11 Jun 13 Can you use social media for research in India?

Market research is all about ‘Connecting the dots’ when it comes to obtaining the data, analyzing and drawing conclusive insights. In recent years traditional market research methods are being complemented with new market research techniques. There is a lot of buzz around social media. This frenzy got me wondering about who was doing social media research (SMR) and its many variants such as social listening or social monitoring and whether it can be done in India.

For what purpose is social media research being used?

Social media research can be broadly defined as the activity of collecting insights on relevant trends from social media conversations, comments, etc. In this digital age, print media is slowly diminishing and companies are adopting social media as a medium to engage with their customers, build communities to understand behavior of customers, engage with them, influence their purchase patterns, or to understand what they think of the company’s products, brand, exchange of ideas, customer service, etc.

So I decided to test if we could use this technique for an on-going research project. The idea was to understand what intelligent building consultants or system integrators have to say about adopting new automation technology in India. To make this activity successful, I posted my query across all the major social media platforms available. Well this is what happened:

– Of the total responses received, 98% were from across the globe although the query was India specific

– The smallest number of responses was posted by target respondents in India and intelligence was negligible

– Hits to the post varied depending on the type of the platform. For example, in this case, LinkedIn got more hits compared to other social media platforms

Did this social media research help me?

Unfortunately it is big ‘NO”, I had to revert to conventional methods of market research to obtain the intelligence. But if we analyze this example, it’s very clear that social media users in India are not very active when compared to those in other countries. I believe the diversity, lack of internet access, social media access, and plain disinterest to engage in online forums are some of the reasons why it is less likely to work in India.

Why social media research has limited scope in India?

India has about 140 million internet users, but the penetration of the internet across the country is barely 11-15%. While mobile phone usage has 78-80% penetration with more that 950 million users, social media penetration is hardly 7-10% across internet and mobile usage combined. This shows how small our respondent pool is for social media research. Apart from the low penetration of social media tools, there are other factors which contribute to failing of social media research:

Reach of social media in India

A majority of social media users in India are urban and they constitute to only ~40% of the total population. Of these, very few actively participate in social media activities. And for the rest, social media is primarily a medium to keep in touch with family, friends, or a forum for entertainment. This is evident from one of the projects we did for an international FMCG firm. They wanted to understand their brand presence across metros, Tier I, II & III cities and the rural segment. Now using social media research to obtain this intelligence especially for Tier III cities and the rural segment was completely ruled out as internet access there is limited and social media awareness is next to nil.

–    Usage limited to urban youth

Even among urban users social media is popular amongst the younger generation and is constantly used by this group. However, many sections of the society in India that have no access to social media or simply prefer to stay away from it. Non-representation of these segments in market research will lead to skewed data and will definitely impact the reliability of the findings.

When does social media research work in India?

Well in my opinion social media research may work for certain niche geographies like urban India, among youngsters, internet savvy population, or respondents working in the IT/ITeS industry, and for certain types of research studies to collect customer intelligence, in B2C industries etc. Recently ValueNotes carried out a study on product launch intelligence for a mobile handset manufacturer. This study helped the client with competitive intelligence on a competitor’s planned product launch – product features, pricing, customer segments, and product launch date. ValueNotes trawled social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, etc. – to gather intelligence from employees, vendors and other influencers who were discussing the impending product launch. An analysis of the online chatter, coupled with in-depth interviews with industry experts and sales personnel, helped us create a product matrix of the competitor’s new product.


Social media research can be successfully used as a research tool, but it has limitations in India, because not everyone uses social media or is actively participating on discussion forums. Provided it is combined with conventional research techniques, it can be used to research certain communities that are active users of social media like urban youngsters, employees across IT firms, BPO/KPOs etc.

Well this is my opinion, but I would love to hear your experiences with “Social Media Research” in India.

Shilpa Eguvanti

As a team leader at ValueNotes, Shilpa managed research projects ranging from market sizing to voice of customer studies.

  • Shilpa Eguvanti
    Posted at 04:01h, 12 June Reply

    Hi Siddharth

    Thank you for insightful comment. It is true that many companies are investing in social media monitoring tools, but the question still remains will it work for India?

    It has huge scope for projects like understanding brand visibility, customer needs etc. but it should definitely be complemented with other techniques too for qualitative intelligence.


  • siddharth sinha
    Posted at 15:24h, 11 June Reply

    well social media is definitely the next step. At a global level, end user companies including retailers, FMCG companies are already using it but India is still a question mark.

    From the suppliers perspective, IT/BPO companies like CG, TCS, WNS, Genpact are heavily investing on building platforms and promoting their analytic tools to generate insights. These companies are following a non linear revenue growth model i.e. investing on tools and technologies rather than on people i.e. keeping the same headcount.

    Increasing demand for actionable insights from end users, quick decision making, reduce product to market time will definitely drive the market for social media research. Further, Indian/global companies (having operations in India) facing increased brand switching cost will leverage social media as a medium to understand the Indian consumer

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