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Why Social Networking Isn't Customer Research

Over the past year or so, a dumb idea has been creeping into the business world. Some people and pundit apparently believe you can understand what's going on in a customer base by reading the comments and reviews that folk post on social network sites, blogs, and other public forums.

That's utter nonsense, for the following reasons:

  • Anecdotes aren't evidence. A thousand anecdotes have exactly the same validity as one anecdote, which is exactly zero. If anecdotes are evidence, then flying saucers, ghosts and leprechauns are all real.
  • Commenters are self-selected. Real research involves statistical sampling of a random group. People who comment are pre-disposed to comment, making their inputs statistically worthless.
  • Anonymity creates distortion. Because commenters often don't identify themselves by name, they feel free to express mischievous opinions (i.e. act like trolls.)
  • Paid commenting is endemic. PR firms frequently "stuff" comments with fake endorsements. Contrariwise, competitors stuff comments with fake criticism.
Because of the above, anybody who claims that their social network is useful for finding out what's going on with the wider customer base is, frankly, somewhat of a fool.

Now, that isn't to say social networking might not be useful for developing relationships with an individual customer or prospect. And social networking may be a way to get your message to a wide audience.

But market research? Forget it. Totally useless.

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