Editor's note: Kelly Hancock handles communications for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association.

It’s no secret that social media is rapidly changing our society. It’s affecting interpersonal relationships, purchasing decisions, business initiatives, one-on-one and mass communication and more. The role of social media in the modern world has made it increasingly important for qualitative researchers to understand new methods of communication and adapt their research approaches accordingly to capture the deepest insights.

While some researchers are integrating social media methodologies into their research projects, even those who don’t are experiencing – and sometimes leveraging – the power of social media in their daily work.

In this virtual world, people are highly accessible and willing to publicly share the happenings of their lives. Hundreds of millions of people around the globe post details about themselves daily, enhancing opportunities for market researchers to learn about a specific category, brand or product.

The amount of qualitative data available to researchers increases with every share, pin, post and tweet. As a growing number of social media users expose more about themselves, qualitative researchers have a growing opportunity to gain better perspective into people’s lives. “People are online and socializing, which means that it’s very easy to reach them there,” says Ricardo López, president of Hispanic Research and a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). “Research becomes easier when things are accessible. I utilize social media to find target markets, study what people are saying and proceed with analysis.”

This connectedness broadens horizons for qualitative researchers, who find that people are online more and engaging more. “Mobile devices expand the possibilities of when and where you can interact with consumers,” says Liz Van ...