One of my favorite characteristics of social media is its ability to demonstrate how two different, yet related, populations interact in an organic environment. Compared to traditional methodologies, social media presents marketers with fascinating new possibilities for understanding the mechanics of business and social relationships.
You will recall that in an early post I mentioned some work we had undertaken for a Canadian mutual fund company looking to expand in the SRI space. Going deeper into the analysis for that study our research team learned about some really interesting social dynamics that weren’t able to as clearly understand from our focus group work.
We had been tasked by this client to investigate brand awareness in social media as a proxy for understanding how the Canadian investing population perceived this growing product category. We had anticipated that social media would have been a rich medium for discussions on personal finances because we knew that online destinations (be they personal finance websites or forums) were a popular means of discovering new information about products/investment strategies by what I would call the “mainstream” Canadian investors. However, when we delved into the social media discussions we were surprised by the interactions we witnessed between various segments of the population.
Going into this research we knew we were going to find a number of different customer segments whom would have been classified based on their investing knowledge and behavious:
- We expected to find a “mass market” consumer population who represented the typical behaviours and approaches of “mainstream” Canadian investors. Our past research has consistently shown that many mutual fund investors in Canada are not terribly well informed about the products they buy and tend to gravitate towards simple and easy to understand offerings from major banks.
- We also know that among these “mass market” investors the proportion of current SRI unit holders is incredibly small – the socially responsible investing trend is growing, but it still represents but a small fraction of the total mutual fund investment industry. Unit holders tend to be a bit more financially savvy than the average mutual fund investor but as the product category is still developing there are a lot of unit holders out there whom don’t fully understand what SRIs are all about.
- Finally, while we would have surmised that among current unit holders existed a “thought leader” population, we were surprised by how different this segment was compared to the previous two. The SRI thought leader population we found not only possessed a much more sophisticated understanding of personal investing, but also were discussing the core concepts of socially responsible investing in a much different light than others. This group was really driving home concepts related to impact investing and much higher level ideas related to sustainable investment practices.
What was so fascinating about these populations though is how their different levels of knowledge and engagement were essentially driving them away from one another. On one hand you had very highly engaged individuals (thought leaders) discussing the core concepts of socially responsible investing along with the mechanics of mutual fund investing at such a high level that most average consumers (mass market investors) would not be able to follow, let alone participate. While on the other hand there was an engaged group of consumers who had already bought into the idea of SRIs (unit holders) but ended up very confused themselves as to what their investment was doing because a) the products weren’t terrible well explained by the manufacturers and b) no real forum existed in social media where they could have conversations with like-minded investors that wasn’t already dominated by more sophisticated discussions.
In the end though, we decided that these observations posed an interesting opportunity for our client. We ultimately recommended that they immediately engage prospective customers in social media with two distinct objectives:
- Establish their brand as an entry point for prospective investors by crafting and disseminating better ‘FAQ’ style resources and make them available online.
- Engage with the thought leaders we identified using social media research and engage them in the higher level conversations currently going on regarding the evolution of this fund category.
We believed that accomplishing these objectives could significantly increase their brand presence in this fund category by being seen as both an intermediary between thought leaders and mass market consumers and an active participant in the development of a (for now) niche product.
Thus, social media enabled our research team to look at research data in a context that other methodologies may have not permitted. True, in a quant or qual approach we might still have looked for differences in attitudes/behaviour across different customer segments; however, social media was uniquely able to provide insight into the detailed interactions of these segments – we literally were able to observe them communicating with one another (and in some cases the clear absence of communication). While this added boon wouldn’t be limited to the social media space – I do feel that its more likely to be prevalent in complex research topics such as financial services, healthcare and other B2B environments where there are many facets to the customer population.
Up next: How to apply your existing market research toolkit to social media analysis