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The New Marketplace of Social Unrest: How Social Media Has Increased the Value of Market Research

Protests and social movements occur in every part of the world. Both organized and not-so-organized demonstrations happen daily, but most are small in scale, and don't draw international attention or a widespread public reaction. We only hear of those that prove to be substantial in force and/or size. However, recently we've been seeing these substantial social movements becoming more and more prevalent. Some recent examples include the demonstration activity in Gezi Park in Turkey, Egypt and even the events surrounding the filibuster by Texas politician Wendy Davis. What explains this increase in social unrest?

Although there isn't just one answer, many have attributed this trend to the rise of social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter. As you've likely witnessed, social media has become a popular outlet for people to vent frustrations. Even in repressive settings, many people have access to smartphones and other Internet-enabled devices, making it much easier to share their chagrin at the drop of a hat. Once someone becomes aware others share in their frustration, it validates what they're feeling, giving them the confidence to say and do things they may not have done otherwise.

Before social media came into play, organization of rallies, demonstrations and protests were done via word-of-mouth. As Zeynep Tufecki (@zeynep) explains in her research blog Technosociology,

"a political protest is a strategic game with multiple actors including a state which often wants to shut them down. Too slow diffusion of information and your people will get arrested faster than they can show up at all. That is why the speed of the initial response curve is crucial."

So you see, social media is enabling activists (as well as non-activists) to disseminate information instantaneously, reaching an exponentially greater number of people. It's not necessarily that more people are becoming involved than before social media; it's just that they are communicating and organizing much faster.

This improved ability to quickly organize in protest not only affects the political world, but also the corporate world. You'll recall the infamous Qwikster announcement of 2011 when Netflix decided to separate their DVD rental service from their online streaming service, requiring customers to create two separate accounts. After powerful customer backlash, the company ultimately cancelled their plans to split the company. More recently, XBox and Instagram have had to embarrassingly backpedal after product changes and announcements were devastated by social media commentary.

As marketers and public relations professionals, it's important that we learn from these mistakes. This new social paradigm highlights the importance of doing proper research before, during and after making any major change to your company, products or services. The Quikster disaster could have easily been avoided through proper focus group testing and surveying of their customers before the announcement.

You've heard it said: "it's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." However, social media has dramatically increased the damage that can happen on the way to forgiveness. These days, it's probably less damaging to ask for permission than forgiveness.

Filed Under: social media

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