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  • Verhaeghe A., Prof. Dr. Schillewaert N., Van den Berge E., 2009, Getting answers without asking questions, ESOMAR ONLINE RESEARCH '09]

    The goal of this paper was to introduce a new research field called social media netnography. Making use of spontaneous user-generated-content is a new field in online market research. With the case study of So You Think You Can Dance and X Factor, we demonstrated how we can apply this research design within media research. There are, however, multiple other applications in market research one can think of: it can be used to assess the online brand positioning of your brand against its competitors. Because of the possibilities to let the data speak for itself, it is a valuable tool for generating market insights mentioned about certain themes or by certain target groups. It can be used for evaluating a communication campaign, to follow up the launch of a new product, to dive into customer satisfaction and adapt communication to people‟s day to day vocabulary.

    Although there are even more applications, we also need to mention that it is not applicable for answering all research questions and to make the point that social media netnography has its shortcomings. It is important before even setting up a netnographic study to do a feasibility check: it may very well happen that it is hard to find sufficient and rich conversations about certain (low-involvement) topics. Moreover, it is hard to get a good estimation of the profile of people who are posting the online comments about a certain subject. Despite the vast amount of data, there is coverage error and profiling remains difficult which makes it not feasible to draw a representative picture for a certain population.

    Social media research netnography is best not considered as a standalone method. In line with other observational research, it delivers the best results when it is combined with other data collection methods. One example is the usage of auto driving sessions (Grant, 2006). Auto driving sessions are generally qualitative discussions (focus groups or interviews) where the results of the observational studies are fed back to the participants so they can give their feedback and enrich the final report.

    Social media research is one of the fastest-evolving types of research. This also implies that some of these guidelines and methods may change in the future. Especially in the field of passive data collection, we recently see a lot of activity: on the one hand, new panel providers emerge solely to sell data that are not collected by actively interviewing research participants but are collected based on observation. And on the other hand, there is increased attention to ethical guidelines for this type of research to better protect the privacy of consumers. Social media research is also not exclusively the domain of market researchers: PR agencies and advertising companies are also providing services in interpreting social media data and might therefore also help to shape or to endanger this new research paradigm.

    Finally, it is not only the guidelines for conducting social media netnography that will evolve: the new consumer is more empowered and will increasingly use social media to give feedback to companies and brands. This implies that internal marketing and customer insights departments and perhaps entire organisations will need to be more tuned to this new way of communication. The market researchers of the future will not only have to excel in asking but they will need to excel in listening. We hope this case on social media netnography has helped to make a first step in that direction!

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