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Posts from May 2010

Guest Post: Social Media Conference

Reg has generously lent me his way-more-than-140-characters pulpit to share some observations from the recent IIR Social Media/Communities conference in Boston (#SocialC20). This was a merger of 2 prior conferences, one a social media platform user group and one an MR conference. About 80% of participants came from marketing or PR organizations, so the discussion focused a lot more on social media as a communications, engagement and support channel than as a research channel.

Here are the major themes I heard. Most of these are pretty obvious but I still find it salutary to see what's going through the heads of marketers (and researchers) responsible for this stuff.

  1. Social not social media; social as air, not a place you go. Social means relationships so when we talk about a "social media strategy" with customers we are really talking about relationship strategy.
  2. Social is not just changing how companies relate to customers, but how they work internally. And social starts at home. If your company isn't using it internally, you will have trouble using it externally.
  3. Social is hard because you have to give up control, but you still need to be in command (at times). Charlene Li at Altimeter Group calls this "open leadership," in the context of how social is used inside a company. Her point is that you don't have to be open about everything; every company and every customer relationship will have different requirements in this regard. You determine how open you can be and where.
  4. Authenticity is scary – especially to legal departments but to marketers as well.
  5. Measurement matters. Don't engage without a strategy and agreed-upon measure of business value...yet number of Twitter followers rather than type/quality of conversation were cited frequently.
  6. Experiment and embrace failure. Greg Matthews at Humana: If you're Apple you have to be careful and in any case you probably don't need a community because they exist already, but most brands can afford to experiment a build a crap Facebook page that hardly anyone will notice. Alternately, the strength of a good customer relationship is that you can make a mistake and work through it (Charlene Li at Altimeter Group).

Most companies had formed a social media integration team or committee. These teams tend to have these characteristics:

  • Highly cross-functional, cross up to 16 different departments. But mostly driven by marketing, support and (indirectly) legal.
  • May not have a leader, but if they do it's invariably someone who is actually using social media and has a semi-religious mission, not just senior or assigned.
  • Usually composed of "doer" level; it is a challenge for anyone at the executive level to be a consistent social media presence (Jaime Punishill at Citibank).

A P&G panelist offered a typically dogmatic yet absurdly broad statement about MR. Paraphrased, the comments was: "We need to apply research thoroughness honed over years to social media while making it faster and cheaper. As a client I don't want to have to compromise. Researchers and entrepreneurs are opposite types and that's why MR hasn't innovated fast enough." I haven't the time or energy to parse these statements properly, but I have to say that it points out the commonplace error in thinking that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Successful entrepreneurs are typically people who are very selective about their risks. Unsuccessful entrepreneurs (a category no one every seems to talk about) are simple risk-takers.

                                                        - Theo Downes-Le Guin

ISO Certified Companies Surge in Honimichl Top 50!

The title of today's post is a prediction. That's also how Tom Anderson starts a post on his blog under the title, "CASRO ISO Certification Fails!" Here I pause, as the newsies do, to disclose that I am a member of the CIRQ Advisory Board—the nonprofit that CASRO set up to manage the ISO certification process in North America—and an occasional ANSI rep on the Technical Committee that developed and now maintains ISO 20252. But that probably makes me no more conflicted than Tom who in his post champions the FTO, a somewhat different certification program that he founded.

Tom says ISO certification is unnecessary. This strikes me as odd since the essence of the standard is to create transparency between research suppliers and their clients, the same goal Tom has for the FTO. The difference is that the FTO is concerned with just one part of the elephant, the part that goes offshore, while ISO creates transparency end-to-end, across the entire research process from proposal to final reporting and documentation. It offers the kind of transparency that lets clients know exactly how the research was done so that they can judge its quality and the weight they should give it in the business decisions they need to make. ISO makes FTO unnecessary. And, of course, FTO is self-certification while ISO relies on outside, trained auditors. "Trust but verify," to quote a now thankfully obscure American politician.

Tom also thinks ISO certification is wasteful by which I think he means lots of money poorly spent. And it's probably true that if your house is not in order and you don't have good procedures, standard ways of doing things, or effective and consistent training then it's going to cost you some money to shape up. But I expect that most of us will agree that having good processes and well-trained people working in them reduces rework and shortens cycle times, a good thing for our clients and our bottom lines. In other words, this is an investment worth making. But for those among us who have already made that investment, the cost of certification is not a major issue.

Tom deserves a lot of credit for launching FTO, but it's just one step in the right direction. There is a lot of research out there that when closely scrutinized is not what it claims to be, purports to do something that it does not do. Clients need a way to separate the wheat from the chaff and ISO will help them do that.

And Twitter shall save the world

As you can see over on the right, I tweet. At last count I was following 53 other tweeters and a misguided 237 were following me. I enjoy it and I learn things I likely would not otherwise learn. But there are limits and sometimes the hype is more than I can bear. Today's example comes from the May issue of Research World, a trade pub for which I have a good deal of respect. There is an article describing how social media helped rescues in Haiti and Chile after the earthquakes. The claims made include some real whoppers:

  • Twitter lists compiled by major news organizations "galvanized an immediate reaction worldwide, resulting in a flood of resources to the region."
  • "Tweeters used Twitter for purposes such as convincing the US Air Force to let multiple aid planes from Doctors Without Borders land at the Port-au-Prince airport after initially being denied access."

And the evidence for these claims is? Well, at least we know that "most of the early news sources were Twitter-based" because a microblogger in the region told us so. And then the piece goes on to champion something called "internet-enabled surround sound."

In its defense, the article has some nice data on use of social media in Latin America that can be hard to come by, even if in this case it's spun to make some questionable points about just how penetrated social media is in society at large. But it's essentially a marketing piece and a bit over the top at that. I worry that not everyone will realize that.

What is Address Based Sampling?

In the previous post I talked about Address Based Sampling.  It caused a couple of people to write and ask what I was talking about.  There was a similar discussion on AAPORNet which is a closed list, and so I could not simply cross post.  Below is an excerpt from the AAPORNet thread.  It was written by Michael Link from Nielsen who has done a good deal of work in this area.

Address Based Sampling is the sampling of addresses from a near universal listing of residential mail delivery locations. This distinguishes it from more manual counting and listing (or in-person enumeration) efforts typically used with area probability sampling. In the US this is typically done using the USPS Computerized Delivery Sequence File, but the definition is generic enough that it could fit databases in other areas or countries which provide a near universal frame of addresses.

The concept of using the DSF as a potential sample frame for assisting with (or ultimately replacing) counting and listing was first examined by Iannacchione, Staab, and Redden (2003). The first use of the actual term "Address Based Sampling" as it has been used for the past few years in the US when referring to drawing samples of the general population in the US was by Link, Battaglia, Frankel, Osborn, and Mokdad (2008).

Admittedly the general concept of "address based sampling" (or sampling of addresses) has been around for a long time to refer to any sample drawn from a frame of addresses. More recent usage has the more specific meaning.

Thanks to Michael.

Where is our Copernicus?

I was at the AAPOR Conference in Chicago most of last week and while I had planned to do some blogging it was hard given the sheer overwhelming amount of information, opinions, and data being shared. (And besides, Jeffry Henning was there pounding out posts on his shiny new iPad so I am confident the important ground was or shortly will be covered.) By my count there were 66 sessions (not counting the WAPOR overlap) with upwards of 300 papers and while they may not all have been publication ready by any means the vast majority (and I mean that) were by people who know their stuff. I heard no paper that made me shake my head and mutter to myself.

Overall there seemed to be two major themes and both had to do with getting good samples in challenging times. There was one group that is all about dual frame telephone sampling meaning including cell phones and a second group focused on address-based sampling (ABS) with interviewing by some combination of mail and Web. There were multiple sessions on both topics and sometimes two at the same time. Next year AAPOR ought to make an effort to get the two groups in the same room to argue because there are arguments to be had.

But what really struck me is the comment this seems to make on the crisis in the scientific side of the research industry. We have hit a wall. Our mainstay of the last 30 years—telephone research—is not working anymore and we are doing our best to keep propping it up. One implication of that propping up is that costs are continuing to rise even faster because calling cell phones is more expensive than calling landlines. Some are abandoning phone altogether and going back to paper and pencil mail surveys. (If I had predicted that five years ago my blogging credentials would have been revoked!)

We are in desperate need of a breakthrough. And for the kind of work that these people do and the precision requirements they have to meet it's clear that online as currently conceived and practiced is not it. I don't pretend to have the answer, but there were an awful lot of people at the conference last week who have the smarts and experience to do the hard work of figuring it out. Let's hope they do so soon.