When it comes to social media, digital strategist Jason Falls is all ears.
For years, he has analyzed conversations on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to glean consumer insights for big brands. His latest endeavor, the Conversation Research Institute, is a formal effort to do so.
“One of the reasons I’m fascinated by this is that I’m just a dumb kid from Pikeville,” Falls said in an interview at Please & Thank You in NuLu. “When I make a recommendation to a client, I have data to back it up. And having data means I’m not making any assumptions.”
It may sound like some fancy think-tank at one of the Ivies, but Conversation Research Institute is the business that grew out of Falls’ research. The institute says it mines online conversations for consumer insights that drive business and marketing decisions.
“There are millions of conversations happening online right now,” Falls points out on his website. “And you can leverage that focus group of millions of people to make smarter decisions for your business.”
Social media is also speeding up the pace of market research. Falls said that he can provide clients with nearly real-time data.
Ray Nelson of Social Media Today noted: “Traditional market research methods, such as surveys or study groups, could take months to plan, form and execute. With social media, research can be conducted in a matter of minutes or hours. This makes it possible to use market research to follow increasingly specific aspects of your marketing efforts.”
For nearly a decade, brands and companies have been hiring people and agencies to monitor their social media activity. Or they pay big prices for social listing software or licenses that are complicated to use correctly.
In doing so, these companies have been engaging their customers through social media in a “reactive way,” Falls said: A customer mentions a brand on Twitter, and the brand responds. But Falls said that reactive engagement is only about 10 percent of what CRI can do for customers.
His company promises to tap into this focus group, elevate insights about buying decisions, emotional triggers and purchase behaviors that cannot be surfaced in traditional research. “It’s about the journey customer takes to make decisions,” he said.
Falls’s partners in CRI are Mike Meyer, who’s in charge of operations, and John Bennett, who’s in charge of sales. The two of them are only working part time and hanging on to their full-time jobs for now.
Falls, who lives in Louisville, is still consulting, including at the St. Louis-based Elasticity, where he was senior vice president of digital strategy for two years. He’s still creating content and doing speaking gigs. But he feels very confident about the future for CRI.
“There’s no one doing specifically what we’re doing,” said Falls, especially not for midmarket and small businesses. “That’s a gap,” he said.
The company has a “dozen-ish” clients so far, he said, and no headquarters currently.
Falls said there were many ways people could avail themselves of CRI’s products and services. On the most basic of levels, CRI can train people on those expensive software platforms to maximize their effectiveness. “But, really, we want to be the analysts,” he said. Right now the products and services CRI offers cater to businesses and brands with money to spend, but the company may look for a subscription model catering to smaller businesses and agencies by the end of the first quarter of 2017.
One way the company is doing this is creating industry reports, in-depth research of particular industries and their potential customers. The first one will examine the elder care industry and will come out sometime in January.
Falls said that he discovered that people take to social media at four distinct points during the pursuit of elder care for a loved one. At each time, these potential customers are asking different questions, stating different emotions. The first is when they are coming to terms with the fact that their loved one may need care. The second is after they’ve made it over that emotional hurdle and have started to look for a facility. The third comes right after they enroll their loved one in the facility and are expressing their first impressions. And finally, people then engage with social media about their dealings with the facility.
The CRI industry report on elder care will address all of those junctures in the experience of obtaining help for a loved one and what people are feeling, needing and asking during each part of the journey. “What are the characteristics of each conversation?” Falls said. This product will cost less than $2,000 and will help companies better understand, engage with and market to potential customers.
Falls said that analyzing social media trumps traditional customer research because it’s “the largest focus group in the world.” He said that the feedback that he finds for companies on social media is unsolicited, and therefore more reliable. In a focus group you’re responding to questions, you’re thinking about the answer. But on social media, you’re talking about an experience because you feel compelled to.
“From reduced costs and real-time access to information to the ability to uncover hidden trends and improve your marketing approach, social media offers powerful ways to optimize the market research efforts of any business,” Nelson of Social Media Today wrote.
“Every company needs to understand its customers to make smart decisions,” Falls said.