Every business wants to understand its customers better. From who they are to what they want to why they want it, companies that understand consumer behavior and motivation are better equipped to serve their customers and beat out the competition.
Companies devour sales data, pore over panels, and scrutinize survey responses, trying to find out how they can better serve consumers’ needs. But high cost, slow turnaround time, and younger cohorts whose behaviors and motivations are increasingly hard to capture via traditional data sources leave companies frustrated.
Meanwhile, consumers of all ages are abandoning legacy brands, discouraged by their inability to keep up with not just emerging trends, but market shifts that have been years in the making.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to bring companies and consumers together. Social data can deliver the authentic voice of the consumer, making it possible for brands to quickly understand—and, more importantly, strategically respond to—their customers’ desires.
Let’s examine why social data is so powerful with a look at who uses social platforms, what they post, and how brands can better understand their customers by leveraging this resource.
Who’s on social? In a word, everyone.
It seems like social media is everywhere, and for good reason. Gone are the days when only the cool kids were on MySpace—today, a whopping 84% of people with internet access use social media.
And social isn’t just for Millennials and Gen Z. In 2019, Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming majority of 18-49 year-olds are on social and 40% of US adults age 65+ use at least one social media site.
While 18-29 year-olds are most likely to be on social media, even the 65-and-over set makes a strong showing. Source: Pew Research Center - Social Media Fact Sheet, Jun 2019.
But social posts aren’t just valuable for marketers or influencers trying to break into the big time of #sponsored #content. They’re also a treasure trove of information, all of which is freely submitted by your customers.
The problem is that too often analysis of social data is limited to traditional social listening metrics that provide helpful information for measuring campaign performance or individualized information about consumer complaints. To really unlock the potential of social data, you need a more sophisticated approach, one that provides aggregate contextual analysis, not just surface numbers (or, as we’ve said before, pseudo analytical word clouds).
When the data embedded in social posts is aggregated and analyzed at scale, it reveals a whole lot about a whole lot of people while protecting the privacy of individual users. Aggregating social data transforms social media from a channel that brands can use to market to customers to a source of endless insight into how consumers talk and think about your products...and what’s driving their interest.
Tapping into organic conversations is invaluable, especially because Millennials are notoriously skittish about participating in surveys, even when presented with online and mobile options.
Our data set is composed of a nationally-representative sample of people who answer calls from unknown numbers and then provide personal information about themselves.— David Powell (@thedavidpowell) December 4, 2019
We didn't say it, but we've heard similar comments from clients looking to level up their understanding of their customers.
The market is changing and market research needs to adapt. Social data is an invaluable source of consumer intelligence because it provides access to cohorts that aren’t available through traditional methods.
Chances are, your brand already uses social media marketing as a low cost way to meet consumers where they actually are. Social media isn’t just where you can find consumers, it’s where you can find out about them. Whether you think of it as a focus group of millions or the open-ended questionnaire to end all questionnaires, there’s no denying its power.
Authenticity isn’t just for influencers
While it’s easy to assume that social media users only post idealized takes on their real lives (or their lunches), the truth is a lot more complicated and interesting. Instagram users are surprisingly open about the negative side of things, with their posts reflecting authentic, unprompted reactions to brands, products, trends, and any other topic under the sun.
For example, let’s take a look at 10 of the most-discussed topics related to skin care on Instagram:
|Top 10 Skin Care Topics|
|♦ Acne||Healthy Skin|
|Glowing Skin||♦ Wrinkles|
Not every Instagram post features crazy makeup tutorials and unblemished dewy skin. Social media users also talk about challenges that motivate them to invest in skin care regimens. Data Source: Social Standards Market Insights - Global, Feb 2020, ranked on raw penetration.
Sure, there are some beauty influencers who would never dare to reveal their flaws. But Instagram users post over 13 million beauty-focused updates every month—and that’s after the spam is filtered out. When analyzed at scale, the sheer volume of content counterbalances the platform’s generally upbeat nature, providing insight into celebrations of graceful aging as well as concerns about crow’s feet and excitement about the latest cosmetics trends.
Because social posts are unsolicited, they may provide a more authentic picture of consumers than traditional data sources. That’s because the very act of soliciting responses necessarily introduces bias into a study. When you provide pre-selected survey answers, that bias becomes even more pronounced...and let’s not even talk about the trickiness of focus groups where participants may be literally asked to discuss their dirty laundry in front of complete strangers.
What’s more, rather than waiting weeks or months for survey, focus group, or panel data, social data gives companies access to near-instantaneous data, providing a real-time view of evolving consumer tastes that enables brands to strategize around those shifts. As a result, brands can outmaneuver the competition simply by better serving their customers.
Getting a 360 view via social data
While knowing what consumers want is a good first step, companies also benefit when they can get a more holistic view of what else their customers buy and why they’ve bought it. Traditionally, figuring that out requires two different data sources: receipt data and survey or focus groups.
Receipt data earned its place in companies’ strategic arsenal by providing incredibly granular data on who’s buying what and what they buy in combination. For example, receipt data can reveal that a consumer picked up a bottle of alkaline water, a meal replacement shake, and a bottle of CBD supplements in the same shopping trip.
Even a pretty well-rounded view of a consumer’s basket still misses a lot. Receipt data has blind spots around on-premise sales and moments of consumption that don’t involve monetary transactions. As a result, it provides a view of the consumer that’s limited to occasions that involve swiping a credit card, not a holistic view of their purchasing or the motivations behind it.
Now imagine that same consumer’s Instagram profile. A series of posts reveals that along with alkaline water and salad, they downed a cup of coffee (or two) at work, grabbed a vodka seltzer at happy hour with coworkers at a bar, and ended the evening with a glass of wine at a restaurant.
What’s more, with social data, you don’t just discover what’s in a consumer’s basket, you start to understand why they picked up those items in the first place. For example, they may opt for:
By analyzing social posts, you get a holistic picture of the consumer and their motivations. Social data reveals not only what consumers are buying, but when and why they’re consuming it...if you’re doing more than tracking impressions, reach, and engagement.
Now, it’s unlikely that a single consumer would document their daily beverage intake day in quite so much detail. But because alkaline water is mentioned in thousands of social posts every month, the resulting aggregate social data provides a stunning degree of insight into who’s drinking it, what else they’re drinking, and what motivates them.
Social isn’t just for posting pictures of your lunch (though we know some Food & Beverage brands that would probably thank you for it). It’s also an incredible data source just waiting to be tapped.
Authentic consumer data that’s properly contextualized and analyzed at scale provides unparalleled insight into not just what they’re interested in buying, but into what draws them to particular brands and products. That enables companies to innovate with confidence and future-proof their brands with data-informed strategy that puts customers first.
Social data doesn't just tell you what's trending—it reveals the macro trends that transform entire markets. Click to learn more about social's role in identifying macro trends.