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AOP at WARC Online Research Conference

The WARC Online Research Conference 2009 last week touched on the key issues facing the online research industry, from harnessing social media for research and the "shift in human communications" caused by the growth of web consumption, to 'integrated insights' and improving the research experience. AOP's Head of Research Tim Cain attended, to keep up to date on the latest developments in the world of online research.

Harnessing social media for research

The overall message from the event was that with falling response rates and increasing difficulty in recruiting respondents to traditional methods of research, the rise of social media offers an interesting and dynamic arena for innovation in research.

Tom Smith of Trendstream illustrated the growth of involvement in social media using data from Universal McCann’s Social Media Tracker 'Power to the People':

  • Globally 83% of web users are viewing video clips
  • 73% are reading blogs
  • 63% are visiting photo sharing sites
  • 57% are managing a profile on a social network site.
  • In the UK, between September '06 and January '08, the number of web users writing a blog increased from 10% to 25%
  • Users creating a profile on a social network has increased from 27% to 60%
  • And users viewing video clips has increased from 32% to 85% in the same period

Trusting Strangers

Meanwhile, Universal McCann’s 'Trusting Strangers' report shows that globally:

  • Over 40% of web users tell their peers about products and services
  • 30% are commenting on reviews on blogs
  • More than 28-29% of users are posting views and opinions to the wider world via reviews on retail sites, blogs and posts on social networks, and that type of comment is becoming more trusted

"A shift in human communications"

The research industry must learn and incorporate a new set of skills to change the way it gains insight from consumers online, said the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) Chief Research Officer Joel Rubinson. "There is a shift in how humanity is communicating which produces a continuous stream of data in people’s naturally occurring conversations."

"Consumers are a genie that won’t go back into its bottle" said Rubinson, and researchers need to "hear the unexpected, observe new vocabulary appearing, listen in both the brand backyard [brand-created situations like communities] and the consumer backyard [forums, etc]".

'Integrated Insights'

The key objective, he said, was to move from 'consumer insights' gained from traditional research methods to 'integrated insights' gained from blogs, online forums and other forms of social media that can be merged with data collected by more traditional means.

Quoting P&G’s Kim Dedeker as saying that the research industry would be "on life support by 2012" unless it turns to methods "more in touch with the lifestyles of the consumers we seek to understand", The ARF man said that he was not alone in his concerns for the industry, having heard soundbites such as "Research has lost the ability to see the bigger picture" in meetings with industry leaders like Unilever, P&G and Levi Strauss.

Several speakers stressed the emphasis researchers and marketers need to place on ‘listening’ to consumers rather than ‘talking’ to them to glean insight in this environment.

Improving the research experience

David Day, CEO of Lightspeed Europe, illustrated the reasons for drop out from a study of over 3 million online surveys.

  • The length of the survey, and having to download media each accounted for 33% of drop outs
  • Followed by 25% of drop outs due to grid style questions
  • Open ended questions accounted for a further 8% of drop outs
  • The message is a pretty simple one - researchers need to improve the research experience for respondents, making it easy and enjoyable

Finally, while there is no doubt that site owners hold vast amounts of information about users and their online activity, allowing them to see what is happening within their community, the role of research remains to understand ‘why’ it is happening, and interpretation and analysis are still the most vital elements of consumer understanding.

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