Though marketing research professionals are inundated with news and opinion about social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr, we rarely discuss what puts the "social" in social media. John Kearon, Chief Juicer at BrainJuicer is one of the insightful few who looks to apply anthropology, primatology, network theory and other behavioral sciences to market research. We got the chance to ask Kearon a few questions about how social choice works.
ARF: What's the best strategy for getting insight on how social media influences individual consumer choice?
John Kearon: What Mark Earls and I have dubbed, 'Me-to-We Research'. Let's stop asking direct questions of unreliable witnesses [Me Research] and explore the greater potential for truth and valuable insight by mining our ability as social animals to understand and predict other people better than we do ourselves [We Research]. We Research includes techniques pioneered by BrainJuicer like Predictive Markets, which across hundreds of experiments have been shown to be a better way to screen ideas for potential; Mass Ethnography, where you ask an army of willing respondents to conduct ethnography to a brief; and DigiViduals,™ or research robots programmed to scan the web for appropriate content to create a rich persona against a marketing construct.
ARF: How do you think social media has influenced our daily lives in terms of choice?
JK: In our modern times where almost 50% of the world's population live more isolated lives in big cities, social media is a timely reminder that we are social animals and it's a suitably modern tool to enable us to connect with more people than we ever could living in small groups in the countryside. A recent large-scale study showed that part of Facebook's appeal is its ability to enhance our self-esteem. These fast social media feedback loops seem to allow us to learn and evolve faster than we ever have.
ARF: How can insights on social and individual choice help us manage the complexity of contemporary life?
JK: Human beings are complex; always have been, always will be. Social media hasn't made us more complex; it's just helped us realize and see how complex we are. It's a bit like the academic saying, "the more we know about a subject, the more we know we don't know." So for me, these insights help remind researchers and marketers that consumer behavior is complex and subtle and we need to be dissatisfied with the current statistics-originated research tools and tap the breakthroughs in other disciplines like psychology, sociology, neuroscience and behavioral economics to create better ways to understand and predict behavior.