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Posts from May 2009

There oughta be a law

OK, we all recognize that part of the downside of online has been the vulgarization of research (and I mean that in the most negative way you can imagine). And no better example has come into my inbox of late than this little fantasy from ReadWriteWeb passing itself off as "a high quality dataset worth paying attention to."

The headline screams: "Business People Say Twitter More Important that LinkedIn." The source is a poll on LinkedIn asking the question, "What is the most important new platform for brands to master?" The available answers were Twitter, Facebook, the iPhone, Digg and LinkedIn. The poll garnered 3,615 respondents which we are assured is "a very good number." The biases by age, gender, company size, and job function are all dutifully reported on but exactly how those biases might relate to the results are left to the readers (of which one hopes there aren't many) to cipher on their own. Who this represents other than .0002% of LinkedIn visitors is anybody's guess.

Oh, yeah. The results: "Twitter is #1, leading Facebook by a respectable margin." Have a look at the data yourself. Pretty compelling, eh? Snap2

I know it's a blog and we are all just out here ranting and raving to our little audiences of colleagues, friends, and bored family members but really, we ought to draw the line somewhere! I'm fine with unsubstantiated opinion; I do it all the time. But please don't try to pass it off as research.

We need to add this to Howard Beale's list.

Public Choices in Changing Times

For the last couple of days I have been at the AAPOR Annual Conference down in hot, humid, and generally unpleasant Hollywood, FL.  For as long as I have been a member of AAPOR there has been a tradition of having a plenary session the night before the conference actually begins and on Thursday night we had two excellent speakers: Paul Donato from The Nielsen Company and Ken Prewitt from Columbia University. Paul is a veteran market researcher who has held senior research posts in a number of MR companies and Ken has led a variety of government and non-for-profit organizations including the US Bureau of the Census, NORC, and the Ford Foundation.  These guys come from different worlds and their presentations showed it.

Paul's talk was all about the transition from traditional survey research to a digital world of electronic measurement.  He took us along a progression of methods from asking (surveys, including online), listening (social networks, co-creation, crowd sourcing, harvesting blogs, etc.) and watching (principally ethnography).  I had heard similar talks before, but for many AAPORites this was new and challenging stuff.

Ken Prewitt almost immediately raised the issue of representation.  As a former Director of the Census he is attuned the role that survey data play in the formulation of public policy in a democracy.  He underscored the importance of reaching everyone, something the digital methods that Paul was describing do not do.  The movement that he foresees away for surveys was mostly about use of government agency and program administrative records.  This has been talked about for most of my career in survey research, but we have made precious little progress.

I found myself agreeing with both of them.  In the discussion they more or less did the same.  The term "fit-for-purpose" never came up but that ultimately was the issue.  It was good dialog of the sort we don't often see.

No surprise: It just keeps getting worse

The latest numbers on wireless only households as measured by the NHIS have just been released.  They now estimate that as of December 2008 20.2 percent of US households have only a wireless telephone.  The 2.7 percent increase in the second half of 2008 is the largest six month increase since the NHIS has been collecting these data. 

I recently saw some estimates from SNL Financial that appear to have taken the NHIS trends and projected them forward.  Their data say that by 2013 a whopping 37 percent of US households will be wireless only. 

As I have noted in the past, the most statistically robust way of dealing with this problem is to spend the extra money and dial some cell phones.  The financial hit is not too bad as long as you only have to do limited dialing.  But as the proportion of cell only Rs increases, so do the costs.  While there is always the option of mixing in wireless only Rs from an online panel that is a journey into a statistical no man's land.

Hold on!

My previous post about SurveyMonkey was inspired by a short note in Inside Research.  Reading on I learned that:

  • The equity firm--venture capitalist be be more precise--that acquired SurveyMonkey has installed one of its people as the new CEO.
  • Said CEO was at one point in his career "head of music business, Yahoo!."
  • He is married to the current COO at Facebook.

One can only imagine what this mix is likely to produce, and whether it will have anything to do with MR.

Big bark, little bite

In the early days of online it was not unusual to hear the doomsayers predict that the Web would make MR obsolete, more or less, because it would make it possible for clients to mount their own surveys without having to bother with those troublesome market researchers.  The main bogeyman for these worry worts was SurveyMonkey.   Its name was forever being invoked as the first sign of the apocalypse.  The concept was bad enough; the insulting name just pushed it over the top.

Now comes the news that SurveyMonkey has been sold, which in itself is not very interesting.  However, what is very interesting is that after 15 years of being in the business the company had grown its revenues to only about $3 million a year.  Hardly the juggernaut some had feared.

Certainly there are other players with essentially the same business model.  Zoomerang comes immediately to mind.  And I have been told that something like half of Confirmit's revenues come from corporate DIY surveys designed and executed by employees who mostly are not trained survey researchers, although I don't know that for a fact.  

My take on all of this is that for better or for worse clients seem to continue to believe that we add value.  I find that very reassuring, to say the least.