It's no surprise that companies and retailers all over are investing more resources into tracking information posted on social media sites. What is surprising is just how useful this data can be; for a very low cost, companies can track valuable information like what consumers "like" and what they're searching.
As the above Times video shows, companies can combine this information with personal user information like name, age, gender, location, photos, etc. to create a more unfiltered profile of a consumer than would typically be gathered in a focus group setting.
Using social media as a sort of replacement for focus groups has proven particularly rewarding for companies because they get uncensored feedback and results. These unfiltered comments and results eliminate some concerns that are typical in traditional focus groups, such as respondents not having enough opportunities to express their opinions, expressing opinions that are not their own in effort to appease the moderator, or to not be in opposition with other members of the focus group. Social media also allows companies to get a lot of information from younger consumers, an age group that typically doesn't engage in focus groups.
As social media usage increases, market researchers will undoubtedly continue to exploit the information posted on these sites. It will interesting to watch how the development of social media encroaches on traditional research methods.