Observing mobile usability testing at NPR on Wednesday, July 28th.
There's a lot of conversation in the market research industry these days about social media. This isn't particularly surprising: market researchers have struggled for decades to provide people with a compelling enough incentive to share all sorts of information about themselves, be it demographic information, opinions, lifestyle habits or consumption preferences. In the course of its evolution, social media has— albeit accidentally— stumbled upon a solution to this problem: people will gladly volunteer information about themselves, it turns out, when the incentive is their ability to see what other people are sharing back.
Researchers have questions about how representative data culled from social media really is, and are still figuring out the best way to tap into it. We at NPR share those questions, but we have realized that social media can now, at the very least, assist with the logistics of our more traditional research activities.
This morning, I was setting up for a day of usability tests when I received an email cancellation from one of our recruited testers. Cancellations the day of usability tests or focus groups are not uncommon, and we typically plan in advance for them by overbooking the number of appointments we make. But rather than simply cancel the interview session, I tweeted a request for iPhone owners in the area (the usability project is about one of our apps) to volunteer to come in at the last minute. It was retweeted by someone who lives up in Massachusetts, and one of her followers happened to be someone who works a 20 minute walk away and owns an iPhone. She was able to take an early lunch and come in to participate.
This, needless to say, was a much more productive solution than just canceling the appointment, which is what we would have done without our Twitter account.
There are drawbacks here, to be sure: we know next to nothing about the folks we recruit last-minute like this, and we don't want to annoy or offend our followers who don't live in DC. But as a rare, last-minute solution to a persistent market research problem, recruitment via Twitter has been a huge help to us.
Work in research? Use social media in creative ways? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.