The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities

When marketers dive headfirst into social media, they often lose sight of the big picture. Digging into the details of audience engagement and content consumption is all well and good, but it can easily lead to skewed or incomplete perceptions of user behavior. To quote the excellent MarketerSherpa blog post “Why Social Media Analytics Isn’t As Easy As It Appears,” marketers must treat social media as a “living, breathing organism,” keeping in mind the “intersection of constantly shifting technology, social preferences, and behavioral cues that could dictate future marketing decisions.”

Luckily, there are strategies other than trial-and-error to reach this crucial mass of consumers. Market researchers can harness the power of online communities to gain invaluable insights into shopper behavior and improve business performance. Community managers can help guide research-ready content for top-performing groups of customers and prospects to drive sales and bolster marketing ROI. Social media analytics, or simply SMART, can provide a comprehensive view into consumer behavior that is easily actionable and measurable. This blog post will walk you through the four steps necessary to launch a successful market research program in social media.

Step One: Set the Research Goal

The first step towards a successful marketing research program is setting the right research goal. Market research is a fairly broad term that covers many different methods of data collection and analysis. Generally, marketers are interested in gaining a better understanding of consumers’ psychographics, attitudes, and behaviors to drive profitable marketing decisions. When developing a social media research program, the goal should be to understand the nature and behavior of a highly engaged audience across multiple platforms. This section of the research plan will dictate the scope of your study and the ideal data set for the analysis.

Step Two: Decide on Analysis Tools

Once you’ve set your research goal, it’s time to pick your analysis tools. The decision-making process for this step should be based on whether you’ll be analyzing an existing data set or compiling a new one. If you decide to go the manual route and collect your own data, make sure you’ve collected a decent quantity of material before you start coding. This will save you a lot of time in the long run. The more data you have, the more accurate your analysis will be. The ideal tool for a social media market research program should be able to handle large volumes of data, provide summaries or insights into the most important variables, and be user-friendly enough for you to analyze in your spare time. Some examples of manual analysis tools are Google Analytics and Hootsuite’s CRM114 dashboard (formerly known as the Influencer CRM).

Step Three: Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Now that you have your analysis tools in place, it’s time to start building key performance indicators (KPIs). These are the metrics that you’ll use to gauge the success of your research program. The best way to choose these KPIs is by keeping in mind the question you sought to answer in the first place, but also taking into consideration the limitations of your analysis tool. If you decide to use manual analysis tools, the best way to find useful metrics is by looking at the reports that they provide. Sometimes it’s useful to look at the raw data as well, but be careful not to get lost in too much detail; there’s no point in analyzing every tweet from every platform if your target audience doesn’t engage with your content the same way across all platforms.

Step Four: Identify Potential Research Participants

After you’ve identified your key performance indicators, its time to start building a list of potential participants. Ideally you’ll want a mix of respondents, reaching beyond your existing customer base to gain insights into how consumers behave outside of your normal sales funnel. These individuals can act as your ideal customer, as well as someone whose behaviors and attitudes may help you identify future product opportunities. Your target group can also include people who fit into certain demographics or social groups that may have different behaviors and perspectives that can provide you with valuable information.

The respondents in your target group should be representative of your ideal customer, as well as someone whose behaviors you can analyze and draw conclusions from. When choosing respondents, make sure you’ve considered all relevant variables, such as age, gender, income, education, and cultural factors. Consider how familiar your proposed participants are with the products or services you offer, as this will impact how they’ll respond to your survey questions. For example, if you’re conducting research on e-commerce, you won’t want to include respondents who are highly influenced by brands on social media but have no expertise in online shopping.

Setting Up a Social Media Marketing Research Program

Your research program doesn’t need to be super-scientific to provide valuable insights. With a little bit of creativity, a data-driven approach, and plenty of initiative, you can easily set up a social media marketing research program that will provide you with valuable insights into consumer behavior. In this section, we’ll walk you through the steps necessary to launch a successful social media marketing research program.

Choose A Social Media Platform

The first step towards a successful social media marketing research program is choosing the right platform. This decision-making process should follow the same criteria you use for any other marketing platform. Once you’ve decided which social platforms to include in your study, establish a presence on each one. This will help you reach your target audience and engage with them on a consistent basis. Established social platforms such as Twitter and Instagram can provide you with a steady stream of consumer data that is easily accessible and actionable. Depending on the nature of the questions you’re asking and the type of respondents you’re recruiting, other platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook may also be useful.

Decide How To Measure Success

Your choice of social media platform isn’t the only thing to consider when designing a successful social media marketing research program. You’ll also want to decide how to measure the success of your research program. The best way to choose these metrics is by keeping in mind the question you sought to answer in the first place, but also taking into consideration the limitations of your analysis tool. For example, if you’re using manual tools to analyze social media data, the best way to find useful metrics is by looking at the reports that they provide. Sometimes it’s useful to look at the raw data as well, but make sure you don’t get lost in too much detail; there’s no point in analyzing every tweet from every platform if your target audience doesn’t engage with your content the same way across all platforms.

Once you’ve picked your metrics, it’s time to start measuring your success. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to determine whether or not your efforts have been successful. The best way to do this is by using analysis tools that have been designed for precisely this purpose. For example, if you’ve decided to study purchasing behavior on social media, use Google Analytics to track the traffic that leads to your product or service pages from different platforms. This will help you determine the effectiveness of your sponsored ads and content strategies.

Depending on the nature of your research questions and analysis tools, you may also want to measure the success of your outreach strategy. If you’re conducting marketing research on social media, measuring the success of your brand ambassador program and other brand promotions is fairly straightforward. The key here is to keep track of the results of these strategies, as well as those related to content creation and engagement, to ensure you haven’t invested in vain.

To help you get started, we’ve provided a research template that you can use to structure your plan. As you work through each step, be sure to keep in mind the big picture, while also considering the specifics of your data set, tools, and other limitations. When you’re finally satisfied with your template, you can sit back and enjoy your newfound knowledge, while also reaping the benefits of a more profitable and effective marketing department.