Clients of NetBase often want to know if social media is representative of their consumer base—or, as researchers put it, “Is it rep?” For certain web-based products, that’s a no-brainer—it’s definitely rep. But what about traditional CPG products?

For example, a personal electronics manufacturer told me he thought it would be crazy to ignore social media, but that he didn’t think it was rep. His evidence was that offline primary research had identified a certain main issue for his company’s target consumers, but an analysis of social media identified a different issue.

He explained that consumers online are much more technical than consumers offline, who are not participating in the social media conversation. He said that that accounts for the two research methods identifying different issues.

So then why does he say it would be crazy to ignore social media? Because electronics manufacturers like the one I spoke with recognize that a staggering percentage of shoppers for electronic devices do their pre-purchase research online. Many of these shoppers previously went to professional review websites, but more and more of them are now getting their information and forming their opinions based on what consumers are saying on forums. These opinions, while they may not always be rep, are certainly influencing consumers considering a purchase. Therefore, as the man said, it would be crazy to ignore them.