Is it Time to Trade the Focus Group for Social Media?

by Kim Taylor

At Curley & Pynn, we recommend research as part of many, if not all, client programs. And each time that research begins by asking four questions: 1.Who do we want to communicate with? 2. What do they know about us? 3. What do we want them to know? 4. What do we want them to do?

Answering these questions provides a framework for reaching a client’s target audience.

In addition to those four questions, we have also recommended the use of focus groups—and continue to.

So, when I read Catherine Taylor’s recent post over at the Social Media Insider, I wondered what she was thinking when she declared the death of the focus group. Although, she did point to several recent examples that would send shivers down any marketer’s spine, including the staggering $35 million spent on the failed Tropicana re-brand and online outbursts by moms in response to an online ad Motrin was running.

In all of Taylor’s examples, focus groups seem to be the culprit. She even goes so far as to call the Groups “contrived.”

Taylor compares the focus group’s value—or lack thereof—with the “real conversations” taking place in the social media world.

While I don’t argue the value of social media, I believe that using a single research method … focus groups, phone surveys, social media, etc. … is where the problem lies.

Properly organized focus groups should be representative of a cross-section of the core audience and usually involve not one but many sessions to allow the researchers to gather anecdotal data. Turning to social media for that data is very much like relying on the opinions expressed by those who respond to newspaper or television calls to “log on and tell us what you think.” Those who respond have not been filtered to determine that they are within the core.

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