The article Social Media are Giving a Voice to Taste Buds discusses how big corporations are utilizing social media as a new kind of focus group. Lays, for example, turned to it’s Facebook app to ask users what kind of chips they would eat. The answers varied by location which gave Lays even more insight in how to produce and distribute its product.
This article takes a social shaping approach to the idea that social media sites have become more than just a place to connect with friends. It’s uses change and expand quite frequently and companies are always interested in what information they can get out of customers that they don’t already have. Boyd speaks about MySpace’s switch from just personal profiles to a public discourse online that included bands and fans. It was intended to be similar to Friendster but listened when local bands wanted a place to promote their music and interacts with fans. User demand set MySpace apart from other websites, another example of implying social shaping. According to Baym, social shaping is when we influence technology, it responds to the conditions in society and then we respond to that. The author implies the companies are influencing technology by often times putting either open ended or closed ended questions out there for the public to answer and discuss. For example, many companies like Kohl’s or Gilt Groupe ask customers to vote on what products to include in a sale. Gilt also “sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. ‘It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,’ Ms. Francis said.” This is an example of the technology responding as well as the users. Using Facebook to facilitate accurate research is major breakthrough.
Lay’s, Kohl’s, and Gilt are just a few of the companies to see an advantage in having a piece of the social media spectrum for it’s own gain. “Companies like Wal-Mart and Samuel Adams are turning them into extensions of market research departments. And companies are just beginning to figure out how to use the enormous amount of information available.”
This past summer I had the opportunity to work for Dressbarn in their corporate office where I became exposed to their idea of good market research. They built a website, my dressbarn idea, that encompassed SMS traits, like “loving” to compliment the forum-type space. The encouraged interaction on the site helps ideas get noticed and fosters a sense of community that is key in the brand’s core values. The site aimed to allow customers to submit suggestions pertaining to any aspect of the brand from store experience to the merchandise. Their approach is most similar to that of MAC’s because they go directly to the source by explicitly asking for users’ opinions. In contrast, Walmart acquired Kosmix, a company that studies social media chatter and trends which obviously relies on noninvasive data collection by utilizing what’s already out there.
Another example of adaption of social media on both ends is Who What Wear’s live broadcast, QVC style. They have had scheduled online programming where they sell a multitude of items, but what’s different is that the viewer has the ability to shop “live” through Facebook. Not only can you buy within Facebook, but you can see what everyone else is buying as well. The show only lasts a few hours but still incorporates social media very wisely.
Beer speaks to this new notion of using data found through social media:
”Indeed, the activities and interactions of MySpace and other SNS resonate with Thrift’s observation that:
‘through the auspices of Internet and wireless technologies, consumers and producers now increasingly interact jointly to produce commodities, and, increasingly, commodities become objects that are being continuously developed (as is the case of, for example, various forms of software).more and more consumer objects are becoming part of an animate surface that is capable of conducting ‘thought’; thought is increasingly packaged in things.’
(Thrift, 2005: 7) “
It is interesting to wonder, though, if you can really get the whole story through this kind of “research”. The article points out that they do, because apparently some companies got a more diverse sampling of information via Facebook than if they were to do a focus group where the consumers are fans. Facebook fans, they say, tend to be short-term in that they don’t have to be super passionate about a brand they might “like”. As a result, the information gathered is across the spectrum of small fans to big fans to so they can begin to understand how to cater to everyone.
I believe context collapse from the YouTube video is apparent in the company-consumer interaction that takes place because while you type your opinion into a computer, you can’t see the person who will read it or what their reaction will be. Also from the video is the sense of imagined community around a particular brand or product.