When we think about customer research, we often look to surveys, focus groups, follow me studies, digital analytics and metrics, secondary research, and the like. We rarely consider content analysis as an option. However, I find content analysis to be a research method that provides amazing communication insights about a company’s content and how it communicates about itself. This is why in my book, Relationships versus Revenue: Win Both, I included content analysis as a method to evaluate communication effectiveness for the approaches in each conversation quadrant in addition to qualitative and quantitative methods. Words are powerful and your choices in how you use them—to define topics and develop tone—can have profound implications.
So, what is content analysis? According to the Columbia University’s Mailman School, "Content analysis is a research tool used to determine the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within some given qualitative data (any occurrence of communicative language—text, video, social media, books, etc.). Using content analysis, researchers can quantify and analyze the presence, meanings and relationships of such words, themes, or concepts. Researchers can then make inferences about the messages within the texts, the writer(s), the audience, and even the culture and time of surrounding the text."
I formally first encountered this research method when I went back to school for a second master’s degree, this time in communications. I saw how powerful it is and why it is so necessary. Content analysis helps you understand objectively what your content is communicating through word choices, themes, topics, and tone to validate if you are supporting your established communication goals and strategies. It brings both worlds of research together—the qualitative and quantitative. With content analysis, you can make quantitative determinations based on your original qualitative data set.
Before we continue, I’d like to clarify what I mean by content in this digital age. To me, content is an element that builds a conversation with someone else. It could provide information, help solve a problem, or contribute towards a collaboration. Functionality in an app, digital conversations on social media or chatbots, conversations over the phone or in person, or even a product or service that provides information could be considered a type of content.
What’s involved in a content analysis project? From a very high-level….first, you need to determine what you want to learn about your content collection by defining the study and identifying classification elements. Then you define how you want to tag elements to prove your hypothesis. Then you actually tag your content. Once this is complete, you can analyze your data to determine if you validate your hypothesis or prove something different or discover another insight. Throughout this process, you may quickly realize that content analysis projects are very manual and its tedious work. It’s something that you may want to automate and have an AI analyze. However, it is important to read through the original content yourself to understand the significance of its elements and identify additional data points to determine trends and raise insights.
A content analysis research project can be compared to working with a stylist to understand your personal style by reviewing all elements in your closet that contribute to create your looks including shoes, clothes, accessories, jewelry, hair, nails, and body image. We don’t consciously think about it, but all pieces of our wardrobes define us in some way. When you look at all of these pieces objectively, you may realize that some pieces don’t belong or aren’t reflecting who you are today. Similarly, content analysis gives you a broad look at a collection of content as a whole and the ability to evaluate messaging across all pieces. This analysis allows you to determine if you are executing your communication strategies properly, or not. It can also provide baseline research to determine what you are communicating today, and by mapping this to the performance of pieces and analyzing the relationships between the tagging and results, you could determine how you could improve your communications in the future…possibly by revising your strategy to create a plan to meet your communication goals.
Content analysis provides an opportunity for you to get a broader perspective of what is being communicated. Clicks, views, and knowing how far down a page someone is scrolling will give you insights into the effectiveness of how content is being communicated, mainly received, but that insight doesn’t give you a complete picture of what you are communicating about your company overall or what people are saying about it. But if you combine both the what and how in your analysis, you get great insights into how your content topics and communication methods together build emotional engagement with your readers or viewers so you can change and improve results.
If you ask me, doing the occasional content analysis studies on your content collateral collection, social media posts, customer service call transcripts, digital support forums, and other content sources will give you insights into how your employees, customers, and others speak about your company, express your brand, and communicate with each other. You can discover how your brand is being communicated by all of those stakeholders and gain insights into the quality of relationships developing between them—customers, your company, and employees. You can find out what makes them emotionally engaged, what topics and tone build a relationship, and get ideas for how to build it so it can grow. Content builds a conversation. Conversations build relationships. Content analysis can help you see how your content is contributing towards conversations and building relationships between employees and customers so you can improve them and increase your bottom line.
Hope this was helpful! Thanks so much and have a great day!
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