Online Research 2009 - ESOMAR World Research Conference


by Ray Poynter

Set in Chicago, in an unusually mild October week, a well attended (over 230 people from 28 countries) ESOMAR Online Conference shone a spotlight on the changes we are likely to see in 2010 and beyond. Rather than run chronologically through the Conference, this report addresses the implications of the conference thematically.


The single biggest message from Chicago was that researchers need to Listen, which in this context means using observational techniques. The importance of listening was highlighted by an excellent presentation by Annelies Verhaeghe from Belgium and Emilie van den Berge from the Netherlands called “Getting answers without asking questions”, which was a case study looking at how web scraping technologies were used to extract over 70,000 comments from social networks about the Dutch version of the TV show X factor. One great aspect of the case study was that it showed how the information had been used to change the show.

The listening theme was further developed by Karina Besprosvan and David Oyarzun, from Chile, who presented the progress they have been making in the use of Twitter as a tool for research, in their paper “Tweetmiotics”. Their case study looked at collecting two million tweets, sampling 200,000 and analysing them to produce insight.

The listening topic raised a number of issues, including: what technologies are best? What are the ethics of extracting comments? How should we process millions of comments? What does representativity mean in this field? Indeed, is it qual, quant, or something else?

Twitter played other roles in the conference, beyond being a source of passive data collection. Many of the delegates tweeted their way through the conference, sharing thoughts and pictures. To get an idea of what it was like to be there, enter #esoc into the search field of Twitter (you don’t even need to be a member). In addition, the Tuesday night saw a Tweet-Up at the Luxbar, where over 40 researchers gathered to extend the social side of the conference, in an initiative organised by Brian LoCicero using twtvite. One of the interesting things about this use of Twitter (both during the day and at the Tweet-up) was the way that it managed to involve people who were not attending the conference.


Several of the presentations, and much of the discussion, made it clear that communities have become a mainstream technique, at least amongst the avant-garde. Over the last couple of years many conference papers have been looking at ‘exploring’ the idea of communities. However, this year the Conference saw papers that had moved on to more advanced issues, such as a taxonomy of communities from James Kennedy (“Online community platforms”), a cross-cultural review by Manila Austin (“Cultural differences: a draw or barrier?”), a study of community member’s views from Australia (“It works for us but does it work for them?”), and a Swarovski case study of innovation communities by Volker Bilgram (“How to be successful in co-creation research?”).

Although more than 90% of the delegates appeared to be fans of communities as a research tool (based on a highly scientific raising of hands and chanting of ‘I believe’) a very interesting query was raised by Bill Blyth, who asked whether there was, or could be, a business model that would generate sufficient revenue from Communities, at an industry level.

It is also worth noting that the two papers that were nominated for the ESOMAR Excellence Award were both about communities, i.e. "Optimizing engagement in multinational online communities" and “How online research communities work for consumers invited to participate".

LinkedIn and Facebook - the shape of the future?

Perhaps the most exciting and most scary contribution was the session with Daniel Shapero of LinkedIn and Sean Bruich of Facebook (who has the interesting and revealing job title of Monetization Analytics). The session was moderated by Tom Anderson and illustrated the amazing potential that Facebook and LinkedIn present in terms of being able to reach potential respondents, especially given the massive amount of information held by these social networks. This data could allow targeting researchers to reach tightly defined groups and avoid having to ask the traditional profiling type questions. However, the session made many delegates wonder what would happen if social networks decided to compete directly with market research?

Both speakers made the point that they could not imagine allowing researchers direct access to their members, because they were concerned to protect their members from abuse, a telling indictment on many research surveys and approaches.

Daniel Shapero of LinkedIn and Sean Bruich of Facebook panel discussion with Anderson Analytics’ Tom Anderson.

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