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OPINION11 July 2016

How social media can inspire research

Innovations Mobile Opinion UK

Consumer interactions now commonplace in social media can be integrated into survey techniques to inspire a new generation to respond to questionnaires says Andy Buckley

The way human beings communicate has constantly evolved, but the introduction of smartphones and social media heralded a significant step-change in not just the way we communicate, but also when, how often and who with. Research conducted by our Consumer Trends team shows many people now feel they have reached saturation point.

By contrast, our industry is having to deal with a decline in the number of people wanting to communicate with us; whether it be taking part in research in the first place or the diminishing attention spans of those who do. So how can we obtain quality insights going forward?

We believe researchers need to radically re-think their approach, to one which puts people’s lifestyles and behaviour at the centre of research design. It’s a philosophy we’re calling People Centred Research.

The core philosophy is simple. It’s about turning our industry’s mindset on its head; rather than assuming people will take part on our terms, using the formal language, question formats and ‘black box’ approaches we’ve painstakingly contrived over the years, we need to build studies and ask questions which are more closely aligned to the way people live their lives today.

To achieve this we had to stop thinking like researchers and start thinking about the way we live outside work. And the starting point was obvious; we had to whole-heartedly embrace a mobile first approach, from shortening the length of our studies to making it possible to complete all our studies on the smallest mobile devices’ screens.

But delivering a mobile first experience is just a hygiene factor – we knew we also had to give people enjoyable and engaging experiences. So we observed the types of things people like doing on mobiles, like sharing their opinions on sites such as Amazon, eBay and TripAdvisor. This led us to designing a tool which replicates how people naturally give feedback on a website, replacing the traditional rating scale and its predictable ‘why do you say that?’ open-ender. And it works; the approach consistently gives us a higher and better quality response to the open-ender

We’ve also taken a leaf out of Twitter’s book to improve responses to open-ended questions, by restricting people’s answers to a 140 character ‘tweet’. While asking less to get more may seem counter-intuitive, the approach consistently encourages more people to answer the question and when used in the right context, the restriction forces people to get right to the heart of the matter, giving us clearer insights.

In a similar way, we turned to Facebook to generate more spontaneous content on our online communities. Instead of asking people to create traditional discussion forum threads, we have given them a Status Update news feed. This more familiar mechanism has hugely increased the amount of user-generated content and conversation between community members.

Tinder has inspired another successful replacement of a traditional approach; a swipe tool (swipe left for dislike, right for like) that enables people to quickly, and more intuitively, screen a large number of concepts than via traditional rating scales.

We are also having a lot of fun designing questions where people respond using emojis. We’re very much in the development stage, particularly in grappling with how to interpret the results! But we’ve got to embrace them; emojis are effectively the birth of a new, universal language, being used to express sentiments which words alone cannot. I would struggle to tell you the exact nuances between a kissy-face, heart-eyes or the plain red heart emojis (or maybe it’s just because I’m a stuffy old Gen X-er).

So while these ideas have come from outside our industry, they have inspired and given me hope that we can engage new generations of people in research. If we don’t embrace new ways of doing things, we’ll become increasingly irrelevant and ignored. But if we become more ‘People Centred’, and immerse ourselves in their world, they will let us in.

Andy Buckley is head of innovation at Join the Dots

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