To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

The power of qualitative research in the era of social media

Alan Branthwaite (Ignition Marketing Research, Nantwich, UK)
Simon Patterson (QRi Consulting, London, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 6 September 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The electronic social media such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. have become a major form of communication, and the expression of attitudes and opinions, for the general public. Recently, they have also become a source of data for market researchers. This paper aims to provide a critical look at the advantages and limitations of such an approach to understanding brand perceptions and attitudes in the market place. Although the social media provide a wealth of data for automated content analyses, this review questions the validity and reliability of this research approach, and concludes that social media monitoring (SMM) is a poor substitute for in‐depth qualitative research which has many advantages and benefits.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper presents a detailed, systematic comparison of various research approaches. These include well‐established methods and recent inventions which are in use to explore and understand consumer behaviour and attitudes. Particular attention is given to the analysis of spontaneous consumer attitudes as expressed through the social media and also in qualitative research interviews.

Findings

This analysis concludes that there are three critical features which differentiate qualitative research (as practised in IDIs and group discussions) from SMM. These are: the direct, interactive dialogue or conversation between consumers and researchers; the facility to “listen” and attend to the (sometimes unspoken) underlying narrative which connects consumers' needs and aspirations, personal goals and driving forces to behaviour and brand choice; and the dynamic, interactive characteristics of the interview that achieve a meeting of minds to produce a shared understanding. Philosophically, it is this “conversation” that gives qualitative research its validity and authenticity which makes it superior to SMM.

Originality/value

This review questions the validity and reliability of the SMM, and concludes that it is a poor substitute for in‐depth qualitative research which has many advantages and benefits.

Keywords

Citation

Branthwaite, A. and Patterson, S. (2011), "The power of qualitative research in the era of social media", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 430-440. https://doi.org/10.1108/13522751111163245

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited