How Can Brands Navigate the Nuances of Social Media Research and Unlock Greater Insights
It has long been recognized that social media conversations hold significant potential for providing insights that can inform brand strategy. The online dialogue among patients, caregivers, and influential HCPs or KOLs offers valuable insights into their perceptions, beliefs, and experiences related to various aspects of a treatment, including its clinical profile, tolerability, dosing regimen, dosing format, safety, and accessibility, among others.
To unlock the value of this data, companies such as Talkwater, Meltwater, and Brandwatch have introduced platforms that will collect data from a wide variety of web and social media sources. They can then deploy natural language processing to feed pre-built or templated dashboards. These dashboards are designed to track web and social dialogue for a specific brand, disease state, or a topic by utilizing custom keywords. Beyond tracking this dialogue, these platforms can identify audience demographics, provide sentiment analysis, and replace raw quantitative data with other key performance indicators (KPIs) that are crucial for understanding how a brand, disease state or a topic is perceived.
These research platforms use varying levels of machine learning to identify trends and insights. This means their qualitative and quantitative outputs have important limitations that at least must be identified and potentially mitigated, for example:
- Some platforms and dashboards lack the nuance and context required for informed decision-making in the real business world. For instance, while sentiment analysis (an essential KPI) offers a broad measure of positivity, it may lack the necessary contextual specificity to tease apart more subtle differences between positive and negative sentiment. Similarly, neutral conversations, where opinions evolve through exploration and discussion, often remain overlooked, and not fully understood. To illustrate this point, consider an example, an article is published in a scientific journal praising a drug's favorable clinical trial outcomes while expressing concerns about its tolerability. Such an article may be classified as having a positive sentiment and may not be assigned sufficient negative weight.
- Certain online platforms, including patient forums and Facebook groups frequented by patients and caregivers, remain inaccessible to these platforms due to privacy settings. Similarly, specific HCP destination sites, like OncLive, restrict access to their content for web crawling. Unfortunately, this missing data may be crucial to developing complete and valid insights. To complicate matters it may not be possible to know what data sources are missing, which limits any remediation of the problem.
When we compare social media listening, which is qualitative research, to more traditional methods, it becomes evident that each approach carries its unique advantages and limitations. Surveys, for example, offer the option for a substantial sample size but are often limited by budgets and are vulnerable to issues with mostly aided responses that can potentially distort results. Focus groups provide a different and higher set of costs, yield a smaller sample size, and are susceptible to response bias as participants can influence one another's opinions. On balance, social media research presents a cost-effective alternative, with larger sample sizes, gathering insights from unaided, genuine conversations. However, the data will consist of unstructured and autonomous responses, resulting in a segmented and snapshot-like analysis of audience commentary, rather than a longitudinal study. Moreover, various cohorts address individual study questions based on the availability of relevant information within their commentary.
What is the next step for brands seeking to harness the power of social media for research?
The key lies in initiating social listening with a strategic approach, aligning efforts with well-defined business objectives, communicating the constraints of social media research, and investing in human expertise. By following these three crucial steps, brands can unlock the true potential of social media, overcoming limitations and paving the way for informed decision-making.