ARF Insights: ARF Interview with Tom H.C. Anderson of Anderson Analytics

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In preparation for the Advertising Research Foundation's Audience Measurement 6.0 Symposium next week, we reached out to Next Gen Market ResearcherTom H. C. Anderson, whose firm Anderson Analytics was one of the first to leverage text analytics in the marketing research industry. Anderson Analytics has since developed a reputation for combining traditional marketing research with new media research.

ARF: Companies are adopting new Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tools and technologies so they can do their own research without hiring established research companies. Do you see DIY research as a trend? If so, what are its implications?

TomHCA: Well, I see a software trend. Some of that software will be used by end clients as DIY, and other software will be sold to suppliers. There is currently a "convergence of everything" going on. The rise of social media has sped this up. It's not just Information Technology (IT), Business Intelligence (BI), and marketing research looking to leverage measurement and analysis of this stream; but even players we never considered—such as content providers, small digital agencies, and even larger PR firms—are looking to measure and analyze social media data.

DIY is certainly a trend that will continue. Part of the reason for this is that social media monitoring is happening in real-time, so clients don't want to delay insights by having to work with an outside vendor. Don't get me wrong, many clients may have vendors working on social media measurement and analytics, but they will also want the ability to monitor and explore social media for themselves on an as-needed basis.

ARF: Audience Measurement is more challenging now than ever before because of the adoption of digital media communications, and because digital technologies make media consumption a more visibly social activity. As a market researcher who draws heavily upon text analytics, where do you see opportunities for audience measurement that tie to social occasions and social conversation?

TomHCA: Opportunities are everywhere. Initially a lot of attention was paid to blogs and Twitter because that data was relatively easy to get and is streaming. Discussion boards and more carefully scoped out ad-hoc social media measurement projects represent an interesting opportunity and will hopefully also increase in popularity as researchers become more savvy in acquiring, coding, and analyzing this type of information.

What's most exciting, though, on several levels is social networking data. In its desire to compete against Google, Facebook has led the way in starting to remove the walls of what has been known as "the walled garden" of social networks. Far more interesting than seeing what people say on Sony or MTV's Facebook page is seeing what the general population, and specific segments of the population, says to each other on their private walls. This information allows us to understand who is really influencing discussion, how, and why.

We did some early work on Facebook using widgets, but Facebook hasn't been as receptive to most widgets recently. Interestingly, widgets won't be necessary if Facebook, and other social networks like LinkedIn, continue to tear down their "walled gardens."

Speaking of LinkedIn, Anderson Analytics did some really cool work with LinkedIn a few years ago. What was apparent right away was the fact that the real decision makers are far less likely to take part in traditional marketing research surveys. We saw that as employees were promoted into senior management, the few that had been on research panels discontinued their participation in those panels. Their time was simply too valuable to spend on long, somewhat irrelevant surveys with little or no incentives.

There is an opportunity for B-to-B researchers here. It will take some time for us to best figure out how to leverage it, but the opportunity and data is certainly there.

ARF: What skills do researchers coming into the industry need today? How do they differ from the past? How will brands make sure they have enough of the right-skilled people?

TomHCA: Statistical skills, including large database skills, have arguably always been important, but they will become even more valuable. Web development skills are needed in order to leverage social media data streams. If a research company decides to build a product or service around data from a specific network like Facebook or Twitter, they will need a small team dedicated to maintaining access to that data. This is because these networks are dynamic and may make changes at any time with little regard to any applications that may be using their API.

ARF: How do traditional marketing research measurements tie into new media, if at all?

TomHCA: They tie in quite nicely in some cases actually. Both qualitative and quantitative survey research are great at digging into some of the issues that are discovered during the course of real time social media measurement using some sort of automatic text analytics service.

Strangely, a lot of researchers seem to be talking about conducting all their normal research activity via social media. The first thing I counsel many of our clients to do, before implementing a social media strategy, choosing a text analytics vendor, or anything else for that matter is an Attitude and Usage Study (A&U) or even more appropriate, a segmentation to understand where their customers and potential customers are active online and how they would like to be engaged.

I find it hard to understand why more researchers aren't including a larger social media component within their segmentation strategies.

ARF: Anderson Analytics certainly is one of the more innovative companies in this space, and we understand you've even started developing your own text analytics software. Can you tell us which other companies out there currently are most interesting to you?

TOMHCA: Thank you. Well, there's so much going on so fast. I think it's important to consider where a software company comes from, and what their real experience is in your category or domain before selecting a vendor.

There are a lot of companies I keep my eye on. Radian6 was one of those on top of my list before they were purchased by SalesForce. It's hard to tell exactly what the acquisition will mean for them so I'm not watching them as closely any more.

I'm actually very interested in companies like RapLeaf and ReTargeter who are aggregating various social media information, sometimes including email. Many of these companies primary revenue model is advertising, but what they are collecting in the process is pure gold from an insights perspective!

ARF: Thank you Tom, we look forward to seeing you at the event!

Registration for Audience Measurement 6.0 is now open!

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