FEATURE23 December 2011

‘I didn't expect Twitter to have such a great influence on our profession’


Research Tweeter of the Year Tom De Ruyck on all things Twitter: its evolution from curiosity to content curation tool, how it helps in his career and what we’ll all be talking about on the #MRX hashtag in 2012.


Congratulations on being the #MRX community’s ‘Tweeter of the Year’. Is there anything you’d like to say to all your fans out there?
Tom De Ruyck:
I’m not sure ‘fans’ is the right word, but I would like to say thank you for the support and all the inspiring chats/talks we have had over the past year, both online and offline at conferences all over the world. I hope that we can keep up the knowledge-sharing and the great discussions we are having in the market research community.

You’ve been on Twitter since 2007. What was your impression of the service when you first joined?
I joined Twitter because a lot of early adopters/innovators in my environment were buzzing about it. I was curious to see what it was all about. It was still the early days of Twitter and its community: there wasn’t that many people to listen to and talk with. To be honest, my first impression was: ‘How long will this last?’.

“For me Twitter is about curation. It’s a way to navigate yourself through a huge amount of new information and potentially interesting people”

So you didn’t expect to still be using it yourself all these years later?
For most of these new and emerging social tools, I am among what we at InSites would call, ‘influentials’: the first to try out and experiment with something, but not necessarily become an instant fan. I am always looking for the social relevance of those new online tools: the day-to-day usefulness for a large – even mainstream – audience.

Relevance was exactly the thing that was missing from Twitter in 2007. At that time, I didn’t expect it to have such a great influence on society, the way we do marketing and on a significant part of our own profession.

Jon Puleston’s recent analysis of the #MRX twittersphere counted 110,000 tweets about market research in 2011 alone: all very relevant thoughts, ideas and conference reports. Isn’t that amazing for such a small industry?

What do you attribute to Twitter’s success? 140 characters at a time is, after all, a fairly restrictive way of communicating.
I think that Twitter is successful because of this restriction. There is no need to have a full blog posts ready before you can share your ideas with the world – which is a barrier for a lot people when it comes to blogging. The short format also makes it the ideal medium to communicate to a large audience while you are on the go.

For me Twitter is about curation. It’s a way to navigate yourself through a huge amount of new information and potentially interesting people. You could compare it with a giant user-generated filter: you follow certain hashtags or lists (created and used by others), you screen the short messages within a specific column and in a blink of an eye you decide if it is: (a) something worth reading more about, (b) a company or person worth following, or (c) a piece of information worth sharing with your network by retweeting it to your followers.

The first time we spoke was to discuss the Ultimate Twitter Study, which tried to figure out how people use Twitter. How has use of the network changed over the years?
To be honest, not that much. If we think back, the real goal of the Ultimate Twitter Study was investigating who the real users of Twitter were and why they were using the platform, and it was techies, marketing guys and consultants. Now, if we look at our 2011 edition of Social Media Around the World we notice that Twitter has gone slightly more mainstream, especially in terms of awareness: globally 80% of the online population knows what Twitter is. But the paradox is that only 16% are using it actively – and it is still a more male-oriented group that is using it for professional rather than personal reasons.

“Most #MRX Twitter users are agency-side and on the more progressive side of the industry. It would be great if more conservative researchers and clients would join the discussion. It would make it even more valuable”

Tom De Ruyck

Tom De Ruyck

Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you use Twitter? How has it helped you in your career?
For me Twitter is 95% a professional tool. I use it in the first place to be in the know about the latest trends and evolution in the research industry; to find out what other forward thinkers are reading, talking about and busy with. Next to that, it’s a great way to follow more conferences than you could ever physically go to. Research conferences will never be the same again thanks to Twitter. After your talk you instantly know if the crowd liked it or not and you are not only speaking to the audience in the room, but a larger virtual audience too. 

I also think Twitter has made it easier and more natural to meet industry peers in real life. It sounds a bit strange, I know, but by following one another on Twitter and by having short 140-character interactions, you have the feeling that you know each other already. Last but not least, it’s an efficient way to spread your thoughts and blog posts to a targeted audience.

All in all, I think it’s really worth spending a couple of minutes on Twitter each morning while having a coffee. You always discover something: an inspiring or thought-provoking idea, an interesting new business contact, a call for papers you would have missed otherwise…

On a more personal level, I use Twitter to ask for hotel and fancy restaurant recommendations when staying in a city I don’t know that well.  

How broad do you think the reach of Twitter is within the MR community? Does it represent all schools of thought or only a few niche groups? Are there any communities that are under-represented?
If we believe the site Tweet Reach, we reach more than 44,000 people with our tweeting. In reality I am afraid that it’s probably only a few thousand researchers who are involved in one way or another, with a small group of very active people who are leading the discussion.

If you look at the profile of these people, we have to admit that most of us are agency-side and on the more progressive side of the industry – most of us are working at smaller or mid-sized agencies specialised in the newer online research methods and techniques. That’s not bad, it’s a great way to stimulate our thinking, to be inspired and to push things forward together. But it would be great if more conservative researchers and clients would join this discussion. It would make it even more valuable and worth following.

What do you think will be the hot topics of conversation on the #MRX hashtag next year?
A more in-depth and critical discussion about mobile and gamification in research, maybe. I also expect market research online communities (MROCs) to go fully mainstream: every agency will start talking about them and clients will embrace them as an online alternative for qualitative research. We’ll probably also be discussing everything that has to do with emotions and understanding/predicting the irrational: facial coding, behavioural economics, neuroscience (again). And, of course, I really hope that something totally new will pop up – that’s what makes it so exciting to be in this industry.

Tom De Ruyck is the head of research communities at InSites Consulting and president of Baqmar, the Belgian Association for Quantitative and Qualitative Marketing Research. Follow him on Twitter @tomderuyck