Interesting insight recently in discussing the value of social media with a client. She was of the opinion tht there was no need to do social media, because she trusted her focus group research more.
Setting aside the other benefits of an active social media strategy, including lower cost, I would still argue that social media is, in many instances, a better measure.
First, and not to get all “physics-y” on you – I’m a liberal arts major, after all – but the Observer Principle comes into play with focus groups. People are performing, both for their peers in the focus group, and for the group facilitator.
Same thing happens with social media – the urge to be noticed is pretty much universal – but I would argue that it’s much less pronounced if only because the interactions are much less forced. People can talk about whatever they want. If they’re talking about your product it’s because they have something to say, not just because you asked and they feel they need to say something.
More importantly, though, is the idea that social media removes the bias of the questioner. You can’t find the answer to a question you didn’t know to ask. That’s why listening via social media should be more productive than asking questions from an agenda.