FEATURE21 January 2016

The launch of Twitter

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The rise of the social media platform has allowed market researchers to tap into a new source of behaviour data explains Edwina Dunn in her look at changes in the 2000s.


Accurately gathering information about consumers’ needs and preferences no longer has to mean asking a question; it might include ‘looking over a shoulder’ online. 

In less than a decade, 320m people worldwide have signed up to Twitter. Suddenly, the likes, dislikes, passions and opinions of a vast and diverse range of the global population are available publicly. Twitter is one of the world’s fastest-growing open-data sources and is a goldmine of information about consumers. 

The connections people choose to make with influencers – such as brands, media and celebrities – unveil important information about them. And, since time on social media is given freely, these connections are a powerful window into how people live, or aspire to live. You are what you follow – what you’re passionate about.

Customer data is a rich source of insight. What are they spending time watching or thinking about? What mix of interests do people display? What’s in their digital shopping basket, across all their passions? Which communities do they belong to and how does this affect their transaction behaviour? 

Traditional market research methods still have a major role to play in exploring these knowledge gaps, but what if you don’t know which question to ask next, or which trend you should be watching out for? Analysis of Twitter behaviour – the whole audience, not just the vocal few – means consumers can now guide research, rather than the other way around.

From my years at dunnhumby, I know that the power of grocery data lies in the high frequency of visits, the sheer volume of interactions with products. Such intense interaction gives incredibly rich insight into how 16m people live their lives – you are what you eat!

What’s amazing is that Twitter data follows the same principles, but on a much larger scale; 260m people using the social network interact with five or more ‘influencers’; this means – even if your customers aren’t visiting or transacting often – they are still revealing important information about themselves elsewhere, all of the time. This is vital and transformational insight for the vast majority of retailers who record only one transaction a year.

In a world where consumers want brands to be timely, authentic and relevant, the insight from Twitter about your consumers and those of your competitors, all around the world – right now – cannot be underestimated.

Edwina Dunn is a patron of MRS and CEO of Starcount