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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blogs in Research Action

I've become slightly wary of touching the subject of blogs in research - or of Web 2.0 in general. Any time you take a moderate 'hang on a minute' view in the current climate, you're in real danger of being branded a luddite. (This happened to Nick and I when we dared to question the hype aroung blogs in Research Magazine this summer. The magazine gave Nick's latest response to a rather hostile reader letter the nice title 'blog off'…) So, first of all, yes, yes, we are of course excited about the opportunities of the 2nd wave web for marketing and communication. And we believe that blogs can add to the research process, we think that they can make our research better, add to our work, in many cases give us a bit of a 'leg up' BUT - and it's a big but - we don't think they can replace good old talking! To some extent this is taking up the baton from Geoff's recent post in a different context - face-to-face interaction just can't be completely replaced… To prove our point...let's talk about how we recently used blogs as part of our method for a brief on sponsorship. This required us to look at snowboarding - what people got out of it and how they related to it, what they saw it as being all about - and how it was and could be used in sponsorship. We conducted a first phase of desk research employing 'blog scans' (with the help of a news reader and blog search engines). This threw up different types of blogs/blog entries - a mix of dedicated snowboarding and personal blogs reflecting different levels of involvement - from the real enthusiasts to people who had 'only' been on one recent snowboarding holiday. And we did learn quite a bit - for example that different audiences saw a sense of freedom and thrill at the heart of snowboarding, that people viewed it as slightly anarchic, free-spirited younger sibling of skiing, that people could get 'hooked' very quickly but cost might prevent them from going too often etc… We also could have drawn some conclusions on snowboarding and sponsorship based on desk and blog research alone - we could easily have drawn up a list of brands involved, picked up some opinions on their involvement. However, we still would have missed out on a lot that we learned from face-to-face interviewing - and possibly could have got a few things wrong. Looking at the snowboarding enthusiasts' blogs you could easily have got the impression of a distinct tribe - united by a particular language, the kit, possibly some brands - and you would have missed out on one of the main characteristics of boarding we picked up during groups and depths. When we interviewed boarding enthusiasts and journalists a recurring theme was the inclusivity and open-ness of boarding. We were struck by the resistance to regarding the sport as something rarified you needed special initiation to. Unlike other 'tribes' one could think of boarders seemed in essence very anti snobbery. Whilst this didn't mean that a brand involved in sponsoring snowboarding didn't need to show understanding and respect towards the sport, it also meant that there was little in-going resistance to outsiders getting involved - as long as they offered something to boarding in return. And of course 'trad' qual research also allowed us to canvas opinions about snowboarding and as such its potential as sponsorship vehicle for our client from mainstream consumers who were unlikely to have thought ACTIVELY about the sport before but when asked about it, clearly did have a view. Without face-to-face interviews we could not have been able to make a clear call as to how aspirational snowboarding is amongst 'normal' young people, arguably the most interesting question our clients needed answering … To cut a long story short - this 'real life' example really means to illustrate what we've been trying to say about blogs as research tools: they are great when trying to elicit - or even engage - people who have an a priori interest in a particular subject. But for our purposes they are somewhat limited - as they are, by their very nature, self-selecting both in terms of content but most importantly in terms of audiences. To re-iterate something I talked about a few weeks ago - brands need to talk to people who don't care all that much too and it is simply very difficult to get to them by electronic means… I'm glad we had blogs to look at before we conducted groups and I'm sure our findings were enriched by them. But, call me a luddite if you like, if I'd had to choose, I'd rather have done without the blogs than without the talking…