Social Media Robots, Personas, and Narrative Gaps in Qualitative Research

April 1, 2011

Back in 2006 Hugh Macleod offered the following point on Gapingvoid: “If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.” At the time I thought it conveyed nicely the point made by Gerald Zaltman in How Customers Think that “companies should define customer segments on the basis of similarities in their reasoning or thinking processes” (p. 152) rather than constructs related to demographics. Hugh’s point made a lot of sense when I first read it and the point continues to gain in significance for me.

Hugh’s initial post sparked a range of interesting comments that I encourage anyone puzzled by the quote to read. The one point I’ll make about the topic is that nowhere in the post or the comments does anyone say what they mean by narrative gaps. I’ll attempt to clarify the concept below because it doesn’t simply mean stories. Stories that fill narrative gaps do so by purposively or accidentally creating personal curiosity, imagination, intrigue, or mystery for people experiencing them.

Narrative gaps in our personal stories are resolved through other stories about our own experience, perhaps with a product or service, that help us make sense of the feelings evoked. Specifically, Hugh noted in a later post that people fill in narrative gaps with meanings they construct from their own stories. It is on this point that the concept of personas becomes relevant to narrative gaps and to a recent conception of how to use social media robots, especially DigiViduals™, in qualitative research. Moreover, in this respect I suggest that the challenges involved are analogous to key ones faced by industrial robotics.

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