A few weeks back I saw this press release from Forrester which is worth quoting at length:
"Social networking continued to grow over the past year . . . The number of people who joined social networks increased by 11 percent in Europe, 18 percent in metro China, and 11 percent in Australia. By comparison, North America saw slightly less growth, with only an 8 percent increase. On the other hand, between 2009 and 2010, no markets exhibited growth in the number of people who create social content."
So it seems that the 90-9-1 rule still rules. MR's fasciantion with social media is all about content, yet content creation is the province of only a very tiny but noisy portion of the social media population and those are the people we are listening to.
Taking a step back, this is not unlike the problem of online research in its previous incarnation: panels. While panel companies typically don't share their recruitment success rates most of us suspect that they run at less than 1 percent. Response rates (if I may use the term in this context) have mostly cratered to the single digits, so we are actually interviewing a very tiny slice of the population, not by design through systematic sampling but by the happenstance of personal choice. The latest trend toward river enlarges the pool but probably does not have a material impact on the percent of people who see the offer actually taking it up.Taking a step back further still to the salad days of "traditional research" we will remember that continually falling response rates was one of the oft-cited reasons for us to abandon it as quickly as possible.
Here I could launch into a rant of why low response rates with probablity sampling are much better than even lower response rates with nonprobaibility samples but that's not my point. My point is that the vast majority of people don't want to talk to us, to tell us--complete and total strangers--what they think. Regardless of our methods or setting. In fact, they don't seem to want to tell anyone outside of conversation with real friends. And despite all of the hype it seems clear that the conversation has not really moved online.
So what are we left with? Listening to the guy in the seat behind me on my last trip to the west coast who did not shut up for more three minutes in five hours? Or the cab driver who missed the freeway exit because he was too focused on explaining to me why HOV lanes are a bunch of hype? Are these the people who are going to help our clients reduce uncertainty in business decisions?
As my grandmother used to say, "Empty barrels make the most noise." We need more people to talk to us and technology is not offering up a solution to that core problem.