29 June 2017

The Packaging of Anthropological Knowledge and Its Merits According to Market Research Experts

In a Harvard Business Review article To Get More Out of Social Media, Think Like an Anthropologist authors Susan Fournier, John Quelch, and Bob Rietveld (August 16, 2016) advocate that marketing managers must begin 'social listening'
There is something marketing managers seem to forget about the internet: it was made for people, not for companies and brands. As such, it offers managers a source of insight they never had — social listening. The authors go on to argue that social listening competency will be critical to competitive advantage in the digital age*.
In continuation of our posts about social media these past two weeks, it is interesting to explore the growing business of anthropological techniques in market research. As discussed in a past post from Anthro Everywhere! anthropologists are playing a bigger role in this applied market which is a growing alternative career for anthropology graduates (see for example, #AltAc Anthropology Careers - The draw of experiential design firms).

Yet, how do non-anthropologists describe the anthropological approach and its merits?

The authors of To Get More Out of Social Media, Think Like an Anthropologist article argue that
Social media data is inherently qualitative and while it can and should be quantified for manageability, at some stage in the analysis it must be treated and represented as qualitative. In order to “appreciate the qualitative” and extract meaning from it, managers have to think like anthropologists and jettison many of the scientific principles that underlie traditional hard science research.
In this article, the authors ask those interested in analyzing public posts across various social media platforms as market research in order to critically reflect on 'issues' related to social media research (but qualitative research in general). These issues include:
  1. Adequate sample size 
  2. Finding so-called representative samples 
In response, Fournier, Quelch, and Rietveld argue that: "social listening in its purest form does not presuppose anything and this unsolicited quality creates an opportunity to answer questions that managers do not even know they should ask." They go on to advocate that "managers (need to) drill into the data to ask questions, not confirm or reject hypotheses." And by "moving beyond the science of data management to the art of interpretation," managers looking for consumer insights need to "embrace the context offered in qualitative commentaries."

The Packaging of Anthropological Knowledge is something blogger Jennifer Long is increasingly interested in. Questions for further study include: 
  1. Who has the 'right' to speak about (with authority?) on the methods and practices of anthropologists? 
  2. How can anthropologists 'package' our knowledge in consumable and accessible ways to have the most impact? 
  3. What language or terminology will reach which audiences? Why?  
Your comments, as always, are welcomed on twitter @anthrolens or @JennLong3

*Note, the authors of this article use somewhat problematic language as 'eavesdropping' which may spur an ethical conversation among anthropologists but the focus of this post is about the nature in which the work of anthropologists is described by non-anthropologists (who may or may not have anthropological training).

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