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Special edition: The new product development process

How can social media fit into the NPD process?

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 18-Jul-2012

Social media allows companies to feel out consumer perceptions of ingredients and concepts at the beginning of the product development process – and combines well with more traditional consumer research, says social media research firm Loudpixel.

Loudpixel is a Lansing, Michigan-based research firm that combs through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, comments, videos, forums, and mainstream news to pinpoint what kinds of conversations people are having online about specific ingredients or products.

The company’s co-founder and director of analytics Allie Siarto told FoodNavigator-USA that there is a surprising amount of information that can be gleaned from social media about who is talking about your product, what your competitors are doing, consumer perceptions of certain ingredients, who those consumers are, and broader conversations about health perceptions – all of which are important factors at the beginning of the new product development (NPD) process.

In addition, online consumers may also provide important insights about products just after they enter the market.

“We look for three things: Relevancy, sentiment, and context,” she said. “Within context we are looking at everything from ‘what people are saying about this?’ to ‘who’s talking about it?’, as well as any information we can find about the larger archetypal trends: Are they moms, students, men, women?”

Who says what, where?

Siarto said that the information is somewhat limited to defining broad trends from publicly available information, but social media-based research can give an interesting snapshot of public opinion, particularly on Twitter.

“About 70 to 90% of [relevant] conversations are on Twitter. It is a short platform, but people really do share a lot of information in those 140 characters,” she said.

In addition, the use of images and short descriptions provide a lot of information about those doing the talking, often including gender, approximate age, and perhaps location.

“Forums tend to be much more anonymous.”

Meanwhile, companies that have their own social media site – a fan page on Facebook for example – can access a lot more information about their potential customers, including specific requests for flavors or products.

Combining social and traditional

However, traditional market research still has a role to play in NPD, and can work well in conjunction with social media-based research, she said.

“I think they are very complimentary.”

While social media-based work can help in the initial ideation stage to get an idea of the market for a product, who would potentially buy a product, and what your consumer base cares about, traditional market research, such as focus groups, could be more useful for determining the flavor of a new product, for example.

“You could spend thousands of dollars on putting together focus groups,” she said. “…But there are so many opportunities out there to look at key words and get a lot of insights really very cheaply.”

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