Reinventing the Survey for the Modern Social Landscape

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Surveys will always be a staple of the marketing research toolbox. But their limited sample size often limits their usefulness and reliability for informing decisions about digital marketing campaigns. Extrapolation beyond the bounds of the questions asked becomes a real problem. They’re also static, representing a snapshot in time of expressed opinions, and cannot capture the dynamics of attitude and sentiment shifts in real-time.

Here earned media comes to the rescue, finally making it possible to augment survey findings so they’re reliable at scale and across a longer time span. And with richer insights to boot.

Earned data is information derived from earned media—instances in digital and social media where influencers and other consumers mention or express their support for a certain company, issue, product, cause or interest. This voluntarily offered information on blogs, forums, and social channels—which exists in the public domain and thus is not subject to the privacy concerns inherent in many other data sources—is available at massive scale across nearly all demographics and geographies. The combination of survey methodology and earned insights is much more powerful than each separately. Let’s look at how earned social data can be used to improve today’s survey insights.

Real-Time Relevance

One of the challenges of survey data is that it represents a snapshot in time—the moment that the group of survey participants logged their responses to a limited set of questions. The problem, of course, is that audiences and their opinions change over time, and fielding continuous surveys over time can be both expensive and time-consuming.

As an always-on stream of constantly refreshable insights, earned data from people’s social media activity solves the problem of stagnant insights. It enables marketers to constantly refresh their view on what influencers and their audiences are saying about their brand or about a given topic, and to chart shifts in audiences and sentiments over time.

Finding New Niches

When handed a batch of new survey findings, marketers tend to focus on the largest, most obvious audiences or personas that emerged within the limited sample of respondents. But lest we forget, there is significant opportunity within every niche audience, and earned data helps marketers find those smaller, often-lucrative groups of consumers.

With earned data, marketers aren’t limited to targeting broad swaths of the population, like car lovers. They can hone in, based on the information that people are providing on social media, on car lovers with an affinity for certain styles, makes, models or even colors of cars. Such niche targeting capabilities can dramatically reduce waste in marketing resources while simultaneously boosting performance.

Reducing Bias

Earned data also helps marketers cut through the bias that is often inherent in self-reporting on surveys. As we all know, what a person says they like or believe when answering explicit questions is not always congruent with their actions. However, their words and actions within social media tend to reflect a truer version of themselves that, when layered on top of survey findings, can help to deepen marketers’ understanding of what their audiences like and how they behave in the wild. In addition, earned data can help marketers take high-level insights from a survey (i.e., a given audience likes sweet drinks) and drill down into specific, descriptive dimensions of affinities (i.e., Coke vs. Pepsi lovers).

Bringing Action to Insights

Beyond the deeper insights that earned data can bring to survey findings, it’s also an efficient way of delivering activation scale to otherwise niche survey findings. Given the depth of earned data across social platforms, custom audiences can be found at scale according to virtually any demographic, personality or passion. Marketers can find not only the influencers who are passionate about their brands or certain topics, but they can also reach the lucrative audiences of those influencers.

Surveys will remain a vital part of the market research toolbox, but today’s brands don’t need to simply accept the well-known limitations of their findings. By layering earned data on top of survey findings, marketers can achieve the depth and scale—in both insights and audiences—required for campaign success.

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