Social Media Research: Interview with Joel Rubinson of ARF - Part 2


Arf logol This is the second part of my interview series with Joel Rubinson, Chief Research Officer at ARF, Advertising Research Foundation. Part I of Interview with Joel

The ARF mission is to improve the practice of advertising, marketing and media research in pursuit of more effective marketing and advertising communications. When I learned that ARF was actively leading the charge to bring social media research into the mainstream of the marketing research industry I reached out to Joel. He graciously shared his insights on changes and future trends in marketing research.

Toby/Diva Marketing: The amount of consumer generated content is over whelming. One - What is the best way to mine that information?  Two -  Does using free tools like Google Alerts or Technorati still work?

Joel rubinson Joel Rubinson:

Social media and the internet in general have turned life into an interconnected open book exam while traditional research is a closed book exam. 

In real life, access to friend’s opinions is almost frictionless while in surveys, we spring a subject on someone out of the blue, don’t allow them to research the topic or ask friends. That discrepancy is striking to me especially for those products and services where people have a naturally tendency to turn to digital sources. 

If you are hearing different things in social media it either means that comments are sparse or that something has truly happened and you’re the first corporate eye-witness.  You have to decide and we’re still learning how to do that. Also, let me say that focus groups have their own problems when a strong personality becomes the group leader, which often happens.  Much qualitative research has gone to one on one, and triads because of this.

Toby/Diva Marketing:  In addition to conversations that evolve quickly changing opinions, what is your stance of content that is based on the person receiving payment for content (pay per post)  or receiving free products? Can it skew the data?

Joel Rubinson:  I’m not that familiar with that. In general though, I think there are two legitimate strategies for getting input which I gleaned from Dan Ariely’s book, “Predictably Irrational”. There is the social contract and economic contract. Sometimes you need to use the latter but then you need to get the exchange right.

Toby/Diva Marketing: You’re designing a research initiative. What does that look like in the year 2009?

Joel Rubinson:  We have formed a Research Transformation Super-Council of the top leaders in our industry which started on July 15, 2008 with a small group of industry leaders.  The atmosphere was electric, as we had direct competitors in the room; Procter and Unilever; Nielsen, TNS, and Motivequest. 

We started out talking about listening and within 45 minutes we were talking about the very mission, vision, and scoping of the research function. Kim Dedeker from Procter expressed the opinion that research as we know it will be on life support by 2012 and Donna Goldfarb from Unilever said, “My God, we’re all having the same conversations!”  This was really explosive. 

Now, we have run two conference events that were incredibly successful on research transformation and we have a core leadership team that will propose a new path forward that will probably be based on creating a learning organization predicated on three cornerstones:  putting the human at the center; bringing the human to life; and business impact. In only 5 years, the terminology of the future of research has completely and utterly changed and we are leading this initiative, which is very gratifying.

At the end of March, at the ARF annual “ReThink conference 2009” the journey continues with the most amazing learning event ever in our industry. The first day will start with industry leaders from Unilever, J&J, Microsoft, and MTV conveying a sense of urgency.  Then we will have a panel of scientists (anthropology, behavioral economics, cognitive science) advise us.  Then the leaders of Nielsen, WPP, and IRI will reveal plans for moving our profession forward.  Finally, the former president of the Institute for the Future will talk about foresight, insight, and how to “get there early”.  Day two, we have leaders from media talking about the 360 world we live in (including the head of NBC research talking about learnings from the largest media experiment ever called the Olympics) and how the only answer is to put the human at the center.  Day three will be about “innovating innovation” with the kickoff coming from Gary Flake innovation leader at Microsoft.  All of this will be supported by presentations from 20+ leading advertisers and a hands-on “listening zone” where you will learn all there is to know about listening tools.  Repetition, reinforcement, constant communication—we won’t be able to change the industry without this.

Toby/Diva Marketing:  Glad to hear that The ARF is taking a leadership role in how social research finds its place in the marketing research mix.

For the marketing research director who is exploring how and where social research “fits” into a marketing research project would you advice her to use CGM as a first step in the process and then bring in traditional research? In other words where do you see social media “research” fitting into the traditional marketing research world at the tactical level?

Joel Rubinson: Preliminarily, I believe it would fit in to a comprehensive research and learning plan in three main ways.

First, I would use it for continuous monitoring to spot corporate reputation issues, customer care problems, emerging social trends, and new vocabulary. 

Secondly, I would use it as a front-end tool for significant new business questions that require their own project plan, coming before survey-based quantitative research and experiments. 

Third, I would create an on-going “enthusiast” community for innovation and dialogue in the brand backyard such as Dell Idea Storm or Starbucks.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Joel Rubinson on Social Media “Research”

Joel Rubinson: Thanks for giving me this platform.  I think this is the research profession’s moment in time if it has the courage and vision to transform and to drive a culture change at the enterprise it serves. 

The new central concepts will be learning and bringing the human to life.  Market Research should become the SPOC for bringing the human (the shopper, the consumer, the person living their life) into the boardroom for shifting focus from a product centric to a human-centric lens. The head of Consumer and Market Learning must synthesize the different data feeds and bring insights to life via storytelling, insights that can galvanize an organization like “only 2% of women think of themselves as beautiful” did for Unilever and Dove. 

Over the next five years, you will see research shift focus to synthesized learning about the human and you’ll see a big change in who enters the profession.

It’s already happening at places like Crispin, Porter, + Bogusky where the planning function has researchers but also includes anthropologists and news reporters. Research, account planning, and consulting will begin to blend as research departments at leading advertisers begin to retool. Innovative research organizations will enable the change.  Some of which will come from companies you haven’t heard of and some from the big guys.  The ARF has become the industry’s leader at devising a listening strategy to extract insights from social media and how to integrate that into the broader range of tools.  We welcome that responsibility.

Toby/Diva Marketing: This aint your father's (or mine) industry .. or then again perhaps it's just beginning to be ..Ellington surveys _3


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great post...thanks for tips and idea share...we will come back often.



Posted by: Oxzen Media on Jun 18, 2009 8:48:45 AM

Excellent interview. Great insight.

Social media research at its essence is qualitative and ethnographic research using the interactivity of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0.

Posted by: on Aug 14, 2009 9:50:08 AM

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