Understanding Social Media Research
As a social media management firm, we make it our business to understand the intrinsic details surrounding even the most complex or confusing aspects of social media…and admittedly, research isn’t at the top of everyone’s dinner conversation list. However, what you don’t know about research can hurt you…or at least your campaign. Small business owners need to understand the basics about social media research in order to make informed decisions about which would work best for their analytic needs, which providers are most capable of generating the best data and perhaps even the ability to evaluate what went wrong on prior campaigns. Properly performed, social media research is a powerful tool. Do it wrong and you risk spending immense amounts of time and money on bad advice.
Five Types of Research You Must Know
Basically, there are five main categories of social media research you must be familiar with. Don’t worry! This won’t be painful. We’ve cut out all the fluff and will get straight to the most important information.
1.Evaluative Research – This type of social media research uses the scientific method to plan, monitor and improve outcomes. Originally created to help test different types of social media marketing campaigns, evaluative research has expanded to include many other areas including social support and other emerging uses of social media. Evaluative research is able to determine whether or not unintended consequences (both good and bad) are associated with certain actions as well as measure original goals.
- Example: Perhaps the most common example of evaluative social media research is A/B testing for different messages; it’s a very specific, concrete usage that is capable of generating substantially higher response rates when properly designed and implemented.
- Pros: Highly respected, the scientific method is the gold standard of most forms of research capable of generating reliable results that are quite specific and detailed.
- Cons: Can be time consuming and costly. Don’t go overboard when using evaluative research! Keep the “question” simple and straightforward to reduce cost.
2. Explanatory Research – This type of social media research seeks to explain “why” something happened in order to either repeat the results or avoid them in the future. Originally designed to help identify existing or necessary patterns, explanatory carefully evaluates the past to see what worked or what didn’t work.
- Example: Explanatory social media research is often used to identify major milestones or key ingredients that caused a video to go viral.
- Pros: A great way to do “forensic” investigation on the good, bad and downright ugly results found online.
- Cons: Hindsight is 20/20…by its very nature, explanatory research is always looking backwards rather than forward. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow especially in the rapidly changing social media sphere.
3. Predictive Research – This type of social media research is somewhat the opposite of explanatory research; rather than looking backwards to see what happened (as in the use of explanatory research), predictive research seeks to predict what will happen in the future.
- Example: Predictive social media research is often used to track projected growth rates, number of sales and even profit potential.
- Pros: By its very nature, social media is always forward looking and very progressive. Predictive research is forward looking.
- Cons: Highly dependent upon the expertise and experience of the researcher. Like the old saying “Garbage in-garbage out”. Without proper data input, results are unreliable.
4. Descriptive Research – This type of research attempts to answer the “who, how and what” of social media (remember, “why” is the domain of explanatory research) in order to more accurately design targeted messages for maximum impact.
- Example: Descriptive social media research often uses demographic trends to design highly effective and engaging messages.
- Pros: By maximizing the target message, it is possible to obtain better results at reduced cost. Analytics and other tools make descriptive research highly accessible to many small business owners.
- Cons: Describing demographic and other trends is only half the job; understanding the best methods to maximize social media marketing and impact requires extensive experience.
5. Social Research – No, this isn’t a typo! The final type of social media research is…well, social! Social research seeks to systematically examine empirical data. This is NOT a “hit or miss” approach. To truly be social research it must be systematic, (ie, carefully planned and evaluated), use a collection of empirical data (ie, well researched and studied data) and finally, it must include both the social and psychological factors.
- Example: Insight into the changing expectations associated with social support as well as gender differences in social media usage are just a couple of current examples.
- Pros: Cutting edge insight may provide a competitive edge at a moment’s notice!
- Cons: Social media is still in its infancy with limited meta analysis performed.