FEATURE11 May 2011

Life beyond surveys

Features News

The acquisition of social media research firm Conversition might seem like something of a departure for online survey specialist E-Rewards, but CEO Chris Havemann says it fits perfectly with his vision of the group as a provider of digital data in a rapidly evolving industry.

Chris Havemann

Chris Havemann

This acquisition seems like something of a departure for E-Rewards. Conversition don’t do surveys, which have been your stock in trade for quite some time. Would you agree?
I wouldn’t say it’s a departure, it’s a complementary thing. Stepping back and looking at what the E-Rewards group does, we are in the business of providing data to drive insights. As the research industry evolves, it’s starting to think about the different sources of data it can tap into. There’s life beyond survey research, we know that. Behavioural research is a growing area and social media research is something that is still very early days, but we think our clients will want access to those forms of data.

We haven’t yet worked out how we’re going to do it, but Research Now will take EvoListen [Conversition’s main data platform] to its existing client base but we’re also asking whether there are other things we could do with Conversition. For example, are there syndicated products that the group could provide that might use both survey data collection and social media data? We don’t have an answer to that yet but the plan is to think about the ways we can use that capability.

Conversition was set up as a research agency, not as a pure-play data collection firm. With this acquisition are we seeing E-Rewards evolve a more full-service offer?
The answer is no. Tessie [Ting] and Annie [Pettit, Conversition’s senior executives] come from Ipsos as researchers and conceived of the business as a research agency. But I think when you look at Research Now you see a lot of research people employed in the business, and that’s so we can speak the language of our clients, who are principally market research agencies. And, you know, we have a lot of clients who come to us for survey data collection who don’t currently have relationships in the social media research space. They’re working out how to exploit these opportunities for their clients. Our clients ask us to innovate and find things that they can bring to their clients. I think this is one of those things, but we’re certainly not going anywhere near biting the hand that feeds us.

What was the attraction of Conversition? Why not any of the multitude of other social media analytics companies?
A lot of it comes down to the founders. In Annie and Tessie we have two people who have been very dedicated to this space and think of it as a new era in research and a new era for what’s possible. I think if you look at Annie in particular and what she has been doing, she has been at the forefront of thinking about how to make sense of social media data. It’s not enough just to collect this data; she’s exploring how can you look at things like sentiment and create algorithims and frameworks where this data can become more meaningful. Not – and this is going back to your previous question – not so that we can do research ourselves with that data, but to make that capability available to our clients who can then go and engage with their enterprise clients and work out what it means for them.

Are there likely synergies between Conversition and Peanut Labs, given that they are both working directly in social media?
We’re certainly going to explore that. But even though we can bracket these businesses as ‘social media assets’, they are really quite different. Peanut Labs was another way of finding people willing to be surveyed. Conversition is not panel-related, or sample-related in any traditional sense, and not survey-related. So it may be that we have to strive to work out what the synergy is, and if there isn’t any synergy that’s OK, because they’re quite different things. But when we look at the data assets of our business now, we have significant and scaled online panels for surveys, we’re entering the mobile arena, we’re very interested in aspects of behavioural data collection, we’re interested in social media data collection, so I think there are more and more strings to the bow of the group. That’s the strategy. We’re in the business of providing digital data to power insight.

You’ve not disclosed financials, but can you say whether Conversition adds anything to revenue now, or is this an investment for the future?
Conversition is not pre-revenue so it has an existing small client base that we’re obviously trying to nurture and grow. But this is a strategic move into a whole new area and the challenge is to say ‘OK, for which clients, both new and existing, is this relevant and how can we scale it up using the assets and reach of our global business?’ That’s going to take some time. A bit like Peanut Labs, we haven’t gone out there and tried to ram social media sample down clients’ throats. We think it’s relevant to research and we’re trying to work out the best usage. We’re not evangelistic about, for example, what proportion of the research revenue pie is going to be made up by social media research. That’s a question for clients. But we know it’s going to be a piece of the puzzle.