Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018

Social Media Content Analysis – Strong Contender in the Realm of Social Research

We are all very fond of surveys and polls, the classic market research tools. We trust them that they provide us with useful insights into the mind of our customers and their purchasing behavior. They did not fail us. Well, not very much, at least.

Yet, the status-quo of these quantitative and qualitative marketing research tools is recently under attack by a new freak, a mutant tool called social media research. It does not seem to be too scientific and it does not seem to allow defining very well the needed survey population.

Despite all this criticism though, one characteristic makes the social media research even more powerful than the classic, controlled-environment surveys. The power of this new marketing research paradigm is based on a fancy concept called “post-purchase rationalization.”

It lies within the human nature that every time we purchase a product or service we tend to overlook any faults or defects in order to justify the purchase. This cognitive bias is called post-purchase rationalization and is based on an interesting mechanism called cognitive dissonance.

Basically, every time we spend our hard-earned money on a purchase, our brain start questioning the effectiveness of that decision, getting in what psychologists call “a cognitive dissonance.” There might be signs that we have paid too much, or the product has flaws we were not aware of. This makes us feel uncomfortable and our brain does not like to stay in that state for too long. A protection mechanism kicks in and the brain starts protecting itself, in a desperate effort to regain the balance and the comfort.

The brain cannot change reality, but it sure can change the way it interprets reality and the information it accepts related to the surrounding reality. The only way to eliminate the dissonance and regain comfort and balance is to ignore the obvious signs showing that the purchase decision was wrong. Thus, we tend to avoid people who have more knowledge about the product we have purchased and who are able to testify on the defects, and we overlook the information that proves the purchasing decision was not quite as good as we initially hoped.

How does this apply to social media surveys? Simply put: classic surveys suffer from post-purchase rationalization! No matter how much we think we are immune to it, we all suffer one degree or another from this cognitive bias. As a result, we tend to answer surveys a little different from the reality and most of the time we are not even aware of it.

Social media, on the other hand, offers genuine information. People share their thoughts freely, in an environment they are comfortable with at a moment they feel like doing it. The results of such analysis suffer less from post-purchase rationalization and hence are more accurate. The willingness to reveal information is greater through social media and social content has the ability to reveal aspects impossible to detect through classic marketing survey-based research.

Even considering all the above-mentioned advantages of social content research, I would not hurry to throw the classic surveys out the window. The new approach is not mature enough and a more scientific approach needs yet to be developed. The best approach would probably be a mixture of the two, thus getting complementary results, which might prove to generate more useful insights than what you get based solely on one tool.