How Social Media is Shaping How We Understand People

By Elle Gallon

Understanding People Better in 2018

Sometimes I stop and remember what life was like before I spent FIVE HOURS screen time a week scrolling through Instagram and countless more scrolling through Twitter and chatting on Whats App. My housemate is just 4 years younger than me and can’t even remember a time she owned a phone without Instagram. This is a sign of the rapidly increasing amount of our lives that are both shared and lived out socially in various online spaces.

In a world in which we’re privy to nearly anybody’s lives that we’d like to be, we’re also seeing societies utilise these platforms to join together ‘from the bottom up’. This is done by addressing inequality and making positive of the shared injustices that can be voiced from one side of the world to another in the click of a button. In an era of #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and the realisation that algorithms are feeding us the news that our peers want to see too rather than the bigger picture, it feels to me like there is no better time for us to tangibly address the fundamental purpose of a researcher’s career: to truly understand people.

How does social media link to market research?

So how can we harness the changing ways in which the world is interacting with each other to better understand people? I’m a young researcher, but I’m also one of those mythical millennials that brands have been so elusively chasing for years now. Resultantly, I started off in this industry thinking about what it is that brands and companies can do to encourage me to engage and to sustain my attention.

We should be thinking about our participants as people like us, who are picking up their phone and scrolling through countless marketing emails which, unless they stand out, get deleted. We need to engage with people who have a million other distractions to contend with right in front of them.

We also know that more generally, our behaviours, environments and wider cultures are changing and interweaving like never before. This is due to the way in which we communicate with both our friends and the world via social media. We shape our own understanding of ourselves via the way in which we engage with social media – are you a fashion influencer, a foodie blogger, a news junkie, a political commentator?

Increasingly, all of us have an identity formulated through social media. Given this, researchers should be using this social media led culture to talk to people in much more relatable ways.

Designing Relevant Tools

Here at Join the Dots, we’re using tools that encourage and foster this social environment on our community platforms. We’re using hashtags, emoji’s, vlogs, and status feeds to keep on top of what’s happening in our community members lives and what matters to them. Additionally, we’re getting involved ourselves, posting updates, selfie videos, and having conversations that seek to erode the boundaries of ‘researcher and participant’ just like social media is eroding boundaries between brands and consumer power.

In our surveys, we often ask people to upload a quick selfie or Snapchat style photograph which they caption to tell us how they’re feeling about an idea or a brand. This tool encourages participants to think about a new idea in the same way that they think about their own and others’ lives. This enables the collection of more insightful, authentic data whilst integrating seamlessly with mobile.

We also collect quantitative data via a ‘Tinder Swipe’ tool in which we’ve tapped into the swipe right or left binary choice culture in which people are increasingly make decisions. This reflects our world where we’re bombarded with content, in which products are chosen (or rejected) in a matter of milliseconds as we scroll or swipe on to the next thing on our feed. Sometimes I screenshot posts to go back to when I have a minute, but I never do. Brands must capture us there and then, or they’ve lost an opportunity.

Why does this matter?

As researchers, we need to fully embrace the changing ways in which people interact with the world around them in the way that we design, field and analyse projects to fully understand the way in which they’re likely to behave.

5-point scale data might look good in a meeting where key investors require appeal scores for their new idea. However, we need to think about the fact that 5-point scales aren’t how we think in real life.

I believe if we integrate a willingness to understand people with the platforms and tools that we use in our daily lives, we’re more likely to tap into the ways in which consumers are genuinely thinking and behaving, and therefore understand how products, concepts and campaigns will resonate once out there in the market.

By Ellie Gallon, Senior Research Executive, Join The Dots