The Bieber Effect: 5 Reasons Polls and Surveys Are Becoming Outdated
The rise of the telephone in the 1970s was followed by the peak of something slightly less sexy: The telephone survey. Today, you’re probably more likely to share your opinion by clicking a button or using a hashtag, but some digitally-sourced big data may not be any more sophisticated than “Press one for ‘no.’”
Whether you’re answering questions on your phone during dinner, participating in an online survey, or even giving your opinion without realizing it, surveys and polls can present woefully skewed results. Here’s what’s really going on (and why it’s probably Justin Bieber’s fault).
Information is Incorrect
A recent study published by the Palo Alto Research Center found that when entering location-based information online, 34 percent of social media users specified locations that were incorrect, incomplete, or downright sarcastic (some of our favorite locations included “Justin Bieber’s heart,” “outta space,” “non ya bisness (sic),” and of course, “Wherever yo mama at.”
This incorrect (albeit entertaining) information is difficult to analyze mechanically, which is how most market research firms utilize social media. That 34 percent chunk of incorrect information can result in seriously skewed results surrounding location, demographics, and eventual survey answers – and that’s a lot of data to throw out.
People Are Choosy
Today, the landline is more pariah than progress, with 43 percent of adults opting to go for wireless phones only. In short, it’s just harder to get ahold of people than it once was.
Landline-based surveys can be a losing battle. Not only do fewer people actually have landlines, but the population as a whole is much choosier in how they spend their time. That is why we believe that calling landlines is an inaccurate form of market research. If it’s not fun, useful, or rewarding in some way, an action is skipped over for something else. Shorter attention spans and a greater sense of desirability mean that boring polls and surveys are DOA for most choosy users.
Surveys Get a Bad Rap
Almost everyone has been the victim of a spammy survey initiative showing up in their email inboxes. And while they have a massive reach, email market research campaigns aren’t exactly welcomed by users who are protective of their time and information. An unsolicited email can seem like a breach of privacy, resulting in a user who has a negative opinion before even opening an online survey or poll.
They Aren’t Good Cross-Sections
When was the last time you went online to expound upon your satisfactory toothpaste? People are way more likely to give their opinions on something that they love or something that they hate. Rarely does someone answer a survey for a product that they feel “just OK” about. But feeling just OK about your toothpaste is completely valid feedback and the kind of stuff brands need to know.
Therefore, one of the glaring issues with surveys and polls is that those who are firmly in the middle of the road in terms of opinion simply don’t answer. Instead, you have polarizing results from people who have very strong opinions and can miss out on the feedback from those who are slightly more objective and neutral.
Social Media is an Unpredictable Barometer
Another reason to blame Bieber: A few years ago, Columbia Pictures was doing some market research for their upcoming Angelina Jolie vehicle, Salt. To test the waters of interest, they began monitoring the hashtag #salt on Twitter; what better way to find out what the general public thought?
After seeing a massive spike in #salt mentions, Columbia figured they had a slam dunk. The problem? Justin Bieber had just announced his tour dates; #SaltLakeCity was trending.
Social media is often touted as a way to get better, less-biased results, but social media can be wildly unpredictable. Just one mention could spike topical interest, only for that interest to crash and burn hours later. What’s more, using mechanical means to gather and analyze data can create incorrect results when done without a human element. In short: Computers don’t really know how to assess social media tone and intent.
Most market research firms are still using surveys and polls as part of their information arsenal, but the data might not be all that reliable. When technology changes, so should the methods of gathering intelligence. There are new and innovative methods of market research data collection which avoid many of these traditional pitfalls. Unfortunately, however, without the right tools, even advanced polling methods could produce skewed, unreliable results, and eventually result in low ROI.
Don’t thank us. Thank Bieber.