Facebook - future of consumer research

By Tom Wood @Foolproofer

In previous posts I’ve talked about Facebook’s growing influence over direct response and brand advertising. A little closer to home for Foolproof, we’re also excited about the possibilities that the platform offers for organisations trying to gather user insight.

In particular, Facebook has a number of attributes which could be extremely valuable if you want to gather insights as part of a user-centred design project:

  • Scale – 350 million users worldwide is a heck of a panel to pull respondents from. Yes, there’s a bias towards younger users, but practically speaking any and every type of socio-demographic is well represented already within the Facebook membership.
  • Network effect – this huge respondent resource is inter-connected and willing to share interesting content across groups and networks. With the right seeding, research projects can reach a mass audience without huge costs.
  • Collaborative – unlike most traditional research formats there is an opportunity for peer-to-peer interaction. Respondents can share thoughts and knowledge between themselves; formal moderation can be less intrusive and even in some cases be ceded to respondents themselves. It’s perfectly feasible to co-opt active participants into the management of discussions.
  • Data – the crown jewels of Facebook. The responses and contributions of fans or group members who allow profile access can be analysed in real depth. Access to profile data immediately means you don’t need to ask the boring basic questions (gender, age, location) which typify the rather dull experience of completing a market research survey. Beyond that analysing respondents’ social graph allows you to see patterns in response which simply aren’t available in any other research context.
  • Ease-of-use – both for the moderator and participant. Facebook was designed so that anyone can create social interactions. It also has language, design and layout conventions which are universally known and understood.
  • Speed – once you have a group established around a particular project or subject it’s the work of a few minutes to mobilise a new enquiry or discussion.

However there are some problems or objections which need to be considered:

  • Targeting and recruiting respondents: the viral approach to survey recruitment is risky – will you hit a specified sample to a specific deadline? Advertising seems to be a way around this but it can be expensive and difficult to manage.
  • Polling tools: current polling apps are limited and Facebook recently took away profile access from its own house app after abuse by advertisers, so there’s nothing out there that allows rigorous research as well as access to respondents’ profile data.
  • Research survey style isn’t suited to Facebook: people don’t come to Facebook to participate in research. The precise wording and coding of a rigorous survey clashes with the informal style of Facebook and the fun-seeking nature of its users.
  • Not private: everyone is on Facebook, so you have to conduct each study in the public gaze.
  • Facebook doesn’t allow you to create a session ID on Fanpages which would link advertising response data (if you’re recruiting via Facebook advertising) to survey answers.

Happily, we’ve developed a research approach which neutralises these problems. When I get the chance I’ll add posts looking at each of these in turn.

In the meantime it means that we’ve now got the capability to conduct structured, rigorous research projects on Facebook fanpages while offering an interesting, rewarding experience for respondents. And we’re pretty sure that no-one else has figured out how to do this yet. Although if I’m wrong, let me know! I’d love to swap notes.

Tom Wood

I’m one of the two founders of Foolproof. Within projects I usually take a role both in planning our approach and in the generative phases of design. I’m also active in gathering client and customer needs into the design space. My particular talent is helping senior stakeholders see and understand the customer’s world in richer detail, and helping them work out how to respond.

View Tom's profile

What do you think?