Three ways the Internet can help gather consumer insight

The Internet is a promising source of consumer insight. Data can be collected in real time; we do not need to interrupt consumers with our pesky phone calls or street surveys; and we may even be able to get access to certain segments of the population not reachable via traditional surveys.

Here are three ways we can use the Internet to gather customer insight.

Review websites

The first source of insight are consumer review websites, such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, or the reviews section of e-commerce websites such as Amazon.

We can use opinion mining and named entity recognition to learn about the product characteristics that are most salient for a segment that we are targeting, as exemplified by this analysis of online reviews of major league baseball stadiums. Review website can also tell us about consumers’ evolving expectations. For instance, we can gather from consumer reviews left on Trip Advisor that many consumers are now paying attention to Covid-19 measures in hotels, which was not the case less than a year ago.

Special interest groups

The second source of consumer insight are special interest groups where customers with similar values (e.g., sustainable tourism), interests (e.g., personal history) or constraints (e.g., low budget). This could be a website, such as Netmums; or a discussion group within a social media platform (like LinkedIn).

An advantage of mining conversations in special interest groups is that customers are self-segmenting themselves when they join a community. In a way, they are joining a tribe (which is different from a customer segment).

Monitoring these groups provides great insight for marketers in terms of the new and emerging behaviours. For instance, travellers started complaining online about the high cost of access to Wi-Fi in certain hotels, long before this was added to consumer satisfaction surveys.

Social media conversations

The third source of customer insight are social media platforms, such as Twitter. We can use crawlers to mine social media conversations for particular keywords, and monitor hashtags and chats related to your industry to learn about emerging trends – for instance, #TTOT for travel.

Mining social media conversations also tells us what our consumers think about our products or our competitors’, which is why Coca-Cola’s Pratik Thakar describes social media as ‘a big focus group’.

Using sentiment analysis, we can gather insight into consumer satisfaction with our products or our competitors’, and spot a brewing social media crisis. We can also study behavioural patterns, and find out, for instance, that customers associate coffee with productivity on Mondays, but with socialisation on Fridays. Having said that, there are limitations to using social media in general, and Twitter in particular, as discussed here.

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