The value of a company’s market research largely depends on the quality of its data. Up to now, companies mostly relied on online panels and crowdsourcing platforms that pay participants for sharing their opinion. However, such financial incentives often diminish the quality of the collected sample as they motivate an overrepresentation of unemployed subjects and aggravate the problem of automated bots „answering“ the survey. In the collaboration with the Swiss marketing start-up Boomerang Ideas, Prof. Anne Scherer and Dr. Andrea Bublitz from the URPP Social Networks at UZH explore the potential of social media as a new participant pool for market research. Boomerang Ideas has developed an online self-service tool that aims to make social media accessible as a novel participant pool. The solution builds on an algorithm that allows a quota-based recruitment of survey respondents through targeted social media ads without the use of any monetary incentives.

In 2021, Boomerang Ideas collected thirteen political polls relating to several Swiss national referenda (N between 416-976). In a first validation study, Prof. Anne Scherer and Dr. Andrea Bublitz compared the data collected on social media (i) to polls from major Swiss news media organizations such as Tagesanzeiger and SRG as well as (ii) to the final votes realized in the referenda. The analysis uncovered that the data collected on social media accurately reflected the public opinion: Votes collected by Boomerang Ideas often aligned with votes communicated by Tagesanzeiger and SRG. In some cases, Boomerang Ideas even approximated actual voting results more closely than traditional polls. Further insights could be drawn from the data: On average, Facebook users held a more conservative political opinion (e.g. in favor of the Burka initiative or opposing the E-ID law) while users from LinkedIn, Instagram or Snapchat were more progressive. All in all, the validation study yielded first empirical evidence that Boomerang Ideas and social media in general offer a fast and affordable alternative to collect large customers samples that depict the public opinion.

Over the next two years, Innosuisse finances the collaboration between the UZH URPP Social Networks and Boomerang Ideas to further explore the potential of social media for market research, particularly for A/B testing and experience sampling. As companies often lack the means to establish an infrastructure that enables experimental data collection, mostly big tech companies are conducting A/B test today. Offering an opportunity to easily conduct A/B tests on social media will lower the barriers to entry and enable smaller companies to conduct experiments to objectively evaluate their ideas. Experience sampling on the other hand increases participants’ engagement, hence strengthening data quality and market research validity. As individuals participate in a series of short surveys over time, measurements are more immediate leading to a more accurate elicitation of subjective thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.

In this Innosuisse project, Prof. Anne Scherer and Dr. Andrea Bublitz will explore individuals’ motivations to share their opinion on social media and test the effects of different survey framings on participants’ decision to participate. To evaluate the quality and validity of data, responses collected by Boomerang Ideas will be compared to responses collected by traditional market research organizations.