Did YouTube kill the Focus Group?

You’re a marketer.

You just produced a rough cut of a TV spot showcasing a new product with a new message for the brand. It’s a big deal, and you want to test it out, see what people think of it.

Many clients feel that social media platforms are perfect for this. After all, what’s the point of building a community if you can’t use it to help guide content development? In the past, you might have convened a focus group to test concepts and get reactions to different creative directions and messages. But now you can post content to followers and fans and just listen.

Not so fast.

“The problem with doing research through social channels is that your responses will only be as good as the question you ask,” said our research partner Michael Vigeant of GreatBlue.

“Meaningful nuggets of consumer insight come from well-posed questions that probe beyond surface perceptions. That’s what good moderators do. They go deeper, read body language, and get into nuance.”

Vigeant also cautions against giving too much weight to crowd sourced opinion. “We’ve all seen negative comments from people who clearly are having a really bad day and looking for easy targets. We’ve also seen the blindly happy followers who just love everything. Neither group will help you get to the truth – and they may drown out the truly meaningful voices.”

Wait. Could we be wrong?

Some people disgaree with us.

There are professionals who view social media as “an enormous focus group.” The problem is that large homogenous groups are not focused in any sense of the word. They tend to be mixed in their demographic composition, mixed in their opinions, and they tend to not stay focused for very long in the glandular land of social media.

Social media: Research tool or launch pad?

So no, we don’t think social media platforms make effective focus groups for evaluating the work that marketers do. But social media can provide support in other ways. As a launch tool, consider using social to give a sneak peak at new work and provide the backstory of the brand. As a research tool, you can reveal interesting aspects of brand identity by asking social followers atypical questions. Three of our favorites:

• If (your brand here) was a car, what kind would it be?

• If it were a vodka, which brand would it be?

• What if it were a dog? What breed would it be?

These types of inquiries use social media not to evaluate and critique work already done, but to reveal the quality, price/value, and personality perceptions that let you into the consumer’s brain.

If you’re ever in the mood to talk about it further, you know where to find us.