Lockdown 2020 - what social data can tell us about what’s next

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

As the world emerges from lockdown, the big question on most of our minds is “what’s next?". Will work from home, learn from home and exercise from home be the new norm? Will bikes and walking begin to displace cars and crowded transit? Is business travel as we knew it finished? These questions and more are being asked by organizations trying to make sense of the past three months and the long term implications. Many will look to market research to try and understand what’s happening and predict the future. But after such an unprecedented event, can people clearly articulate how it has impacted their lives?  This question hits at a much bigger challenge of market research and traditional methods such as surveys and focus groups: people aren’t very good at articulating what they think about certain topics or what they may do in the future. 

Traditional market research often asks consumers to share their feelings about products, services and experiences, but this approach is inevitably biased by virtue of the very questions presented and the specific words used. For example, 'How did you find your stay?' will elicit a different response than, 'Did you enjoy your stay?' This framing, as it is known, guides participants down specific paths, encouraging filtered, rational and retrospective responses. But, unfortunately, that’s not how we as humans make decisions.

Previously, I wrote about how our emotions extend to decision-making and how numerous studies reveal that our behaviours are often guided by non-conscious drivers. Put another way, we are often unreliable witnesses to our own actions and beliefs. So how do we infer what people really feel on a subject? The key is to capture unprompted reactions in the moment when they are actually happening. These ‘non-framed’ thoughts tend to be more accurate and more authentic because they represent true emotion and are without bias.

One place you can find a vast amount of unprompted reactions on a host of topics is social data. Twitter, in particular, sees hundreds of millions of thoughts, experiences and opinions shared on the platform every day. These tweets provide unique qualitative insights, shedding light on underlying motivations, emerging behaviours and new norms. 

Twitter has always been a great place to see these trends emerge, allowing you to develop hypotheses which can then be tested and further refined with qualitative and quantitative research methods. It’s this combining of stated preferences with revealed behaviours that provides a more complete, nuanced perspective on a given topic. Twitter is also proving a useful proxy for brand tracking and benchmarking studies. These well-established longitudinal studies typically rely on surveys and are generally performed only once a year. However, leveraging consumer feedback from Twitter makes continuous brand tracking possible and cost-effective.

As to “what’s next?”, a YouGov poll from mid-April found that only 9% of Britons want life to return to 'normal' once lockdown is over. But can they be believed? To quote the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Interested in obtaining better insights on topics important to you? Watch this episode of #TwitterTalk: Attitudes, emotions and behaviours: using social data to drive qualitative insight.

You can also get inspired at with case studies that illustrate the value of Twitter data.



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