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Social Research : A complete guide

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Table of Contents

What is social research ?

Social research is the study of people that circles around understanding, describing , evaluating and predicting human behaviour to identify and fulfill the needs for specific products and services required by targeted individuals. Social research allows organizations to update their current knowledge according to changing market circumstances and conditions.

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SOCIAL RESEARCH1

The underlined idea behind studying human behaviour is that people having differences in terms of geographic , demographics and socio – economic backgrounds are bound to have variations in needs , preferences , interests , behaviour and psychographics. It is this understanding that facilitates segmentation, customization and other aspects of business functioning that allows organizations to deliver better results.

Social research methodologies are sub-divided into two categories :

  • Qualitative research: Qualitative research offers a subjective approach of understanding human behaviour using communication , observation and or analysis of descriptive texts. It tries to look at similar traits through different perspective to encompass all possible viewpoints.
  • Quantitative research: Quantitative research relies on statistical data analysis to study the data collected . This provides substantive results based on hard figures which makes the behavioural study more accurate and reliable for end users.

The choice of method depends upon the nature and scale of the study along with the feasibility with which each of these can be carried out by employing minimal resource usage . For example : Large scale research which necessitates the participation of a large number of people is difficult to analyse in a qualitative manner and so , quantitative analysis is a more viable option for making the data presentable and understandable by all stakeholders.

The assessment of stress levels of individuals and identification of causa proxima is a simple example of studying social phenomenons that can be done using quantitative or qualitative methods.

Importance of social research

Update brand knowledge: Social research helps in shedding light upon current customer behaviour with respect to trends , preferences, interests and mindset. This is done through a scientific approach that prevents brand knowledge from going obsolete , allows brand to design offerings by understanding current market conditions and offers high reliability. 

Societal developments: Social research identifies similarities and differences between groups of people . This helps in unifying diverse social groups by formulating appropriate solutions based on a cohesive and unbiased understanding of the situation. By removing disparities , social research brings together people belonging to different backgrounds to generate what’s truly considered as unity in diversity.

Resolving social issues : Social research points out the existence of social issues and their causative factors. By narrowing the field of study , social research reveals the reasons behind the existence of such issues, people’s attitude , past conflicts, pressure points and by providing such data , provides scope for progress by fuelling appropriate follow up actions.

Growth and welfare: Planning for investment in social development and growth is only possible when such planning is in line with people’s needs and they are acceptive of it. Social research gathers information on the requisite changes that people feel should be brought about. Further , it assesses people’s approach towards policies and plans that are implemented

Directional investment: On an organizational scale , social research seeks to get a hold on the psychographic and behavioural customer aspects to invest resources in areas which generate good return on such investment. This reduces the risk associated and nudges the company in the right direction.

Improving techniques and practices: Social research uncovers new practices as well as upgrades existing ones by deriving a relatively more efficient methodology. These practices act as benchmarks that are required for improved functioning and generating competitive advantage.

Objective of Social Research

Social research aims at discovering new concepts and ideas while working on improving existing ones. Social research studies human behaviour and its interactions as part of a bigger society consisting of a mixture of people from different socio-economic backgrounds. This study of behaviour is also carried out over a period of time to study changes. Investigating the reasons behind such changes is central to accurate planning. 

 

Beyond this, social research is also a continuously developing mechanism in itself. Using past experience and new ways of collecting and processing social data, social research seeks to develop, imbibe and implement new facets to understanding social behaviour.

Types of social research

Qualitative research : Qualitative research uses open ended textual questions to gather social data . This is done using research mechanisms such as one on one interviews , focus groups , direct interactions and analysis of published case studies and other content. Respondents get a chance to elaborate on their experiences in an elaborate manner allowing room for a large number of insights sufficient to make reliable conclusions. Such data is highly subjective and so projects the variations in the sample of respondents.

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Quantitative Research :  This type of research makes use of close ended or structured questions to gather numerical data . It is usually carried out for proving or disproving a hypothesis or a theory. The results are used to derive market information and verify if it backs up claims. Predictions made using such data are particularly important for developing future strategies. The data collected is subjected to statistical analysis and the results get presented in the form of tables , charts , graphs etc to facilitate easy understanding by the end user. Surveys and polls are the commonly used tools for gathering numerical data. 

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Primary Research : The process of collecting first-hand data directly from the targeted respondents is referred to as primary research. Primary research is a reliable way of making sure that the information so collected reflects the current social characteristics. Researchers design a questionnaire that covers all relevant aspects of interest which are then sent out to the respondents via multiple distribution channels. This way , responses get efficiently collected and converted to presentation models based on end usage. Surveys , polls and questionnaires are the dominant tools in this category of research.

Secondary Research: Secondary research relies on previously published data to answer research questions. Data gathered on similar topics by other researchers are used to understand social behaviour. This saves the additional cost that incurs when going for primary research. Published reports , books , articles , audio and visual data offer convenience in using a ready made assortment of information. However , care must be taken in identifying the correct sources , failing which , the quality of research can be severely affected.

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Scope of social research

Social research unlike other forms of data collection deals with complex human behaviour which is highly subjective and difficult to grasp. To facilitate an all round understanding, social research covers multiple areas of study such as : 

  • Anthropology 
  • History 
  • Economics 
  • Education 
  • Economics
  • Demography 
  • Business Management 
  • Linguistics
  • Psychology 
  • Technology 
  • Geography 
  • Environmental conservation and management 
  • Politics and foreign relations

 

Customer experience

Methods of Social Research

Surveys : Surveys are the most commonly used research method. They are easy to design , distribute and collect. The emergence of advanced survey software have made survey research a highly appealing research mechanism whereby focused data collection takes place in a timely manner. These surveys get distributed to a targeted set of individuals with specific qualities that make them eligible to answer certain topics relevant to their knowledge base. The presence of a plethora of analytical tools for qualitative and quantitative summarization of information makes surveys a highly attractive option for conducting social research of any scale.

Social research surveys can be subdivided into:

Longitudinal surveys : an observation research method that involves evaluating the same set of variables over a time frame

Cross sectional surveys : an observational research method that looks at data from population at different points of time and as such is not spread over a time frame.

Correlational surveys : a non- experimental research method that gauges social behaviour in a natural scenario without having any control on independent influencing variables , thus , delivering highly authentic results.

For example : A survey study of satisfaction levels among people belonging to different age groups at the start of a year is a simple application of cross sectional survey research . Respondents can be asked to rate their satisfaction levels , their perceived reasons and what they think they can do in the coming year to improve those levels. Causes identified may include high academic or work stress, poor financial situation , lack of opportunities , absence of companionship etc .

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Experiments : Experiments are a way of testing hypotheses to extract accurate conclusions based on substantial evidence. These experiments can be conducted in an artificial or a natural environment . 

Artificial environment research allows the researcher to manipulate extraneous variables to create varying  conditions to suit research requirements. Natural environment or on-field experiments are carried out in an actual setting without any kind of researcher influence. The choice of experimental study is based on the choice of the researcher and the nature of the study.

For example : Concept studies that focus on finding out the effectiveness of certain cosmetic products like sunscreens. Test subjects are carefully selected and are asked to apply the sunscreen and carry on with their everyday schedule while the researcher observes and measures the improvement in their skin over the course of the research.

Interviews : Interviews are a conversational based data collection method . Here , the researcher interacts with the respondent or the respondent to uncover participant views on the topic under consideration. The question designed by the researcher influences the quality of data that gets collected. The questions asked from different respondents have to be kept uniform to allow comparison and contrast. Such a format also provides the respondent with the freedom to elaborate on their views with any restriction. This helps in reflecting light upon various insights that can be used by the end user.

Interviews can be conducted online or offline. The added advantage of such a format is that there is little room for errors and confusion. As this format is interpersonal , it provides researchers with the opportunity to explain and elaborate on any instruction and clear any ambiguity that the respondent might have with respect to the research.

For e.g.: Brands can interview a targeted segment of customer to understand their sentiment towards a product launched by the brand . Their attitude towards the product can be examined with reference to their geographic and demographic information to reveal insights into how these details affect customer behaviour.

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Observations: Observation is participation based research . In this , researchers take part in the regular activities of a targeted group of people by merging as one of their own. Researchers get to observe the individual behaviours without disturbing the natural setting. This type of social research takes place over a period to address trends , institutions as well as behaviours. 

Identifying the correct position that a researcher needs to take in order to monitor the relevant changes is key. The researcher tries to blend in without disclosing their true identity to avoid compromising the research.

For example : In order to study the lifestyle lead by people living in rural areas , researchers can spend a considerable amount of time living in a village whereby they take part in panchayat activities , socialize with other villagers to understand how people indulged in different types of occupations sustain themselves as well as evaluate the level of healthcare , education , transport and other kinds of facilities available for the rural people.

Explore all the survey question types possible on Voxco

Explore all the survey question types possible on Voxco

Steps for conducting a Social Research?

1) Identification of the research objective :

Social research can be carried out to find causes behind an existing problem , reveal hindrances to current social development , test the validity of a hypothesis , describe social phenomenons that already exist or update knowledge regarding a social phenomenon.

Research can only begin when there is a study topic that needs addressal . Social research tries to transform the underlying research question into effective answers based on current information by  focusing and narrowing down on peculiar aspects of the issue in consideration.

2) Study of existing literature:

There is a possibility that someone else had also raised the same questions as the researcher and the research carried out by them helps in finding research answers or at least supplementing the research with existing data. Reviewing existing data can help to avoid repetition , discover the proper methodology and unveil previously unexplored areas. 

Moreover , if a similar study has been previously carried out , studying previously published data can save a lot of time and resources by eliminating the need for primary research or by eliminating unnecessary fields.

3) Formulating an action plan :

Action plan is the guide to the research procedures to be carried out with respect to the distribution , collection and analysis of data. It is a start to end journey planning for the research. It is imperative that the right method of observational or experimental research be adopted, data gets collected in a timely fashion and the right tools are chosen for analysing and summarizing the data in a manner that is comprehensible by all end users.

The process of selecting the sample is also included in this part of the procedure. The eligibility criteria for selecting the targeted sample is used to ensure that only those who have the capacity to create a value addition get included. This gets done by way of defining the entire population to which the results of the social research will apply . Beyond this , the researcher selects a sample of a limited number of individuals who are capable of representing the ideas and perspective of the entire population thus , preventing sampling bias.

4) Monitoring distribution and collection

Once the processes have been finalized , the researcher should formulate short term objectives within the span of the research. These objectives serve as a progress bar for tracking the efficiency of the research procedure. Primary data collection requires additional effort as against secondary data collection and so the need for short term objectives to be set increases. The monitoring process should be tailor made to factor in the nature of study , mode of collection and distribution, sample size , scope of the study and the degree of accuracy that the researchers seek to achieve.

5) Conducting data analysis:

This is the most integral stage of the entire research . If this stage goes wrong , the entire research can go null and void .

Once the data gets collected in a raw format , the task of the researcher is to translate this raw data into meaningful categories according to the research objective or issue that needs redressal . This is a simple filtering process that eliminates any unnecessary information that might not contribute to the research goal and makes the data complex for any follow up handling. 

Following this organization , the data is subjected to statistical and data analysis tools that have been hand picked to derive meaningful insights. With the upcoming data analysis , this task has become easier than ever whereby the computers perform any complex calculations and hand them to the user on a silver platter.

6) Assessment of results :

Once the data becomes presentable, it is used by multiple stakeholders and users to deliberate whether the data so collected helps in answering the research questions.

This can be the substantial backing that proves or disproves a formulated theory , the accuracy of the description of a social phenomenon , the identification of a social evil , issue or problem and the data’s ability to identify the proximate causes that can feed formulation of appropriate results.

Research is only fruitful as long as it yields relevant information about current situations . It is this assessment stage that fits the data into the gap between implementation of strategies and identification of a problem.

7) Publishing results:

Lastly, the researcher needs to report the findings of their research and conclusions made by them in a meticulous manner that is easy to understand for any interested third party. Points of coverage include:

  • Research topic 
  • Reason for investigation
  • Problem
  • Methodology
  • Sampling technique 
  • objectives
  • Knowledge gathered 
  • Findings and derivations
  • Final conclusions
  • Inspiration and requirement of further research

 

Must have features for a social research software

Omnichannel

Social researchers need to ensure they cover every demographic appropriately. Every demographic has their preferred means for contact. It can be different for millennials, for older people, for working professionals. Voxco’s omni channel social research tools empower researchers to collect feedback via all channels. These channels can be online, through phone and through face to face interviews.

Analytics

With Voxco, researchers can visualize their data on dashboards and uncover insights. Analytics tools come in handy for researchers when they wish to make sense of the data they have gathered. Data collection is critical for social research, but to get insights, researchers can leverage analytics tools to understand relationships between laws, policies, products and the audience or demographic they are intended for.

Flexible hosting

People would only partake in surveys if they were sure their identities and their responses were private and secure. For researchers, the security of their demographics’ responses is extremely important. With that as a key consideration, Voxco’s omnichannel social research software allows research organizations to conveniently store data on their own premises, in a manner which is fully compliant with their security protocols. Research agencies also have the option to store their respondent data securely on cloud based servers.

Incentivization

It is a tough task convincing respondents to take time out for surveys. This is especially true for lengthy research surveys, interviews or observational social research. For such respondents and scenarios, Voxco’s omnichannel research tools can conveniently and seamlessly integrate rewards into surveys via which one wants to conduct research. These rewards are presented once respondents have completed surveys. 

Incentives are an excellent way to ensure high survey completion rates, and generally gets people to sign up more easily for future surveys as well.

Read more

Hindol Basu 
GM, Voxco Intelligence

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