In all of the posts I’ve read about social media measurement, very few address the possible role of qualitative research — measuring when you don’t have data — so let’s take a look at that today, shall we?  This will not be boring, I promise.

To make sure we’re all on a level playing field, let me quickly review the difference between QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE data.

Quantitative marketing research is descriptive and conclusive.  It addresses research objectives through numerical measurement and statistical analysis.  In the social media world, this means data you can easily collect and measure like tweets, page views, comments, and perhaps even sales.  These are the facts and figures that get all the headlines. 

Qualitative Research is more, well …  touchy-feely.  It uses small samples and may involve focus groups, interviews, and behavioral observation.  Although it does not lend itself to statistical analysis* it can still be a quick and effective way to tell a story.

Because of all the free and voluminous data available through the social web, most of the attention is on the sexy quantitative side, but it might not be the best way to show value or tell your story.

Story time

Let me give an example from my own experience …

In addition to marketing and management, I also have a background in organizational development.  On one of my projects, I was delivering a training program to help correct dysfunctional management-union dynamics in a large company.  The people who went through the program raved about its effectiveness and had concrete examples of how it was dramatically improving the workplace.  The company’s top managers — who would not go through the program — were very skeptical about any progress and, lacking measurable results, were leaning toward cancelling it.  Like most managers, they demanded quantitative measurement … and I didn’t have it.  Sound familiar?

At the next employee training session, I mentioned that the program was probably going to be cancelled. The result was an out-pouring of outrage by both union and management participants. I had a video camera nearby for a training exercise and said, “Excuse me, but would you mind if I just turn this thing on to record your views?”

The group proceeded to tell story after story about the benefits of the training and also scolded upper management for not attending.  I edited the video to conform to the 5-minute executive attention span and played it during their next meeting. The managers sat dumbfounded and impressed as their employees passionately talked about the tangible benefits of the training. By the end of the meeting they all committed to attending the training themselves and expanding the program — without one pie chart!

Apply this to the social web

I use this example because like PR, marketing, or social media programs, training is very hard to quantify on a nice, neat spreadsheet.   This situation was a perfect time to use stories — qualitative data — to define value in a very different, yet compelling, way.

When you’re struggling to measure the value of social media marketing in your company don’t overlook the possibility of using qualitative stories from customers, employees and other stakeholders.  They might be showing up every day in comments, reviews, and customer meetings.

The technology of the social web offers unprecedented ways to capture and display this qualitative output.  And you know, sometimes all it takes is ONE story to provide more new insight than a dozen graphs!

What are your ideas?  What are some of the ways we can use stories to demonstrate the value of marketing through the social web?

*Michelle Chmielewski wrote in a {grow} comment that values can indeed be assigned to qualitative data to create numerical analysis. In effect this is how sentiment analysis is conducted. However, I was just trying to keep it simple today! : )

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