September 23, 2016

What is conversation research?

Any research effort begins with the quest to define the problem. I suppose then any research business should start the same way. What exactly is Conversation Research and what problem does it attempt to solve?

Conversation Research is, simply, researching online conversations – those found in social media, or any other online mechanism that enables user-to-user discussion – with the purpose of discovering insight. We must keep the definition broad to allow inclusion of many varieties of sources, discussions, insights and purposes.

The Conversations Research Institute, for the record, focuses primarily on insights that drive business and marketing decisions. But our scope won’t always be limited there, either.

But aren’t we just saying “social monitoring” or “social listening” using synonyms? Not exactly. For me, social monitoring has always been a very reactive practice – one that is most commonly associated with customer service and reputation management. Wait until we see what people say before we do anything with it.

Social listening, on the other hand, has been more of the proactive practice. Let’s go look for mentions of something specific in order to learn or direct our future activities.

Software companies and consultants interchange both, though they are very different in intent. And both have been further lumped into the larger tab of “social analytics.” But this can include things like follower count, conversion rates and the like that a researcher mining for insights may or may not have interest in.

So Conversation Research is a different practice. It is analyzing the existing data around conversations among an audience segment. That segment could be a demographic, psychographic or set that contains some commonality, like all having mentioned a particular phrase or word.

The intention of Conversation Research is to deliver insight about the audience having the conversation. What do they say? How do they feel? What is their intention?

Knowing this information unlocks a third characteristic of a research audience. Instead of demographic or psychographic, it represents the social-graphic characteristics of an audience: What do they talk about in online conversations? What content do they read and share? What audiences to they influences? What influencers influence them?

All of these qualities of a given audience or audience member can unlock previously before unknown data about the customer. It can open doorways to new paths to engagement and conversion. It is market research done with online conversations as the focus group – the largest focus group ever assembled, mind you. And it has the potential to revolutionize the way we get to know our customers and prospects.

While Conversation Research is not intended to, nor should it, replace traditional market research. There are some interesting parameters to help consider leveraging this approach as a supplement to and in some cases instead of, traditional focus groups or surveys:

  • Conversations online are seen my far more people than hear them offline.
  • Conversations online are not led or framed by a questioner. You are mining real, voluntary, organic assertions from consumers.
  • Conversations online are not a snapshot in time but can be analyzed in real-time or as a trend over time.
  • While traditional research can offer more efficient sampling in terms of demographics, representative to national statistics, etc., conversation research can return hundreds of thousands of participants rather than samples of a few hundred people.

My colleagues and I have been mining online conversations for several years now. I was proud to publish what we believe to be the first-ever industry report based solely on online conversations in 2012. But now we are defining Conversation Research with a renewed focus and vigor.

Mining online conversations for insights from consumers is the next big trend in brands using social media. Conversation Research is here. The only question is how quickly will you reap the benefits?

For more on how The Conversation Research Institute can help, drop us a line or visit us at



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