Why Facebook Really Can't Be Your Online Research Community

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by: Matt Rhodes

When we talk about using social media for research one question that often comes up is “Why can’t we just do this research in Facebook?”. The answer is simple: “You can find out something from Facebook, but as an actual research tool it’s quite limited.”

So if the answer really is that simple, why is the question asked at all, and why not use Facebook?

Facebook is a great tool and it’s a site I’m a huge fan of. You can keep up with friends, meet new friends and talk about similar interests and issues, organise events, post photos, play games, flirt… The list is almost endless. ‘Almost’, because there are some things you really can’t do on Facebook. We’ve talk a lot about the difference between social networks and online communities, about how the former are ‘me’ places where I talk to my friends about things that interest me; and about how the latter are ‘we’ places where I work with people towards a common goal or end point. Social networks are difficult places to engage people and difficult places to build a group that is contributing towards a shared goal or end-point. Because of this, they’re difficult places for marketers, and difficult places for researchers.

It is true that there are are huge amount of things that a brand can learn from seeing how it is discussed on Facebook. Take a brand like Starbucks and their are 34 groups in London alone (more than 500 globally) discussing the brand. In each of these there are things that the brand could learn – from ideas for advertising, to discussion on free Wi-Fi in store, to discussions about whether their drinks are kosher. These are all great discussions, but from a research perspective they are like listening to people’s conversations at a bus stop or in a restaurant (or indeed in a coffee shop!) But you cannot get the kind of detailed research and insight that you need from these discussions, from that you do need an online research community.

It’s only in a research community that you can really make sure you get the most out of the discussions and debates – both those that organically happen in the community, and those prompted by a specific activity. Only in an online research community do you have right or response and an ability to enter into an equal discussion with other members. Only in an online research community can you build and analyse the profiling data you get from the members and the vast backlog of their contributions and opinions. Only in an online research community do you have a set of members who are their to engage and interact directly with the brand and there to support you.

The benefits are huge, but more than anything, Facebook and other social networks don’t offer an ability for you to research and get meaningful insight. You can observe not research.

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Original Post: http://blog.freshnetworks.com/2008/11/why-facebook-really-cant-be-your-online-research-community/