The New Opportunity in Research
We are well into the “dialogue era” of public relations, where we can talk to our targets directly via platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we no longer believe in the importance of third-party endorsement — a foundational strategy in our business, where distinguished media or leading influencers carry positive messages about our client, thereby building client credibility and stature. Both are important.
But what this construct does is to create two different simultaneous systems for collecting feedback. If a publication runs a story on our client, we may know the demographics of the readership, but we don't know precisely who is paying attention and reading the publication at any given moment. Obviously, a percentage of the audience is. Whereas if you are engaged in a dialogue with a client target on one of the platforms, you are more likely to get sentiment on the spot that likely will be shared with others. Sharing is a fundamental strategy of the social web.
Thus, there is traditional research, that is employed to get a specific constituency's opinions on a particular subject area related to a client campaign. These opinions have been shaped by third parties (e.g., magazines, newspapers, TV, websites) where we purposefully seek a cross-section, asking how they feel through surveys and focus groups. There is no guarantee they have seen the aforementioned pieces. Most people are familiar with this research form based on studies reported almost daily.
But many are less familiar with social analytics, research that addresses monitoring of ongoing dialogues on the various social platforms — what I like to call "voluntary research," because no request is made of those engaging in the dialogue and the constituencies are less likely to be tailored.
For example, there are groups that talk about cars. We can find out what aspects of cars they are voluntarily addressing (e.g., design, comfort, culture, ease of driving). This chatter will likely influence car manufacturers. We can also go deeper and look for dialogues on specific car brands. While sometimes our client campaigns can trigger discussions, other influencers may do so too, and we can find out who those influencers are and dialogue with them.
Social analytics enables one to release messages on the web and get an immediate reaction to them. For example, it enables us to find out — immediately — how bad a crisis really is.
All of this has opened up the communications business and fine-tuned our responses on behalf of our clients.