Will it take Social listening and Analytics 15 years to become mainstream in Market Research?

Some quotes - especially the ones predicting the future, can become really famous until they expire or they are proven wrong. Do you remember the March 2011 quote from Joan Lewis – Global Insights Head of P&G at the time? It was about the future of market research and was shared at the ARF conference. Apparently she said: “Survey research will decline dramatically in importance by 2020, with social media listening replacing much of it and adding new dimensions”. I am not sure why but I personally took this quote to mean that more than 50% of survey research would be replaced by social media listening. I must have used this quote hundreds of times in client presentations and conferences since then. 

We are now halfway through 2016 and we have 3.5 more years for this quote to become true. According to a February 2016 report published by Markets and Markets, the global social media analytics market was US$ 1.60 B in 2015. The report predicts that the market size, which includes both SaaS and professional services revenue, will grow to US$ 5.40 B by 2020. This represented 2% of the total market research market in 2015; it may be over 5% by 2020. These percentages are nowhere near the 50% mark that I took Joan’s quote to mean.

What is really interesting is that after so many years of presenting the quote, I recently met Joan Lewis in person for the first time at the IIeX 2016 conference in Atlanta. I rushed up to her after her presentation to take my turn in talking to her. My understanding is that she is now a freelance consultant. I told her that I have used her quote multiple times and that it was an honour to finally meet her. My question to her was – yes, you guessed it right – “do you think your quote will come true in 3.5 years?”. I explained that since 2011, when the social listening and analytics market was probably around US$ 100 million, it has grown 16 times its size, which is a steep growth from a low base, but not an exponential growth as expected. “What happened?”, I asked with genuine curiosity; her response was that by ‘listening’ she meant all ways of listening to the customer and not just social. I must say I was a bit disappointed with this response.

Social Listening and Anlytics market size

Here is my take on what happened and is still happening: Customer Insights Managers within organisations were slower to adopt the new methodology of data collection and analysis because the tools they tried out were not accurate enough. The sentiment precision was below 60% at best and there was no semantic analysis the way they needed it to be for integration with surveys. This led to low trust on anything that was called ‘social listening’, even if it was offered by a legitimate next-gen market research company. When companies like DigitalMR came out with the result of a sentiment and semantic precision of over 80% in any language after multi-year focussed R&D work, it was almost unbelievable for end-clients. The reason being, that they had already tried 3-4 social media monitoring tools by that time and none had delivered on expectations. Also, there are not enough of us to spread the word that “YES IT IS POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE ACCURACY LEVELS THAT MAKE THIS TYPE OF ANALYTICS ACCEPTABLE FOR CUSTOMER INSIGHT PURPOSES”

I now have a new favourite client quote, this time the quote was told to me personally and I had the chance to discuss and understand the intent and purpose of the quote. Tom Emmers, Senior Director Global CMI of Heineken, said: “I believe that today, given the rapid advancement of capabilities, we should only resort to surveys if we cannot find the answer in social listening or behavioural tracking data”. He understands that this change will not happen from one day to the next but he, just like us, believes that this is the direction that the customer insights function is taking. We all understand the respondent sample challenges of our times with diminishing response rates, the system 1 and system 2 considerations expressed by Daniel Kahneman (in his book Thinking fast and thinking slow) and the bad quality of consumer access panels. Open-minded and innovative customer insights practitioners are now looking to integrate social analytics with brand tracking surveys and behavioural tracking in order to enhance their insight generation process. Then, at some time in the future, when social media will be more ubiquitous, unsolicited customer feedback and behaviour may even replace surveys completely. For what it is worth, I believe that the total market size for social listening and analytics will be over US$ 7 B by 2020 (see Fig. 1). Feel free to ask me (@DigitalMR_CEO) why I believe this to be the case!


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