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Since the rise of social media, companies have been implored to 'listen' to their customers. If you listen, they are told, good things will happen.

The truth, of course, is that most businesses have never been completely deaf to their customers.

Social media has simply created new ways to listen.

That, as one social research and analytics firm sees it, could kill off one of the more traditional means by which companies have historically sought feedback from their customers.

According to newBrandAnalytics, businesses saw online customer reviews jump 25% in 2012 and "with a consistent, reliable and free source of feedback coming from the web, social intelligence has rendered solicited surveys pointless".

Kristin Muhlner, newBrandAnalytics' CEO, says that some companies have already ditched surveys and are now using "social feedback as their primary source for customer experience information."

Social's value

2012 saw a number of large acquisitions of companies that help businesses manage their social presences and monitor what consumers are saying about their products and services on popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

And it's not hard to understand why: thanks to social media, there is a constant flood of data -- data which often includes brand-related chatter.

That brand-related chatter, if it can be identified and aggregated into useful forms, will arguably give businesses the ability to collect more feedback from consumers, directly and indirectly, than ever before possible. That's a big deal.

The survey is dead, long live the survey

But does this mean that the survey is dead? It shouldn't.

Even if social media reduces the survey's prominence, savvy companies won't limit their feedback collection mechanism to social media. After all, social media isn't the end-all and be-all of customer intelligence.

It can provide great insight, but it's just one view, and a highly imperfect one at that.

And there's still a lot to like about surveys:

  • Well-designed surveys can obtain answers to specific questions a business has deemed important. Social buzz may have value, but there's no guarantee it will answer the questions you need answered.
  • They can be segmented, making it possible to gain insights that would be difficult if not impossible to obtain using social media.
  • Surveys can be tightly controlled. If the ultimate goal of listening to customers is to make better business decisions, having a methodology for collecting and analyzing data is crucial.

Put simply, there's a lot a survey can do that analysis of passively-gathered social media data probably can't, and vice versa. Which is probably why Twitter, for instance, has experimented with surveys itself.

At the end of the day, figuring out what consumers are thinking is difficult. They don't always mean what they say, and what they say will depend on where they're voicing an opinion or how a question is presented.

To make the right decisions, most businesses will realistically need to use multiple methods, including surveys, to determine what their customers really want.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 January, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2355 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Robin Johnston

Interesting observations, which I will share, and I agree completely on your take that surveys have their place as well, even more so where internal communications are concerned.

However, I am increasingly starting to wonder whether some companies are adopting social media only because it is considered to be a must have, and that the occasional requirement to discuss customer service issues in public is viewed as a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to enhance the brand experience. I just recently blogged about some of my favorite SM fails of the year, and while researching background it was simply astonishing to see how perfunctory some SM responses can be.

Agree with your points though. The more communications is viewed as two-way, the better.

over 3 years ago

Guy Cookson

Guy Cookson, CMO and Co-Founder at Respond Native Advertising Platform

In my own experience I've found social media, email and onsite are all great places to solicit feedback via a survey, but in each case it only works if they survey is short, simple and laser focused.

over 3 years ago

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Connor Harley

I agree that surveys can never die down. They are still an excellent medium in gaining customer feedback. It covers a great range and provides substantial results.

over 3 years ago

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Andrew Nelson

I think social media insights, in the not too distant future, will reduce the frequency, length and scale of surveys.

over 3 years ago

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Thomas Cowper Johnson

Of course social media make an important contribution to understanding what your customers think. Of course companies with a line to peddle will always reach for the most arresting headline. Of course surveys are not dead.
newBrandanalytics gets it right in one respect - more companies will base employee reward on customer feedback; but to do that they need a structured programme of surveys (such as we offer at ServiceTick) that gather feedback from every channel and every touchpoint. You can't rely on the minority of customers that elect to make their views known through social media.

over 3 years ago

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