The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Take me to your leader

Itıs a strange world when a web site created four years ago by a student in his room at Harvard is now valued at around $15bn yet there is speculation that Facebook could tempt Microsoft to expand its tiny stake in the company into a full blown acquisition offer, such is the popularity of social networking.

Why, I can hear you ask, is this relevant to qualitative researchers? Well, dig beneath the surface of Facebook and you'll find the answer. Take some of the applications that are being launched.

Socialistics, for example, works on the principle of "know your friends by the company they keep". It displays detailed demographic information about your network but can also identify relevant information about the people you know ­ and highlight those who are the opinion formers.

In other words, Techlightenment ­ the development house behind this Owork in progress' tool and other fun versions like its Bob Dylan application ­ can use the information that people leave on their Facebook pages to build up pictures of networks and individuals, and enhance them in the process.

Brand owners are thus presented with a completely new way of marketing and researching, using seemingly unconnected fragments to build a greater whole. Away from social networking and into the broader digital world, this offers an end to uncertainty for media buyers. They can track actual behaviour, noting clicks, inquiries, and even sales through the consumer's resulting 'clickstream' as it follows them around the web. The resulting trail provides marketers with an increasingly sophisticated picture of each one, enabling them to craft an ever more tailored online experience.

So what more can a researcher offer? Perhaps, as one article in this year's AQR Directory proposes, it's those fine tuned filtering skills, combined with analytical nous, that will win the day.

 

Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008