A Word From One of Our Sponsors:  JitterJam

by Margaret Donnelly-VP of Marketing & Business Development, JitterJam

Focus groups used to be a brand’s best friend. Gather a group of willing subjects in a room. Give them a product (or product concept) to experience. Ask them questions about their preferences and opinions about the product. Do this a few hundred times, gather the data, and extrapolate the answers into amarket forecast, new product features or enhancements, appeal to target demographics and more.

While they are painstaking, expensive and not always reliable, focus groups nonetheless have provided (and continue to provide) brands with valuable insights to make decisions about their product’s features, positioning, value and pricing. But the advent of social media is now providing brands with unique insight into the minds of consumers; a gift of gab. By monitoring social networks, brands have an unfettered viewof consumer opinion about their brands, their products and even competitive offerings. Brands merelyneed to “listen” to hear the not-so-secret opinions of their customer base. It’s the new focus group, minusthe paneled walls and the two-way mirror.

Brand monitoring isn’t the only way that companies can take advantage of social media to corral consumer opinion. Crowdsourcing, the act of outsourcing a task to an unknown, undefined group ofpeople (or a community) through an open call, is quickly becoming a way for brands to let consumers drive the features or capabilities of their products. It makes sense. Ask people to submit and/or vote for features, styles, brands, colors, logos, flavors, spokespeople, tag lines, positioning and more, andyou receive both feedback and advocacy at the same time. Those who submitted ideas or voted for the choices automatically have an affinity for the brand and a personal stake in the result. Advocacy, brand awareness and customer feedback are built into the system, and the resulting product will already have aready customer base.

While opinions gathered from social channels should be a part of a brand’s research, it should not be an overriding factor in determining a product’s fate. Traditional focus groups have the pitfall of the “marketingeffect”—that is, the conscious (or sub-conscious) effect that participating in the actual focus group hason the stated opinions of each participant. In the case of social networks, the brand needs to determinewhether the people that represent the vocal social public are representative of their customer base andwhether the “vocal minority” reflects the “buying majority.”

All in all, social media opens up so many new avenues for consumer opinion research and directengagement, and brands are taking notice. I’m excited to see new ground being broken every day, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Margaret Donnelly is VP of Marketing & Business Development at JitterJam, developer of a leading Social CRM platform. Margaret Donnelly has over 25 years of technology marketing and business development experience in the telecommunications, services, and computer hardware and software industries at companies such as Firetide, ArrayComm, SkyTel, Commtouch and Pyramid Technology.  Margaret co-founded the Personal Broadband Industry Association and has served as an industry analyst and marketing advisor for a diverse set of businesses. A recent transplant from Silicon Valley, Margaret is surviving her second New England winter, and is active in the local arts community.