We know that social media is a powerful tool and that tapping into it for the likes of social media scraping or accessing insights from respondents is raised as a norm in brainstorm discussions and proposals. Old news, right?

So why am I surprised by the power of social media? It was a small but significant experience, a fleeting moment where I put something ‘out there’ not expecting the number and depth of response I subsequently received.

A colleague was recently considering an RFP and did a ‘shout out’ to all HRW researchers asking if anyone had any insight as to why women waited until they are 35 years or older to have children and in those cases, how they plan conception preparation with a focus on supplements they took while trying to conceive.

I was 41 when my children were born. I had my reasons for ‘waiting’ – most of it out of my own hands. I gave my colleague my perspective. However, that’s just me and I wondered what other people’s rationale was. I picked up my iPhone and tapped on the Facebook icon. Without spending much time thinking about it, I posted on my page simply asking friends and family who ‘waited’ to have children for their rationale. I didn’t spend as much time crafting this question as I would when professionally developing research materials. After all, those in my network on Facebook are friends and family – it’s not LinkedIn where, for me at least, the experiences and my behaviours are very different. I asked for PMs – despite my rush to get the question posted, I did at least recognise it was a personal question. I put my phone down to focus on my own work.

“Ping” – a PM. Less than 5 minutes after posting, I received a detailed and heartfelt response from a friend. I wrote a considered reply and thanked her for her time. But she replied and we had an in-depth discussion via PM. Conscious that I needed to focus on my own ‘do to list’, but conscious too that I had exposed this question and a good friend had offered me her story. I could not ignore that she had opened up to me in such a personal way. My own work had to wait while we ‘chatted’.

“Ping” – Another perspective again not to be dismissed as not important enough to warrant a response. And so, my afternoon continued in this way. My phone was hot to say the least. Into the evening while I ate dinner with my husband, while we watched TV, while I cleaned my teeth. I was chatting to numerous friends about their deep and emotional stories.

The next morning, I passed my insights onto a somewhat surprised colleague – he hadn’t anticipated so much. My phone continued to receive messages that day and even the following day. In total out of 158 people in my Facebook network, 16% responded to me. Consider removing all those out of scope (they did not ‘screen in’ to my simple criteria) then arguably the majority of ‘the universe’ had responded.

Just 12 hours after posting, I could summarise these key insights relevant to our study design:

  • 100% due to circumstances such as careers, finding the right partner, wanted to be settled (often sealed with marriage) and partners needing to be ‘won over’ to the idea. These things – often in the above order, mean women are in their 35+ years by the time they are at a point of planning for children.
  • Some are 35+ when they are successful in having a child, however they may have planned to much earlier but suffered the heartbreak of trouble conceiving or miscarriages along the way.
  • The journey is very emotionally packed and with pressure – especially for those who are still on that journey (e.g. finding a partner) and all too aware that being a mother might never happen to them (one of my friends commented that she has looked into egg freezing too late in her life)
  • Asking about vitamins needed to be set up properly. Research needed to allow women to tell their story before getting to the topics of vitamins etc.

We know the power of social media is significant, but experiences such as this continue to surprise me. I opened up a can of worms when I posted my question. My friends and family were enthusiastic to share their stories. They didn’t ask why I wanted to know but gave me deep and precious stories.

We will always understand the power of social media and utilise it for insight gathering in market research – however I have been reminded about how valuable my own network is and that sometimes one doesn’t need to look very far at all to find that nugget.


By Victoria McWade

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