Using Twitter in qualitative research


One of the main points made when crucifying the focus group as a qualitative research tool is its artificiality, its way of abducting the consumer from its natural context and putting him in a moderation room. As a reaction to this shortcoming marketers resort from time to time to more ethnographical approaches, like IHV’s, AST’s etc. The idea is to get the researcher integrated in the natural context. If for focus groups the ideal is going as deep as possible, for the IHV’s is ear dropping.


In this context comes Web 2.0 with all its networking and socializing potential and short after, the idea of using it as a research tool. Add this to the marketing guru frenzy when everybody is desperate to buy a ticket to some bold, bare foot marketing gods that say the same fundamental stuff but with different wrappings, all of them announcing web 2.0 as the second coming. And so, you get a wave of enthusiasm towards research on YouTube. Twitter, blogs, Face book, Yahoo Messenger, forums, online communities etc. Now everybody can eardrop on everybody. And at this point something very interesting happens: people start thinking that this is a great tool researchers can use to tap consumers’ real feelings, wording etc. As a result, a long list of arguments in favour of stalking online communities raging from low costs to the raw, uncorrupted character of the data emerges.


What almost everybody seems to forget is exactly the background. Yes people are not inhibited by a moderator, and mirror, and camera but they are inhibited by themselves, their peers, the medium and many others. Take Twitter for example. In there you choose your crowd. Friends, people that seem to share common interests or common friends are the usual choices. On top of that, come opinion leaders, the cool people of the day and somewhat more official sources – companies. And all these birdies tweet. But they tweet with a reason – they want to be perceived in some manner (a little sparrow wants to be seen as a hawk), or they want to belong to a certain crowd (the duck trying to stay with the swans), they want to have access to the cool links etc. And all these reasons alter what they’re tweeting about, how they do it, when and with whom. And here comes the clever fox thinking that all that it has to do is to listen in on the tweets and find out where the birdies keep their eggs. So it goes to and puts in “eggs”. And it sees the sparrow bragging about her big nest in the mountains, the duck saying it has no time to lay eggs as it’s occupied with facial treatments and thinks “jack pot”. But in fact it does not have a clue.


Coming back to the real world, we have to understand that all these web 2.0 developments offer us new ways of conducting research but do not simplify it to the extent of a Google search. It just provides us with more info sources which we still have to interpret against the context. So, do not think that the further away from the moderation room, the more real it is.


4 Responses to “Using Twitter in qualitative research”

  1. Hi, welcome to the blogging space! With this post you just gave me another matter to think about. You’re right with the “natural context”, this is the way to uncover many more truths than in a focus group with double way mirror.

    But the “research” content on web 2.0. is also on the verge of splitting itself in 2 directions: hiding & revealing. I cannot understand to what extent can I use some info reliable because they are real or should I dig a lot more into connotations & ethnographic stuff.

    I mean people are revealing if they are or not in a relationship on facebook. They are giving personal info about themselves, but when relating to a brand, or to a promotion on a website are they lyres or show men all the time or can they be honest for a moment?

  2. well, the thing with 2.0 and research is that we now have tons of information. that means the organization and analysis is a pain in the ass. but you can always do disaster checks, or infiltrate within a community and ask about stuff you’re interested in. but the thing is that if someone is looking for biased-free, proven, qual info’s on a specific target (you know, like in the brief), then you have a problem, and web 2.0 can get you hypothesis that you then need to check somehow.

    anyways, nice article. congrats for the blog!

  3. This is such a great post – and a very important one.

    Context is, indeed, EVERYTHING. Without understanding the context, there cannot be meaningful analysis.

    P.S I love this part;

    “…the marketing guru frenzy when everybody is desperate to buy a ticket to some bold, bare foot marketing gods that say the same fundamental stuff but with different wrappings, all of them announcing web 2.0 as the second coming.”

    Beautifully said!

  4. […] conduct research, it is still a bit contrived at the same time.  The Yellow Submarine blog has a good post about this…  Many people are tweeting with the goal of being perceived in a certain […]

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