Reaching the unreachable: Why social sampling gives researchers more reach, precision and better quality results

Understand how social sampling should be high on your agenda as a market researcher

The Holy Grail of consumer research is finding the best (as defined by relevance and honesty, at least) respondents that can be targeted in a very niche way and doing so in a way that meets the time constraints of sampling in today’s rapidly shifting consumer markets.  Extracting high-quality data can be critical across all aspects of a business, whether its product development and positioning, marketing and strategy, customer satisfaction, or major company decisions about market expansion, M&A, or corporate transformation.

But existing market research methods have limitations in their ability to reach the right audience at the right timeframe, particularly in the pandemic age. Phone surveys, web portals, focus groups and live ‘intercept’ methods all have been used for decades to gauge consumer sentiment, but are not as well-equipped to address many current dynamics.  In today’s ubiquitously connected, ultra-mobile world, new ways to reach consumers need to be explored.

The rise of social media offers such an opportunity. Today, it is possible to survey the population directly by recruiting respondents via channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram andTwitter. There are more than 4 billion social media users worldwide (and the number just keeps climbing). That equates to about 45% of the current world’s population and that’s where most consumers are spending their time nowadays(some estimates say up to 3 hours per day on average).

Those channels have become one of the most effective, time-efficient and inexpensive tools for recruiting target respondents and collecting data on their consumption habits. It’s a pro active and targeted method we call it social sampling and it borrows from the highly effective playbook of advertisers who have recognised the precision and effectiveness of targeting niche audiences on a global scale.


The right targeting leads to the right people which leads to quality data

The main advantage of social media is the ability to target a specific population. For example, we were recently presented this challenge: Find people who consumed dates regularly in 5 different countries to forecast future consumption trends. We launched a survey via LinkedIn and Facebook in 4different languages to help consultants build a consumer profile for their client. In less than two weeks in the field, we had met(and exceed) the quotas per country, gender, and age groups to guarantee an even portrait of the consumer.

Social sampling takes into account age and gender, but also interests, language, geographical area (down to a kilometer),etc. By surveying consumers virtually, it is possible to establish trade areas that encompass all the different participants’ respective geographic locations.The inherent precision of targeting allows for participants to be surveyed on topics they actually care about.

These are some of the targeting factors available in social networks:

• Geo-targeting: This is targeting by country, region, city, metro area, postal or zip code. As wide as a whole country, as narrow as a city block.

• Demographics: Some social networks allow for basic demographic targeting, such as gender and age group, while others add-options to zone in on users according to education level, relationship status, income, and ethnic affinity.

• Language: You can reach users who speak a specific language. Researchers can also combine language with geo-targeting to reach users speaking a specific language in a certain country.

• Interests: Reach audiences based on the topics they are interested in. Some social media platforms offer hundreds of interests to choose from.

• Keywords: For networks like Twitter, keyword targeting means reaching users that tweet specific keywords, while platforms like Facebook also target according to the words people use in searches.

• Devices, operating systems and network operators: Reach consumers using specific mobile phones, tablets or laptops.You can also target based on whether consumers use iOS, Android or other operating systems and the operators that provide their connectivity.

• Your customer data: Social platforms likeTwitter, LinkedIn and Facebook allow researchers to upload lists containing user data. Import lists from your CRM system or email database to reach specific people or build lookalike audiences.

Think about it: by opening any social media profile on any platform, you are already providing a lot of information about yourself, your habits, your location, the things you like or dislike. The truth is that millions of people trust these channels with a lot of their information, and while some not so scrupulous organisations have used this power for sinister purposes, it can also be harvested in an honest, people-respectful way. And that way is consumer research.

Since this method allows companies to target real people who are out there in the real world who specifically use their services and buy their products (or their competitors’), they are also guaranteeing a more representative, diverse, and genuine sample of the larger population. By securing this type of accuracy and the sourcing of truly interested respondents, companies are a step ahead of the curve when it comes to obtaining precious data they can leverage to increase their bottom line.

Reaching the unreachable

Most survey techniques are bound by targeting people who companies are aware of at some level. From existing customers or prospects, or respondents who have gone through a highly rigorous qualification filter, the ability to survey consumers who meet specific profiles is a major asset in a company’s client acquisition strategy. But what about those who fall through the cracks?

• Secondary customers (those who didn’t choose your brand as their main source of consumption)

• Leaving Customers (those who come less and less; who are turning their backs on you)

• Lapsed customers (those whom you have lost in favour of the competition)

• Or just your non-clients.

The link or QR code in a printed receipt just won’t cut it anymore. Methods used by major companies (surveys emailed to loyalty cardholders, surveys promoted on receipts, etc.) inherently cannot survey these strategic targets. These methods can only reach your customers, and oftentimes just the most loyal of them. Social sampling overcomes that by casting a wide net, but one that still only catches the fish you care about, even if you don’t know about them.


Serial responders need not apply

One thing we have discovered while conducting consumer research through social channels is that companies don’t need to pay respondents to answer your survey. Why? If you are nailing the targeting, presenting the survey in a way that is compelling to that target audience, and your questionnaire is not more than 10 minutes long, people answer because they have an interest in doing so. And if the topic is of direct relevance in some ways, chances are that people will want to make their voices be heard.

It's supported by a theory known as“Digital Altruism” which refers to a trend toward “recognising that we can make a difference in the lives of others by sharing our knowledge on-line, and seeking out websites designed such that our everyday activities end up benefiting others.”  In other words, people want to share what they know so they can help others in the process, and we believe this is what compels people to answer targeted surveys without any incentive, other than having their voices heard.


Higher quality data leads to smarter decisions

The main goal of collecting consumer insight is to obtain the highest-quality, most representative data possible.This means companies need to get in touch with real consumers, who are out there buying their products or using their services in real-world scenarios.Knowing what a target audience really wants gives company decision-makers the tools to develop better offerings, streamline the customer experience, understand demand, competitors, develop new products and services, and so much more. It all permeates from conducting sound market research.

Just as the methodologies used to conduct consumer research, the quality of the data obtained from it is improving. The truth is, the data will define how successful the decision-making process is and therefore, how companies can shape their revenue streams. The trick is making sure the data that comes out of that research is sound, accurate and a fit to your objectives. This is where the method used to conduct quantitative research is important. Social sampling, using the reach and precision of social media networks, is proving to be an effective method to consider.


The ResearchGeek

Jake Pryszlak

Market researcher | Speaker | Podcaster