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How big business swapped focus groups for Facebook apps

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Big consumer goods companies are turning increasingly to social media to gauge the tastes of their customers — but it's not all smooth sailing.

Lay's in Thailand (resized)
Lay's in Thailand (resized)

The New York Times published an illuminating feature earlier this week, revealing how big consumer goods businesses are relying increasingly on social media in place of traditional focus group research. One of the companies profiled is snack producer Frito-Lay, which uses a Facebook app called "Lay's Do Us a Flavor" to harvest swathes of raw data on flavor preference — while opinions are still being taken in the US, a similar technique has already been used in Thailand to trial and introduce a spicy crab flavor chip. But using social media for this sort of research also has its downsides. Facebook apps provide vast amounts of data much more quickly and cheaply than focus groups, but they also tend to skew results towards younger customers — a problem for companies such as Wal-Mart, which rely on the cash-heavy pockets of middle-aged consumers. Head over to The New York Times to find out what other techniques brands are using to keep up with customer tastes across the age spectrum.