Insights from social media

Twitter search has become so powerful and fluid that it is forcing lots of us to rethink where to find insights-- and Google's own blog search is not that far behind. For those of us accustomed to the expensive and time-consuming efforts of in-depth interviews, the ability to mine for insights with such quickness is a game-changer.

Take soup. I was wondering yesterday how folks are thinking about canned soup in the middle of a recession. Were they flocking to canned soups of yesteryear in an effort to hunker down and save money? Were such old favorites as Campbell's tomato soup returning as a comfortable return to less-troubled times?

Only a year ago, one might have needed in-depth expensive interviews with moms to figure this out. But now?

Instead, I just searched my Google blogs to see what was what under "canned soup"-- and what a surprising world I found! In my nostalgia-tinged view, I expected to see homey recipes using the trusted canned soup. But of course, that is why one does research in the first place-- to test one's views.

Indeed, when I searched with brand names, I did find the much expected homey recipes and tips of yesteryear.

But when I searched for canned soup, a different story emerged. Instead of the happy canned soup consumer whom I had anticipated, I found a frightened consumer. I read posts of moms and environmentalists worried about some new toxin apparently found in soup cans (the cans, not the soup.) It seems canned soup is yet another problem in a world filled with problems of all kinds-- could it be, I wondered, that now consumers feel frightened even about a can of soup? With these posts whirling around, it's not hard to see why.

And I also read posts that suggested a guilty consumer -- apparently, in some alternate reality, consumers think they should be making home-made soup from scratch --taking hours to cook the pure natural soup of their dreams. But of course, most people coming home from a day's work or eating on the fly at lunch find their dream soup impossible -- but it seems they have to apologize to themselves for this.

None of this is news to the market researcher -- presumably, soup companies are well aware of many of these discussions. The point for me is that I was able to get these insights in one mining expedition-- and that suggests that qualitative studies in the future will look just as different as canned soup does.
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