Qualitative market research and Web2.0
by Markus Scherer, Labbrand
Web2.0 has enabled people to interact, publish, and connect on unprecedented levels. This paper gives an overview of Chinese social networking sites and reveals insights from a study of young bloggers.
As the internet becomes ever more intertwined with our daily lives and growth in penetration rates show no signs of slowing down, more and more people are losing their inhibitions and posting greater amounts of information and intimate details of themselves and their social surroundings online, willing to share these details with anyone who is interested in listening.
The Web2.0 has enabled hundreds of millions of people to interact, join virtual communities, publish their opinions on an almost limitless number of topics and basically connect for whatever reason with almost anyone else who also participates.
In general the term “Web2.0” refers to two key concepts; “user generated content” and “cloud computing”. Of interest for this article is the concept of user generated content, which refers to social platforms such as blogs, social networking sites, and wikis, which enable users to publish content without limitations1. The creation of the term Web2.0 can be traced back to 2005 and is widely accredited to Tim O'Reilly, a supporter of free software and open source movements2.
The Web2.0 has also greatly influenced the way traditional market research was organized and carried out. Technology has enabled market researchers to recruit across the globe and invite netizens to participate in online focus groups, where geography and time zones no longer play a deciding factor. Market research can now reach beyond geographical limits and provide a platform to engage countless people who not only are willing to share but also have something to say.
The Chinese internet: an overview
Just as China has its own unique history, culture, customs, governance and economic situation, Chinese cyber space is also different than that of other countries.
Forget Facebook and Myspace— some of the most popular social media sites in China include such sites as renren.com3, kaixinwang4 and 51.com5. Each site targets a different group of users and is competing with many other sites to capture the growing number of Chinese netizens6.
According to the latest statistics provided by the China Internet Network Information Center, China has more internet users7 than the entire population if the United States of America. More precisely, as of Dec. 31st, 2009, China had 384 million internet users (28.9% of the population) and 3.23 million registered websites8.
Other interesting facts include:
- The number of rural Internet users has reached 106.81 million, accounting for 27.8% of all internet users, with a year on year growth rate of 26.3%.
- The rate for accessing Internet at home has continued to grow. In 2009, 83.2% of Internet users access the internet at home
- Users between the ages of 10 to 29 make up 60.4%, while 30 to 39 year olds account for 21.5% of total internet users. Internet usage by age groups 30 and above is increasing year on year.
- China’s internet penetration rate of 29.8% is 3.3% higher than the world average, with Beijing and Shanghai enjoying the highest penetration rates at over 60%. In comparison, South Korea has the most developed infrastructure with a penetration rate of 77.3%.
Labbrand and the Web2.0
Recently Labbrand worked on a social research project in cooperation with The Sound (a youth research agency) and Pepsi, where we invited leading Chinese bloggers to talk to us over a four day period about their lives, futures, hopes and dreams.
The main objectives of the project were to:
- Understand commonalities and differences among young Chinese,
- Provide insight into social trends,
- Develop a more precise adoption model regarding culture creation, culture influencers, and culture adopters and followers
The client will then use this information as a basis for brand strategy planning in the years to come.
Labbrand recruited 30 bloggers who were divided into three areas they were passionate about: green topics, sports, or fashion and entertainment. Their ages ranged from 16 to 28 and they lived in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai or Shenyang. Invitations were based on their self-generated content and popularity of their blogs, as well as dedication to their passion in their offline life.
The bloggers were invited to participate in a four day online event which consisted of answering questions posted by our moderators, actively engaging and discussing the questions with the other participants as well as blogging on any topic they felt was relevant to the questions we were asking.
Each day had a different theme and a specific objective:
Day 1: Life and location
Objective: to understand how they see their life today and how they believe the city they live in influences them.
Day 2: Identity and passion
Objective: to understand how they believe their passions and social surroundings play a role in forming their identity and what (if any) differences they perceive between their online and offline identities.
Day 3: Sources of influence
Objective: to understand who their role models are, why, and how they share their passions with or are being influenced by them.
Day 4: Sharing passions and ideas
Objective: to understand the importance of sharing their passions and with whom they share their passions.
Four days of energetic participation and intense moderation rewarded us with a content output equivalent to carrying out approximately 10 focus groups. In a second step, the six most active participants were invited to shoot a video. We provided them with a hand-held camera and set of questions for them to address. We received a total of 5.5 hours of video content which was used to create 30 minutes of video insights.
Some key insights
- Common themes discussed across groups included: life pressure, independence, positiveness, open-mindedness, sharing
- Blogging or participating in online forums is a very normal activity for young adults. The popularity of forums such as Kaixinwang, Tianya, Sina or Douban show how mainstream online social networking has become.
- Generational conflict could play a very strong role in the overall wish for belonging. The participants have a family; however their ability to really share what they see and how they perceive their life with their parents and grandparents must be difficult. Compounding the massive social changes taking place are the (to a certain extent) very strict and hierarchical values as well as strong expectations.
- Discussions with participants revealed their desire to belong and fit in with their environment, consistent with a strong collectivist culture. However, this did not mean they were unaware of environmental characteristics, both positive and negative. The need to belong as well as achieve a sense of individuality influenced the identity development of respondents.
- The research method allowed for a high level of interaction with participants and they were willing to share intimate details online.
- Having an in-depth understanding of traditional Chinese cultural values (the cultural context: Oriental vs. Occidental) and how the current economic and societal development influences these values will be key in communicating with this segment in their language.
With its vast numbers of internet users and their rampant adoption of Web2.0 platforms such as social networking sites and blogs, China’s cyber space has massive amounts of information and opinions being broadcast every day. This represents an opportunity for innovative market research methods to be employed, such as those used in this study, that allow this information to be captured and analyzed in a systematic way to glean useful insights. Qualitative methods are particularly effective for gaining an in depth understanding of the subject(s) being studied rather than producing a mere statistical overview. The challenge with using Web2.0 to conduct research is not that you won’t find enough information, but rather how you can sift through the immense volume of data that is potentially available in a meaningful way. It is imperative that market and consumer research take on this challenge and be present on Web2.0 platforms, because today’s consumers in China, and all around the globe, are already there.
- Tim O’Reilly official website: http://tim.oreilly.com
- For more information: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/china_top_3_social_network_sites.php and http://www.technama.com/2009/top-10-best-social-networking-sites-in-china/
- Internet user is defined as any Chinese citizens aged six or above that accessed the Internet over the past six months.
- Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China (January 2010), downloaded from: http://www.cnnic.org.cn/en/index/0O/index.htm
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