Aside from the tragic cost of human life, the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 will cause the global economy an estimated $2.7 trillion in lost revenue. Some experts have predicted a further rise in digital marketing and a decline in traditional marketing. TV advertising revenue is down around 10% , causing a decrease in share price of TV companies. Whilst industries affected by a global lockdown such as travel, tourism, sports and construction have taken a hit, many others have benefited from changing behaviours. Video conference software Zoom for example recorded a share price rise from $70 to $150 (Jan-March 2020), creating a $42bn valuation.

Smartphone in a tunnelOut of all this chaos, there has never been a more important time for digital transformation and for research. Whilst researchers are working furiously on direct solutions to the pandemic, there are also a whole host of opportunities for researchers in any field to evaluate the effects and disseminate the findings in a clear and beneficial way. This may be a white paper, YouTube video or Tweet in addition to the long piece of writing required by a University.

As a PhD and Masters dissertation supervisor in digital marketing and digital business, all of these global changes affect our students research. Face to Face projects and research such as interviews or in person surveys can no longer take place. These projects need to be adapted to use distance methods such as interviews or focus groups through Skype, Zoom or telephone or deploying surveys via social media. There are conflicting views on the benefits of interviewing people in person. On my PhD, I used a combination of face to face, Skype and interviews through social media direct messages which gave me more flexibility to cross geographical and timezone barriers to reach more people. I found this to be a  rich way of engaging with people using a netnography approach. Netnography was founded by Robert Kozinets as a way to conduct qualitative ethnographical research online.

Rovers NetworkFurthermore, there are so many great tools to gather data from social media networks to obtain quantitative and qualitative data. Marc Smith and I ran a workshop at the Social Media and Society Conference in Toronto on combining Social Network Analysis (SNA) with Netnography. I’ve created a 3 part guide to studying online communities with netnography and social network analysis in the video below or here. 

Marc founded an incredible tool called NodeXL, which allows data to be downloaded from networks such as Twitter to identify the shapes of networks, who is talking to who, key moments and key influencers. Combined with some further qualitative analysis, you have a powerful combination as outlined in this article. Furthermore, it is possible to take data from networks such as Twitter using NodeXL and create different types of visuals using free tools such as Gephi as above.

Esports fan engagement ladyOther kinds of operational challenges exist. For example, the postponement of major events such as the olympics creates havoc with students that had planned their entire study on this event or for example, measuring the flow of traffic in a city. Each circumstance will be different, in some cases, the study may pivot, so for example, switching cases to online events or esports. In other cases, students may have to gather other types of data or apply for a delay or interruption of studies. Where possible, it is good to pivot the case and work around the issue. It is also an opportunity to create some accessible and useful insights to help in some way.

It is also interesting to evaluate how brands are keeping their social media channels and content alive by staff working from home. In some cases, brands are using previously generated content and in some cases, pivoting. A good example is the #QuaranTeam cup – an esports FIFA2020 tournament for football league clubs. I recently watched Blackburn Rovers player Brad Dack representing his club in the tournament live streamed on Twitch.tv. The club then Tweet like they would in a real match.

This brings a new audience of football fans to watch esports for the first time. For some fans, this experience may not be a patch on watching ‘real’ football (live, streamed or on TV) – but it is a good free substitute, with thousands tuning in and more social media content and conversation generated. The boundaries continue to blur between the real, virtual and half real. Sports clubs also strive to engage young audiences, which means that esports and other technologies are increasingly important for brands.

Are you having to adapt your digital marketing or other research to cope with the global pandemic? I would love to hear from you, drop me a line.


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