Community Management, Social Media Measurement, Social Media Research, Brand Communities, Social Media Research, Social Media ROI

Don’t Ignore Social Media’s Research Value

Kyle Mensing head shot.jpgCo-written with Kyle Mensing, an economics grad with a creative bent who is trying to merge business and social.

Our intrinsic understanding of opportunity cost is what defines us as people. Our preference of city to country, work to play, beer to wine, restaurant to home cooking, video games to books, television to the outdoors, football to soccer, golf to baseball, etc. Is this notion of opportunity cost sometimes the key to successfully determining the value and ROI of social media?

Equivalent Research Value

All of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as we looked them up quickly on Google. This is just to prove a general point.

According to a Google source, the cost breakdown for market research is as follows (all figures shown are minimums):

  • Eight person focus group = $6,000 ($750/participant)
  • Quantitative interviews = $80
  • Qualitative interviews = $325


Money Saved is Money Earned

As companies start embracing social media they rightfully want to understand what they are getting for it. They want to know what their ROI will be. But the “R” in ROI doesn’t always have to equal net new dollars via sales. Social media can deliver other returns that have meaningful and measurable financial value.

The average Facebook page has 4,596 fans. Let’s say a company decides to use Facebook as a market research tool. Let’s say 5% of those 4,596 fans give actionable feedback. That would be the equivalent of 230 interviews or roughly 78 focus groups. Because most Facebook interactions are abbreviated and cursory, let’s assume that this would be quantitative interview-level data gathering only, valued at $80 per person above. Consequently, by asking your Facebook fans to participate in your market research program, you are potentially generating $18,400 worth of equivalent research value.

Assuming you haven’t spent gobs of money incentivizing your customers to “like” you on Facebook, you might be able to generate a positive ROI on your Facebook presence through a single research project.

Let’s do note for the record, however, that market research on your Facebook page is not a random sample, and has other methodology issues. That doesn’t make it invalid, just not a direct apples-to-apple comparison.

Domino_s Pizza Free Photo Contest –

Inspiration From Domino’s Pizza

Consider Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s has undergone three campaigns to collect photos of actual pizzas from real customers. Participation incentives were minimal – a chance to win $500 and the potential to have your picture used in a commercial. (these incentives are much lower than for traditional research, where all participants receive some type of compensation in nearly every case.

In the third version of this program alone, Domino’s received 3,569 submissions. They chose 20 winners for a total payout of $10,000. Again, if we assume that the collected data was mostly quantitive in nature, and we value that at $80 per respondent, Domino’s generated approximately $295,520 in research value, in exchange for an investment of $10,000 in incentives, and some program creation costs.

Sacred Rides Feedback on Facebook

On a smaller scale, extreme mountain bike tour company Sacred Rides asked their Facebook fans to weigh in with ideas and comments about their new mountain bike jersey design. Nearly 162 comments were provided during two rounds of feedback. Being able to tap into robust customer comments quickly and easily is a huge advantage for a small company. No emails with photos of the jerseys. No sending out photographs via snail mail, or conducting follow up telephone calls.

Insights, Not Just Likes

We need to start moving beyond basic-level interactions such as clicking “follow” or “like” and instead start activating fans and asking them to provide richer insights that can help us build wow-worthy products and services.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Kyle. I have been chewing on Jay’s comment last week about “a Facebook Fan page being little more than a Yellow Pages ad to allot of companies” and appreciate the view you bring to the conversation.

  2. says

    There is a lot to be learned from social media research. You can query your current / future customers about what they want to see in your products and services, and you can also learn about what your competitors are doing to be successful in social media so you can implement similar strategies for your own business.

  3. C Johnson says

    I agree that social media does have some value from a research perspective. But to even begin to think that the value derived from a FB or twitter based effort is anywhere close to that of a substantive conversation with a customer/prospect is short sighted at best. Focus groups and social media are good tools validate or get quick input on a product, brand, tagline, feature, etc. But the back and forth of a conversation and probing of your participants is a sure way to get to real insight. A good research strategy would likely take advantage of both approaches and their respective benefits. It’s important to understand that and plan and budget accordingly.

    • says

      Having used both focus groups and social media for this purpose, I think Facebook and Twitter can be much better and more focused than a regular focus group, and the back and forth conversation DOES happen if you do it right. It may happen publicly online, or start online and move offline. Though, clearly you can’t make a blanket statement about research and what works for everyone. Every situation is different.

      • Kyle Mensing says

        I am glad you can speak from experience Ken. In my opinion, the biggest non-monetary benefit to using social media over more traditional methods is the minimization of selection bias. Maybe it is just because I have never been asked to be a part of a focus group or interview process but I feel the guaranteed renumeration can skew results. The social media approach engages people that want to engage your brand or product. They either want to offer advice or publicly slam you, and both can be useful.

  4. says

    Saving money is one of the real value propositions I like to push, especially since the growth of online communities and relationships can be slow and very organic. While you might not see overnight results in terms of cash coming into your business, you CAN see very noticeable cost decreases rather quickly if you use the tools properly for research, customer service, etc, I think we focus too much on the “marketing” aspect of Social Media at times.

  5. says

    Interesting take and definitely something to think about. Gaining richer consumer insights to move your business forward is what research is all about. And, we need to be open to using all venues for all demographics. Social media becomes another qualitative tool – go to where your customers gather. May not be the right tool (yet) for everyone but certainly worth considering.

  6. says

    Exceptional write up. And very actionable. Loved it.

    I am grateful that I run a platform that elicits responses without incentives or solicitation. Feedback is sooo important. It drives our development and has made the service way better because of it.

    So, when the feedback is otherwise unavailable, these (facebook) methods are invaluable.

    Great post dude…nice work. Jay knows how to pick ’em :-)

  7. says

    Kyle and Jay,
    Great article. Don’t you worry though, about the quality of the feedback a business might receive from a person on Facebook leaving a comment, vs. a focus group setting, where I would think the responses would be more thoughtful. Not that one group is better than the other, but I would think the responses you get would look different, perhaps shorter and more off the cuff on Facebook. Or perhaps more truthful on Facebook, because you’re not being influenced by peers, like you might in a focus group.

    • Kyle Mensing says

      You raise some excellent points. I am not sure I am the best person to answer this since I have never been a part of a focus group but here are my thoughts. I think it boils down to motives, approach and reach. In a focus group or interview setting people know they are already being compensated, which could impact their responses. They are also with other people, as you mentioned, and for some reason people seem more free with their opinions on the internet than in person. By approach I am referring to how the research or question is worded. Conducting research through social media is essentially like using a survey. You could word a question that would elicit one word responses then tweak it slightly and generate conversation, this is probably the trickiest part. I think reach is the biggest benefit. It is what truly sets the two apart aside from cost. The sheer number of responses you could potentially receive would comprise multiple focus group sessions. Social media also allows you to track the pulse of opinion, essentially becoming dynamic focus groups. I am not arguing that all traditional market research should be abandoned, but social media should definitely not be ignored.

      Thanks again,

  8. says


    Greetings from rural Australia.

    Your post delivered an unexpected treasure for me.

    Statistics on Facebook Pages.

    Granted, the stats go back to 2009 and there’s been a lot of water under the Facebook bridge since then, but it’s like all pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, you find a place for it to fit in.

    For your readers, it’s the link to “The average Facebook page has 4,596 fans” which is a page titled Inside Facebook Pages by Sysomos. For readers who didn’t click this link in your post, it’s valuable information.

    Thank you, Kyle. Jay will know why these stats are so important to me.

    It’s Holy Thursday in Australia. Best wishes to you, Jay and your readers for Easter. I hope the Easter Bunny drops off Easter baskets full of joy.

    Best wishes and take care,


    Carol Jones
    Interface Pty Ltd
    Designers of The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover

    Ironing Diva’s stories are at

  9. says

    Kyle and Jay,
    Really a great article and loved the Domino’s example. Its good investing in Social media. Social Media platform is ideal for different uses and should therefore have a customized strategy. Due to the rapid rise in popularity and relevancy many online marketing companies now offer Social Media Marketing and strategy development services which are paramount to the success of Social Media as a viable marketing channel.

  10. says

    No doubt, there’s some good stuff in this article (e.g., for sure, Facebook does provide a way for companies to reach their audience and garner feedback).

    I do, however, question the logic behind writing that Domino’s generated nearly $300,000 in research value by having people submit photos of pizza. That’s not research, it’s a photo contest. At best, the ROI was that they received user-generated content for use in a commercial, rather than paying a professional photographer. Or am I missing something here?

    • Kyle Mensing says

      There were some underlying assumptions relating to how value was derived. These included positive photos being akin to comments of approval and negative photos (at least a few must have been submitted, like the one used in a commercial) were akin to negative comments. A semblance of demographic data could have been collected as well, lending insight into Domino’s customer base. I am assuming that at least a few of the entries would have had comments attached to the picture submissions as well. I also derived value from the fact that the responses were submitted in the absence of a guaranteed payout. People were willing to respond, through a more intensive process than just clicking “Like”, without the promise of getting paid for it. Even if they got no value out of the responses, this series of campaigns probably worked as a more accurate measure of brand engagement and valuable “Likes”. I could be totally missing something that can’t be replicated in focus groups and interviews though since I have never been a part of those processes.

  11. jan1650 says

    I like the article a lot and its thought-provoking commentary. You were right to give the caveat about sampling approach and the Facebook retunr. Obviously, there was no sampling strategy with Dominos. Having conducted research via statistical sampling, but not in the area of marketing, I’m curious what attempts are made to eliminate sample bias in focus groups (if there is any attempt) and what you have termed “quantitative” interview. Those studies outside rigorous science (of which I am not apart) rarely provide the skinny on the nature of how their sample universe was defined, how their sample population was selected, and what mechanisms were in place to test that the responses generated can be taken as representative of the sample of their study universe.

    I am not trying to enter into a debate on whether marketing is really based on any kind of representative sampling and, therefore, generates what can be considered representative views, tastes, preferences, etc. I am not at all sure how important such sampling is in fields other than, perhaps medicine and the like. Often, the universe from which the sample (focus groups, interviews, questionaries, etc.) is drawn is so layered with overlapping, opposing, intertwined factors, that a pure sample is quite impossible.

    So, if you ask 500 people to select five of their friends on Facebook to participate in a blind survey (at least until the questions are presented), I believe you can draw very reasonable conclusions about how a “representative” sample of a population feels. It would border on being a stratified random sample because you could then examine the likes and dislikes of the 500 people who selected your sample population of 2500. And it can all be accomplished by an outlay of very little time on anyone’s part but the person conducting the study.

    Social media will ultimately figure how to screw up the simplicity of this example and the one you raise, Kyle, but in the meantime. . . . Who knows!

    • Kyle Mensing says

      Coming from an economics background the sample bias of traditional research methods is a point of interest for myself as well. I know that for Nielsen ratings in Charlotte, Jay provided them in a previous post, their sample base is only something like .000377% of the population. I can’t get myself to believe that that is an accurate representative sample of the tastes of that population.I think social media has the potential to, if undertaken correctly, utilize a larger sample size to, as you said, get a more accurate representative sample. Based on the Nielsen calculation and the average number of fans, a brand would only need 2 responses to have a larger representative sample percentage than Nielsen. Whether or not social media makes this harder or easier at any time will be a mystery, it is part of what makes it fun.

  12. says

    I am neither a marketing genius nor a sm strategist but i am a social media believer and Kyle you make an amazing insight on the most talked subject. I find sm networks more engaging and open. I love the way you have brought the inspiration out of domiono’s great way to engage ur real people and ROI follows you :)

  13. says

    Hmm.. somehow I’ve never really thought of the ‘cost savings’ that way using social media. I mean, I know it is a great tool for market research but somehow the money factor did not kick in until now. Thanks for plugging the hole in my head, Kyle!

  14. letstalkandchat says

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out:

  15. brent says

    I think most companies dont know how to use social medai properly, and the internet is full of contradictory information

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