Editor's note: Aron Levin is a professor of marketing and director of the Marketing Research Partnership Program at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Ky.  Brian Lamar is director of insights at Cincinnati-based EMI Research Solutions.

Social media has transformed the way companies communicate with their consumers and has given consumers unique ways of communicating with/about companies, sharing their consumer experiences, good and bad, with their friends/followers. As a result, brands have less control over their image and messaging than ever before.

This article introduces a research methodology for measuring the extent to which consumers communicate about brands and consumption experiences on social media. Realizing that consumers now have a large degree of control on brands’ images and more influence over other consumers’ brand perceptions, our methodology includes survey questions for measuring how a consumer is influenced and influences others on social media, related specifically to products/consumer experiences.

Naturally, we expect that our measures of social media influence will vary by age. In particular, Millennials (18-34) are expected to be unique from other generations in their use of social media as consumers and the importance that it plays in forming attitudes toward products and brands. In 2015 Millennials overtook Baby Boomers as the largest cohort in the United States: There are now 75.4 million Millennials (18-34) in the U.S., compared with 74.9 million Baby Boomers (51-69). As “digital natives,” who have grown up in a world of unprecedented growth in technology, Millennials present challenges and opportunities to marketers. Millennials have largely shunned traditional forms of entertainment and media and spend an average of more than three hours a day on smartphones (Kantar 2015). 

New research methodologies for understanding Millennials’ consumer behavior a...