Reaching the unreachable: Why social sampling gives researchers more reach and precision –and better quality results

The Holy Grail of sampling in consumer research is finding the most relevant and honest participants who can be targeted in a niche way. And in doing so, meeting the time constraints of modern-day sampling. 

Reaching the unreachable: Why social sampling gives researchers more reach and precision –and better quality results

Existing market research sampling methods have limitations in their ability to reach the right audience at the right time frame, particularly in the pandemic age. Phone surveys, focus groups, and live "intercept" methods all have been used for decades to gauge consumer sentiment, but are not as well-equipped to address many current dynamics.  In today’s ubiquitously connected, ultra-mobile world, new ways to reach consumers need to be explored. Web panels have become more popular because of their relative ease of implementation, lower costs, and relatively fast turnaround times, but this method also introduces some challenges. In particular, they aren’t as effective in meeting low incidence rates, and also data quality can be spotty.

Most participants in web panels are incentivized to participate in surveys, and accurately screening them for relevancy is often difficult. Serial responders who use shortcut techniques like straight-lining responses to quickly complete surveys can skew results. A respondent who is motivated by wanting to voluntarily offer their views on a topic is typically a better sample than someone being paid for their opinion.

One of the channels that are oftentimes overlooked in the sampling tech toolbox is social media. Social media offers an opportunity to enhance existing survey methodologies and reach often hard-to-reach audiences. Today, it is possible to target self-motivated and non-incentivized people directly by recruiting participants via channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. There are more than 4 billion social media users worldwide (and the number just keeps climbing). That equates to about 45% of the current world’s population. 

Those channels have become one of the most effective, time-efficient, and inexpensive tools for recruiting target participants to partake in research. It’s a proactive and targeted method. We call it social sampling and it borrows from digital marketing’s highly effective playbook of advertisers who have recognized the precision and effectiveness of targeting niche audiences on a global scale.


The right targeting leads to the right people which leads to quality data

Social media’s main advantage for sample recruitment is its ability to target a specific population. This takes into account age and gender, but also interests, language, geographical area, etc. By surveying consumers virtually, it’s possible to establish trade areas that encompass all the different participants’ respective geographic locations. The inherent precision of targeting allows for participants to be surveyed on topics they actually care about.

These are some of the targeting factors available in social networks: 

  • Geotargeting: country, region, city, metro area, postal, or zip code. 
  • Demographics: gender and age group. education level, relationship status, income, and ethnic affinity 
  • Language: specific languages spoken. Researchers can also combine language with geotargeting to reach users speaking a specific language in a certain country 
  • Interests: Reach audiences based on the topics they are interested in. Some social media platforms offer hundreds of interests to choose from. 
  • Keywords: For networks like Twitter, keyword targeting means reaching users that tweet specific keywords, while platforms like Facebook also target according to the words people use in searches 
  • Devices, operating systems, and network operators: Reach consumers using specific mobile phones, tablets, laptops, or operating systems
  • Your customer data: Social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook allow researchers to upload lists containing user data. Import lists from your CRM system or email database to reach specific people or build lookalike audiences

By opening any social media profile on any platform, you are already providing lots of information about yourself, your habits, your location, the things you like or dislike. The truth is that millions of people trust these channels with their information. This means consumer research can harvest it for honest, respectful purposes. And that way is consumer research. 

Since this method allows companies to target real people who are out there in the real world who specifically use their services and buy their products (or their competitors’), they are also guaranteeing a more representative, diverse, and genuine sample of the larger population. 

Like any survey or sampling method, biases do exist with social media. For example, there is a coverage bias due to the fact that respondents must have internet access and also be social media users (however, this is still a large, and growing, base). Social sampling must also address advertising algorithm biases of the social media platforms, which are designed to maximize cost-per-click. And, cognitive load bias due to longer surveys (e.g. 6-8 minutes) may not be as well suited to older or less educated respondents, but that is the case with any type of survey method. In all cases, social sampling can overcome these biases by sampling enough of the ‘right’ people to reach desired quotas.


Reaching the unreachable

Many survey techniques are bound by targeting people whom companies are aware of at some level. From existing customers or prospects, or respondents who have gone through a highly rigorous qualification filter, the ability to survey consumers who meet specific profiles is a major asset in a company’s client acquisition strategy. But what about those who fall through the cracks? 

  • Secondary customers (those who didn’t choose your brand as their main source of consumption) 
  • Leaving Customers (those who come less and less; who are turning their backs on you) 
  • Lapsed customers (those whom you have lost in favor of the competition)
  • Or just your non-clients

The link or QR code in a printed receipt just won’t cut it anymore. Methods used by major companies (surveys emailed to loyalty cardholders, surveys promoted on receipts, etc.) inherently cannot survey these strategic targets. These methods can only reach your customers, and oftentimes just the most loyal of them. Both web panels and social sampling are methods to overcome that by casting a wide net, but one that still only catches the fish you care about, even if you don’t know about them.


Serial responders need not apply

So when should you look to social sampling over web portals? SOcial sampling is best for reaching very specific, even niche audiences. Supposes you need to survey 1,000 people who live in a specific neighborhood of London or New York and work within a certain industry. With web panels, reaching a sizable quota for criteria that precise would be challenging, if not impossible. 

Another thing we’ve discovered while conducting consumer research through social channels is that companies don’t need to pay participants to answer their surveys. 



Because if you’re targeting, presenting the survey in a compelling way for that target audience, and your questionnaire is not more than 10 minutes long, people answer because they want to. And if the topic is of direct relevance in some ways, chances are that people will want to make their voices be heard.

It's supported by a theory known as “Digital Altruism”. This refers to a trend toward “recognizing that we can make a difference in the lives of others by sharing our knowledge online, and seeking out websites designed such that our everyday activities end up benefiting others.”  In other words, people want to share what they know so they can help others. And we believe this is what compels people to answer targeted surveys without any incentive.

In contrast, web panels are often comprised of professional survey takers who are motivated by a financial incentive. Their profiles can easily be altered to meet specific criteria and demographics being sought by the survey-taler, and many panels are populated with serial survey takers who may not be exactly whom you think they are.


Higher quality data leads to smarter decisions

Consumer insight aims to obtain the highest-quality, most representative data possible. This means companies need to engage with real consumers, who are out there buying their products or using their services. Knowing what a target audience really wants gives decision-makers the tools to develop better offerings, streamline the customer experience, understand demand, competitors, develop new products and services. 


Just as the methodologies used to conduct consumer research, the quality of the data obtained from it is improving. The truth is, the data will define how successful the decision-making process is and therefore, how companies can shape their revenue streams. The trick is making sure the data that comes out of that research is sound, accurate, and a fit to your objectives. This is where the method used to conduct quantitative research is important. Social sampling, using the reach and precision of social media networks, is proving to be an effective method to consider.


Interested in learning more about social sampling and how we run respondent acquisition at Potloc? Check out our public studies at, or better yet, email us today to schedule a discussion with one of our research experts:


Potloc CEO Rodolphe Barrere

Rodolphe Barrere

Co-Founder & CEO at Potloc


Article originally published on Research World