Social Media Mining
Twitter analysis as a trend barometer
Social media sites are the fastest way for consumers to share their opinions. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has therefore established a Social Media Mining team that systematically sifts through Twitter, Facebook etc. in order to identify trends in the display market early on. The knowledge thus gained is helping to improve the company’s collaboration with a number of business associates.
What do customers think of the latest cell phone? Do consumers really like curved displays? Before such questions make their way into newspapers and magazines, they have often already been answered already on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, or else in blogs. Social media is where opinions travel the fastest.
“Social media offers huge potential for market researchers,” says Markus Czanta, who is responsible for global technical marketing within the Display Materials business unit of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “We therefore try to find the best ways to analyze social media to help us achieve our objectives.”
Prospecting in social media
Experts refer to these analyses as social media mining. In order to learn more about the desires and needs of specific target groups, analysts systematically sift through social media sites in search of valuable information — like prospectors digging for gold underground.
Global companies that manufacture and market televisions and smartphones have been mining social media for a long time. After all, many of their customers are end consumers who are very active on social media sites. These customers tweet and post information and opinions that are extremely valuable for market research companies.
Markus Czanta, head of technical marketing at the Display Materials business unit, systematically sifts through social media
© Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, however, does not sell its liquid crystals to end consumers but rather to leading display manufacturers with which it has long-standing business relationships. So why should a company like Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, practice social media mining? “Because we want to identify groundbreaking trends early on,” Czanta says. “And also because the results of our analyses give us a unique foundation for discussions with our business associates and customers about new projects, products, and technologies.”
The Social Media Mining team was established in summer 2013. At that time, three trends were converging. First, customers were repeatedly asking Czanta about the company’s views regarding the development of the display market. For example, what features would the TVs of the future need to have in order to offer genuine added value? The routine reports of the relevant market research institutes weren’t providing sufficient answers to that question. Secondly, colleagues returning from trips to the United States and Asia were talking about display formats that were as yet unknown at the company headquarters in Darmstadt. Was Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in danger of missing the boat in terms of pioneering innovations?
Finally, the analysis programs for professional social media mining had become so technologically advanced that they could now be expected to yield reliable information. When filtered according to region, language, and keywords, the analyses were producing real-time results that put modern market research at eye level with actual occurrences.
Expert knowledge plays a key role
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, now uses two such programs — one for rapid analysis and another for a more detailed analysis of the initial results. “Our evaluation process is by no means completely automated,” says Czanta, the marketing expert. Instead, the Social Media Mining team’s expert knowledge of display technology also plays a key role in ensuring extremely reliable analyses. “That’s why we don’t use outside agencies to evaluate the results,” Czanta explains.
The quality of the results depends in part on how precisely the analysts formulate their questions. People who use search engines are familiar with the problem. For example, if you want to find out something about televisions, it’s not a good idea to simply enter “TV” as a search term. If you do that, you will also get a lot of results concerning TV schedules, TV stars or other TV-related information you are not interested in.
In order to avoid receiving such unhelpful results, the Social Media Mining team at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has created its own glossary for the search strategies it has developed — its internal expertise, so to speak. All of the relevant aspects, ranging from display sizes to viewing angles and color quality, are systematically structured and documented here.
Initial analyses in English and Chinese have already been carried out successfully. The key questions include the following: Which smartphone manufacturers, and which of their products, are mentioned most frequently? Which television models with curved screens are talked about most often?
Social media mining puts market research at eye level with actual events
© Getty Images
The company’s specialists continually addressed the second question throughout 2014. Month after month, they listed the number of hits that various screen sizes (48, 55, 65, 75, and 78 inches) generated on social media sites. Standard screen sizes topped the lists for quite some time. However, in November the amount of attention paid to the biggest screen sizes increased dramatically after one manufacturer presented a new television with a gold-colored back. “First of all, this result enabled us to find out at an early stage that a model like this even existed somewhere,” says Czanta. “Secondly, we knew that this special model was dominating the discussions about televisions.” The opinions of the people participating in the discussions revealed a clear trend that was confirmed by further research: Most of the discussion participants did not really like the new model.
Knowledge of trends can result in market leadership
Results like these will serve as a basis for more effective collaboration between Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and its customers in the future and for the initiation of new projects for developing innovative products. “Companies that are able to identify trends early on can also be the first to launch new technologies and products on the market,” Czanta explains. “That’s a true competitive advantage.” Czanta’s team may still be in the learning phase, but it has already agreed on plans for close cooperation with two business partners. The goal is to shorten the development times for new displays and to further expand the company’s technology leadership in the display sector.