Listening, conversing and communicating, three aspects of qualitative research, were examined by speakers from AQR at this year’s QRCA conference. If our work involves listening to consumer reality, interpreting it and communicating it to the marketer ­ is there an emerging part of this reality that we as researchers are not tuned into?

Historically, communication between marketers and consumers has been a closed end loop. On the one hand, marketers have sent out messages to consumers. On the other, they’ve sought feedback from them through traditional research. This modus operandi was effective until the ‘Internet juggernaut’ appeared.

Now, consumers can not only speak their mind but also broadcast their opinions. The deluge of marketing messages ­ combined with low consumer trust ­ has led to people relying on one another’s opinions to make sense of the muddle, prompting conversations between them. These chats are to be found on blogs/consumer sites and have so far escaped the information loop.

  • Not being privy to these conversations is to remain oblivious to a vital part of the consumer’s world. But that is not the only reason to tap into blogs.

  • Opinions on blogs are unsolicited and, therefore, likely to result from experience or strong beliefs. Anonymity only adds to the authenticity.

  • Blogs are updated frequently, almost as soon as bloggers have something to say, making them an immensely valuable medium for tracking trends, buzzwords and initial reactions to a launch.

  • Blog conversations leave behind a trail of links, useful for understanding how information flows and how opinions are shaped and influenced.

  • Blogs help in exploratory research to understand consumer language, develop working hypotheses and fine tune information needs.

  • Tracking blogs over time can help acquire a deeper understanding of a target segment since a blogger shares his opinions on many issues and that gives ‘context’ to the information gathered.

Blog mining as a technique is evolving so there is no definitive approach to be prescribed. Here, however, are a few pointers for those embarking on research involving blogs:

  • Shortlist a sample of bloggers based on their authority on your subject using blog search engines like Google Blog Search and Technorati.

  • Define the time frame: while looking for post-launch reactions allow for a lag of 5-7 days for consumers to explore product features/form opinions.

  • Bloggers don’t always post unique opinions. Some just link to one another. Allow for a buffer in your sample for data duplication.

  • Blogs are living evolving thoughts. Sometimes issues that are simple to start with acquire dimensions as readers comment. Remember to follow the thread and budget for a bit of time since some trails can lead you on a long trek.

Consumers are opening up a bit more of their world to us. It’s time we took notice.