There is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of great information that can be gained by monitoring and interacting with your customers and potential customers on social networking sites.
In fact, after reading “No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing,” (affiliate link) by Jason Falls and Erik Deckers, I’m an even bigger fan of using social media for research & development purposes, as the book is filled with many great case studies that highlight some very interesting success stories among major brands.
However, there have also been some extremely intelligent statisticians who have made the claim that the data gleaned from social networking sites like Twitter can be used to make predictions about major events.
I have always been skeptical of this notion based on four main arguments. 1) Not everyone is using Twitter, or any other social networking site, therefore there is a built-in bias. 2) Even if everyone was online, not everyone is going to be talking about the topic. Therefore, only the most vocal people will be heard. 3) There are a lot of false rumors that are spread online that can negatively influence the predictions. 4) In some cases, specific training is required that can influence the outcome of events or there might be information required that the general public is not privy to.
A recent article on TechCrunch gives some evidence that supports my first two points.
While I won’t go into each point in detail in this post, I do want to point out the shortcomings of using social media for making predictions about events when more tried-and-true methodologies, namely surveys with proper wording of questions and representative random samples, are available.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a lot of great information that can be gained by monitoring social networking sites and interacting with your customers online.
However, I feel that it is best to think of social media as a huge focus group that should be used in addition to other forms of market research.
Photo credit: 13stock on Flickr.