How market researchers can use blogs

According to the Blog Herald, there are an estimated 50m to 100m bloggers worldwide, an estimated 50,000 new postings every day, and somewhere between 200m and 500m blog readers. We'd be mad to ignore this vast data source.

Blogs are appealing. Doing blog-research makes you a fly on the wall listening to hundreds, maybe even thousands of people (including your customers, your staff, and your competitors) talk about your product, your brand, or your organisation.

They may say what delighted them about a product or service or what pissed them off about it. They will express their wish lists and voice their complaints. You can also find out what people are saying about your competitors.

Blogs matter. There is an expectation that blog posts are authentic, honest, unfiltered and with no vested interests. They matter because lots of people are listening to what they say, and these vocal consumers we call bloggers are becoming opinion leaders. Some commentators believe that word-of-mouth marketing is now eclipsing conventional advertising in terms of impact on attitudes.

A report by blog anlaysis software firm Intelliseek suggests that the level of trust in advertising messages is said to be declining every day, and that trust in word-of-mouth is higher. As such, advertisers need to start monitoring blogs, measuring their impact on consumer perceptions, as well as "share of buzz". And as far as possible they need to start managing their influence to avoid a critical mass of consumers turning against a brand.

Blogs are qualitative. I call blog-based research "webnography". Despite the big numbers, what we've got is lots and lots of individual opinions. We have little or no idea of who or where these people are; and the material they provide is generally unsolicited, unmediated and unstructured.

Blogging is not conversation. The promoters of blog marketing would have us believe that the blogosphere is a world of conversation, but -- despite the opportunity for commenting on individual postings -- bulletin boards and forums are much more "conversational" than blogs. The challenge for researchers is to find useful information in an ocean of online noise.

Blog analysis is difficult. It is easy to find hundreds or thousands of blog posts which mention your research topic (Google and Technorati both produce good results). The challenge is sifting through them and coming up with useful information in a format that is easily digestible by marketers. The software tools and human skills to analyse them are still in their infancy.

Blog research is not cheap. The thing about blogs is that people don't post just to talk about a product they were disappointed or delighted with; they go to talk about their lives. Yes, blogs are a cost-free information source, but even if the analysis software gets cheaper, it will always need an element of human guidance and interpretation. Fully automated blog-analysis solutions would be like running the transcript of a focus group through a text analyser, and expecting to generate an insightful report without any researcher input.

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