Social Media Provides a Limitless Focus Group

Social Media Provides a Limitless Focus Group
By Dr. Alok Choudhary

Marketers gathering information from a traditional focus group can often seem similar to scientists observing an animal species in a zoo. But to truly learn about the species’ behavior, it’s better to visit them in their natural habitat. For marketers, that opportunity now exists through what I call the ‘Limitless Focus Group’ of consumers sharing their insights through social media networks.


A significant portion of the world’s population now uses social media, with Facebook alone boasting over 1.2 billion active monthly users (AdWeek). This level of engagement creates a huge volume of people sharing their thoughts not only with friends and family, but also with brands.

This level of sharing has resulted in an enormous amount of data coming from the ‘natural environment,’ which is therefore more reflective of consumers’ interests, predictive of their future behavior, and responsive to current trends than a traditional focus group could ever be.

Limits of a Traditional Focus Group

A traditional focus group relies on a contrived environment to observe behavior. Like the species in a zoo, people included represent a part of a larger population that have nothing in common except some key indicator. But these indirect connections cannot possibly reflect the interests of each person, so the results are less accurate, or predictive, as those gathered from people interacting normally with each other.

So the findings of a focus group are limited by:

  • -Making the world static, like a snapshot in time, without the ability to take future events into account.
  • -Operating in a vacuum and not taking into account the participants’ other interests, such as TV shows, sports teams, and news. By focusing solely on their brand interaction, marketers lose the opportunity to plan across other channels.
  • -Taking too long. By the time products are designed and tested, the world has often changed by the time they’re ready to launch.
  • -A focus group, or even a series of groups, can only accommodate a small number of people, giving marketers insights into only a tiny slice of their target population.

The Limitless Focus Group

Now consider the Limitless Focus Group that is created by social media sharing. It offers marketers a far more powerful resource by:

  • -Constantly evolving, using the environment of social media to provide a space for consumers to interact with brands in a more natural environment while also tracking behavior shifts that marketers can use to predict changes or trends.
  • -Being scaled across affinities that show the many interests and connections of individual users on social media offers insights across affinities. This gives marketers a tool for better targeting for brands and planning for multiple channels.
  • -Operating in real time with instant and ongoing feedback on products and trends, allowing new products to move to market faster.
  • -Including billions of people. Because of the ever-increasing number of active users on social media channels, brands can gather feedback from an enormous volume of consumers.
  • -Reaching further. Social media sharing not only allows marketers to observe responses to its own products but it can also track whole categories and even competitors in real-time.
  • -Measuring better. Marketers can assess advertising effectiveness both before and after using social media, providing critical short cycle measurement.

The Limitless Focus Group of social media sharing provides marketers exponentially more than a traditional focus group by expanding the universe of data available to them. This leads to better, faster, and more predictive decisions.

Dr. Alok Choudhary is the founder, chairman and chief scientist of 4C Insights. He is also the Henry and Isabel Dever Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University, and teaches at Kellogg School of Management. He received numerous prestigious awards including National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award IEEE Engineering Foundation award, an IBM Faculty Development award, and an Intel Research Council award.