Two years back when I was still an Economics and Sociology student at the University, I had the pleasure of reading this book called Knowledge Economies: clusters, learning and cooperative advantage by Philip Cooke. In it he writes:
Social Capital is the extra value gained from interactions with familiar, trusted network of acquaintances.
Though writing about something different, he might as well have been writing about social media. Social Media today represent our familiar and trusted network of acquaintances. If in doubt, just examine your own procedures of accepting that Facebook friendship request, following back in twitter, adding someone to your blogroll, subscribing to someones post etc. We never do this blindly. We look for that something that distinguishes you as either familiar or someone to be trusted before clicking that confirm button.
And these networks represent our Social Capital. It is within these networks that we get breaking news, warning about some product or service, information on where to find what, a funny picture from way back, resources about our industry, new technology etc. These are just some of the values we get from our social networks and hence, they are our social capital.
And Social Capital does not have to stop at personal connections for it is just as or even more important for businesses today. Sadly, for most Kenyan Businesses, social media is not even in that radar because for them, focus groups are the devil they know.
According to a definition from the University of Nebraska Kearney, Focus Groups are:
Carefully planned group discussions conducted by trained moderators. A small number of questions, developed in advance, is used to generate in-depth consideration of a narrowly defined topic. Focus groups examine perceptions, feelings, attitudes and ideas.
And therein lies the contention of its viability as a valuable metric on consumer insight. This is evidenced by this article from the Techrigy Blog ( Techrigy itself being a company that help in monitoring and analyzing social media) entitled Social Media is not a Focus Group:
The problem with tools like focus groups, polls and surveys is that the participants are having questions pushed out to them. This inevitably skews results or misses something that was unpredictable. Social media monitoring, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem- what you hear is the unvarnished and unguided natural conversation.
The planning of Focus Groups themselves and the framing of the questions already skew the expected results. However, Kenyan Companies still insist on Focus Groups for product or service feedback. I am not sure how well these focus groups worked in the past but I am very sure how they won’t work now and in the future.
It is precisely because we trust the people in out networks that we take what they say seriously than we would some testimonial published on the company website. Within social networks is where true unadulterated conversations are taking place. The good, the bad, and the ugly about your product or services are usually expressed unreservedly. Unlike the controlled atmosphere of focus groups, social media is where people let it rip in the best ways they know how. And it is these raw sentiments about your company that should be analyzed and used as business intelligence.
And unlike social media, Techrigy says of Focus Groups:
The problem is that if you have to entice people to join something they would not otherwise be interested in and incentivize them to participate, you have colored the results.
And it is these rosy results that Kenyan Businesses are using as business intelligence while the true consumer sentiments in social networks continue to influence our purchase decisions.
For those of you who studied basic research, then you understand that controlled environments usually represent an ideal situation. Focus Groups are such controlled environments where question are prepared in advance, moderators professionally trained and discourse following a set pattern. But that is not real, is it? Life is not some controlled environment; it is chaotic and full of controversies and people’s experience of life is very subjective as it is their experience with your product. Social media represents this chaos that is life perfectly and this is where companies should be listening.
There are many companies that offer these services. The most basic being free services like Google Alerts which notifies you whenever your company is mentioned online. Social Mention is another and its provides you with an option for real time search of your company name or products.
And the money that you use in organizing Focus Groups will serve you better if you use premium monitoring and analysis services like those offered by firms like Trackur, SM2 by Techrigy, Brands Eye, Radian 6, Nielsen, Reputation Defender, and Sentiment Metrics.
So I appeal to Kenyan Businesses, let go of the focus group and focus on social media.It is only Social Media that will give give hard actionable intelligence on brand sentiment and a clear way forward. Just learn to aggregate these online comments using the tools mentioned above.
What say you?