The Market Research Opportunity For Listening Technology Vendors

Whenever I talk to clients about social market research, the conversation inevitably and quickly turns to listening platforms and how/if market researchers can use them. Platforms like those from Radian6 and Alterian are attracting a lot of attention right now due to the fact that social media have become so mainstream among online consumers in the US and increasingly so in Europe. And the hope among researchers is that these conversations, when tracked and analyzed appropriately, will yield meaningful insights that would have been hard to come by through other means.

The reality is that listening platforms require a significant human touch in order to sift through mountains of data and extract golden nuggets of insight. I truly believe that it’s not too much of a stretch for market researchers to get comfortable with the methodological challenges of this kind of research, such as the fact that you never know the true demographics of the sample. Instead, what’s holding market researchers back is that it’s hard to do this research in an efficient and meaningful (read: insightful) way using just a platform alone.

That leads me to question what the dominant business model will be for this kind of research at the end of the day. Right now, most market researchers are interested in the platform model — which is inexpensive and may be a good entrée into understanding (at the very least) what this kind of research is all about. If platform companies can get better at their standard reporting, then this model may have some legs yet among client-side researchers. In my view, though, unless a corporate market research department has loads of time on its hands (yeah, right!), most will need some level of service in order to help with the heavy lifting of custom analysis. Some platform providers offer service options as well or partner with other companies that can provide them, but few are proactively targeting market researchers for their services.

The current interest in listening among market researchers represents a significant opportunity for market research agencies to build up their services in this arena — and for technology vendors to seek out partnerships with agencies. I can tell you that I’ll also be keeping my eye on companies that have a value proposition specifically for market researchers, such as NetBase Solutions, Wise Window, and the SocialVoice offering from Conversition Strategies and Peanut Labs.

My take on this is actually much like my stance on MROC business models. Market researchers need a certain amount of flexibility in how they can work with listening platforms and social media research providers, but they don’t usually have the staff to do the necessary analysis both of overall content and sentiment that’s aggregated by listening platforms.

So, my challenge to listening technology vendors is this: Start looking at market researchers as a viable segment for your solutions! Consider how their needs differ from those of the departments you traditionally serve. Who knows, you may actually find a new stream of revenue.

What companies do you think are succeeding in working with market researchers on listening to the social Web? Are there other key issues that are holding market researchers back from engaging in this kind of research?


I agree with you Tamara that

I agree with you Tamara that this area of research presents a great opportunity for market researchers. With this in mind, at EasyInsites, we have recently partnered with technology platform provider Crimson Hexagon to provide what we call EasyOpinion. One strong benefit to their platform is that it provides a much higher level of accuracy, up to 3% per category. The underlying technology was developed by Dr. Gary King at Harvard University who is the David Florence Professor of Government and the Director of The Institute for Quantitative Social Science. As you rightly point out, there is no substitute for good analytical thinking regarding how best to address the client's business objectives and teach the platform how best to categorise the conversations. With our approach using the Crimson Hexagon platform, we are able to do this relatively quickly and at a very good cost. Our expectation is that our clients will expect this type of analysis to be fast and cost effective, given the context, as well as highly accurate so the platform that we chose needed to be fit for purpose.

Alterian SM2 & Market Research

Thanks for some excellent points Tamara and for mentioning Alterian SM2. It is an excellent tool for market research. It provides demographic data in addition to the ability to see trends and patterns in volume and context.

Harris Interactive has been partnered with us and have been using SM2 for quite some time. They were very helpful in helping us evolve SM2 to best serve the needs of their clients.

And yes, the tool requires skilled human expertise, but we ensure that our partners like Harris and Clarabridge attain the needed skills. We also have many brands directly using our tool.

Connie Bensen
Director of Social Media, Alterian

Great post!

Thank you for the post Tamara and thank you for the advice. We are seeing an uptick in the interest from market researchers which is very exciting. Personally I believe Software-as-a-Service is the best way to present these platforms to customers. It is important for these firms to "get their hands dirty" if they truly want to understand the social conversations.

Big data, we have 5 billion conversations, provides extremely interesting opportunities that have never been available before - the folks at Crimson Hexagon will agree with us on this one.

Social Radar, and platforms like it, provide researchers the ability to ask open ended questions and receive crystal clear results. Authors and firms debate this and that based on their personal perceptions and understanding of the matter - debate or not, the answer is often crystal clear. Market research firms have more answers available to them than ever before.


You hit the nail right on the head, Tamara. That's my experience as a market research agency with platform providers as well. I think more and more smaller agencies will be looking for technology providers to help them with gathering material from this source and to pre organize it (maybe even more) for analysis.
The questions at this point are e.g. what sites are included in the crawler search, how they are categorized, what is missing? Those questions are complicated but they should be addressed by the platform providers so we market researchers can get a quality feeling about what the data are before we analyze them.

A more comprehensive view of listening


Thank you for bringing the very important issue of creating synergy between traditional marketing research and mass opinion listening. All of us in the vendor community should be focused on how to increase the value of the insights we bring to clients rather than creating a schism between traditional and new wave methods.

WiseWindow is currently engaged with a number clients in combining both approaches and is seeing some very positive results.

Here are two examples:

1. We are working with a large manufacturer of consumer electronics products who is using WiseWindow's Mass Opinion Business Intelligence system on the front end of their product development process, to identify dissatisfactions and unmet needs in a category, and then evoke new product concepts. They then refine the concepts through qualitative/ethnographic research and ultimately vet, size and benchmark the marketing opportunity for those concepts through traditional quantitative concept testing. The advantage of starting with the broader MOBI approach is that they can get a better sense of which problems and opportunities create the most passion.

2. We are working in the political arena to augment polling with our MOBI listening technology. Listening to hundreds of thousands of conversations gives our client a richer sense of the kinds of messages people react most to. And, because listening is done is real time, and reported far more frequently than polling, they can take the "temperatures" from the public more often. Polling, however, can provide better data on specific demographic and behavioral segments (such as likely voters), and can test specific phrasing approaches to refine campaign messaging.

These are just two examples of mass opinion listening working hand in glove with traditional research methodologies.

One last thing: Our partners, in both of these cases, are traditional research firms who have the foresight to realize that mass opinion business intelligence will not cannibalize or replace their existing business. Their perspective is that the more we can all get clients to focus on new research technologies, the more research they will do.