The impact of social media on commerce may be in consumer feedback rather than direct commerce. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune outlined a number of retailers - large and small - using the communal media as a way to inform their decisions. From what colors to stock to what prices to charge social networks provide a means for either conducting market research or letting consumers decide.
The use of natural communities for research is by no means new - but the quick ask and answer paradigm of social media does raise some questions to consider. If we give consumers such a visible role in the process, then as a business...
- Do we care what the decision is?
- Colors, assortments, and other merchandising decisions are good places to test the waters.
- Can we deliver?
- In essence, asking for opinions is on the path to building trust and that outcome should not be put at risk.
- Can we afford to be wrong?
- Certain topics, e.g. pricing and new product development, may result in unintended consequences that impact other parts of the organization.
- Selection and sample bias -- no one ever said those who participate and respond are 'representative consumers'. Can the results be applied broadly or into the future?
- Classification and segmentation - verification of the interests and demographics used to analyze the results is tough when at a click of a button I can change, include or exclude things. There is truth to adage - 'on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog.'
- ChatThreads combines a bit of market research methodology, technology and social behavior to track where and how a recruited panel of consumers interacts with a brand.
- ThinkVine creates a virtual world of consumers by building personae from all types of data in order to understand how the online and offline mix of marketing spend impacts sales.
- itracks focuses on mobile focus groups so they can interact in the real world instead of the conference room with one-way mirrors.
There needs to be some amount of experimentation in the generation of insights. Suggestion for the new year: set a budget limit to which you simply say "Yes, let's try it."