptical of the role of a brand in this space.

The most successful uses of social networks by brands are less about getting people to do things with them in this space, but using it as part of a hub-and-spoke model. Rather than a brand trying to engage people separately in Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and every other social network and forum site, it is better to use these as gateways to somewhere else. People may not want to engage with you and interact with you in Facebook, but they may be willing to find out more about you and then, if and when they want to engage, go somewhere else better designed for this.

This is really where online communities come in. If social networks are personal spaces where people connect round friends, online communities are spaces where people connect round a shared interest, idea, theme or topic. It’s much easier for brands to play in this space. To get people to engage with you, talk to them and interact with them. It’s your party that they have chosen to join, rather than being their party you have interrupted.

So this IAB survey comes as no real surprise to us at FreshNetworks. We know that social networks are difficult places for brands and it can be best to use them not as the start and end of your engagement or marketing strategy. It is better to work with social networks, and the people in them, as part of a more developed approach. Meeting people in social networks but bringing them to a place you host to really engage with them.

  • Components of Social Media Marketing: The Moogis Case by Wyndstorm (
  • More notes from “Social Media Marketing” (
  • Social Media Marketing Industry Report (
  • Charlene Li Predicts Social Networking Will Be Ubiquitous, ‘Like … (

Why Twitter is a Ponzi Scheme


Image by wonderferretTwitter is a Giant Ponzi Scheme” according to Joseph Jaffe.

Thinking there might be something in that I headed over to Slideshare to take a second look at a PowerPoint walkthrough of Ponzi schemes. Apparently this ppt was used to help a jury understand how Ponzi Schemes work.

Would a few minor changes show Twitter to be nothing but a giant Ponzi scheme?

See what you think…

Why Twitter Is A Ponzi Scheme
View more presentations from freshnetworks.

Brands are no longer noise. How should marketing change?


Last year, a famous thinker in marketing theory was speaking in London and a group of us from FreshNetworks went along to listen to what was said. The speaker had some insightful things to say, the theories presented are useful, but for us and others there who work in social media marketing there was something that seemed just not to be true. The theory presented seemed not to have taken into account the changes we have seen in the world, the way people can share and exchange ideas and information thanks to online communities and social networks, the changing role of brand and consumer. Maybe, we said to each other as we left the session, there is a need to change what we mean and talk abotu when we talk about marketing. Maybe some of the old theories need to be updated and maybe there are some new theories to add in there.

That’s why this week’s Required Reading is a presentation from Alain Thys, a fellow blogger at Futurelab, given at F-Word in Helsinki. He looks at exactly this issue - how marketing can and should change.

The world has changed, but marketing is still applying the principles I learned in business school. This needs to change and this presentation is an “open source” call to help achieve this change.

He presents his thoughts as a starting  point to answering the question of what should change and how and wants to provoke a discussion and debate. Seeing and reading this presentation is the first stage to doing this.

Change Marketing v01
View more presentations from Alain Thys.
  • Ford’s Smart Social Media Marketing Approach (
  • Obama’s Extreme Social Media Marketing Skills (
  • Social Media Marketing Industry Report (