When experts want to study animal behavior they don't go to a zoo, they go to the species' natural habitat, because that is where they are in their truest form. I believe this is analogous to marketers gathering information from a traditional focus group versus using what I call the Limitless Focus Group of consumers sharing their insights through social media networks.
People are more connected than ever. Social media is now used by a significant portion of the world's population, with Facebook alone boasting over 1.2 billion active monthly users (AdWeek). This creates a huge volume of audiences who are engaging not only with friends and family, but also with brands.
The Psychology of Sharing tells us that there are many reasons social media users choose to further their engagement with brands by sharing their thoughts and opinions through these networks (AdWeek). But what sharing has accomplished for marketers is an enormous amount of data coming from the 'natural environment' and therefore more reflective of consumers' interests, predictive of their future behavior, and responsive to current trends than a traditional focus group can ever hope to find.
Limits of a Traditional Focus Group
Like the animals in a zoo, a traditional focus group relies on a contrived environment to observe behavior. The people included are plucked from the larger population having nothing in common except shared demographics or some other key indicators. But these are indirect connections that cannot possibly reflect the interests of each person in the group and which produce results that are not as accurate, or predictive, as those gathered from people interacting normally within their everyday lives.
So the learnings of a focus group are limited by:
- Making the world static. Focus groups function as a snapshot in time without the ability to take future events into account.
- Operating in a vacuum. Consumers in a focus group are likely engaging with a marketer's brands but, as people, are also engaging in other things that reflect their interests, such as TV shows, sports teams, and news. By focusing solely on their brand interaction, marketers lose the opportunity to plan across other channels.
- Taking too long. The traditional cycle of designing and testing products can take months or longer to complete and often the world has changed by the time it's ready to launch.
- Size. A focus group, or even a series of groups, can only accommodate a small number of people, giving marketers insights into only a tiny slice of their target population.
The Limitless Focus Group
By contrast, the Limitless Focus Group created by social media sharing provides a far more powerful resource for marketers by:
- Constantly evolving. Social media not only provides a space for consumers to interact with brands in a more natural environment, but through constant updating it can also track shifting behaviors that allow marketers to predict changes or trends.
- Being scaled across affinities. By showing the many interests and connections of individual users, social media offers insights across affinities, allowing marketers to do better targeting for brands and plan for multiple channels.
- Operating in real time. The Limitless Focus Group provides instant and ongoing feedback on products and trends allowing new products to move to market faster.
- Including billions of people. Because of the ever-increasing number of active users on social media channels, brands can gather feedback from an enormous volume of consumers.
- Reaching further. Social media sharing not only allows marketers to observe responses to its own products but it can also track whole categories and even competitors in real-time.
- Measuring better. Marketers can assess advertising effectiveness both before and after using social media, providing critical short cycle measurement.
By moving from the limits of traditional focus groups to the Limitless Focus Group of social media sharing, marketers exponentially expand the universe of data available to them for making better, faster, and more predictive decisions.