Much has been written about using social media to reach prospective buyers and influencers, here we will look at how small businesses and professionals can effectively use social media as a market research tool.
This encompasses several things. First, using social media to identify what problems or issues are most of concern to your target audience. Second, finding out how customers feel about your brand and your competitors. Third, what you hear in online communities can alert you to trends that may affect your business. You can also see what types of customer service issues are arising around your offering so you can address them quickly, and where possible, eliminate them in advance.
For the start-up business social media is one of the research tools that can be used to see what gaps in the market you can fill with your product or service. You have the advantage of being able to make improvements in the design of your product based on what you hear before releasing it in order to give your prospects what they want. Whether you are a start-up or an existing business, you can watch the discussions in forums related to your industry to see what recurring themes, problems and wishes come up as this information can help you to more effectively position your product.
If your product is on the market and well recognized enough such that people are talking about it, you definitely will want to know what they are saying. Using Google Alerts based on your product name and other related keywords can help you do this. Often you can use positive comments as testimonials with the permission of those who made them. At a minimum you will want to acknowledge both positive and negative comments whenever possible. It is perhaps even more important to respond to negative comments and do your best to resolve the situation. Even if you cannot completely resolve a customer complaint, the fact that you have been responsive and made the effort creates a favorable impression in the eyes of readers.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ provide Groups based around interests and industries. These can be very useful as you can follow discussions on pertinent topics, ask questions to the group and see how they respond. You can even poll a group that you belong to and do an informal survey.
Twitter can be an excellent resource for real-time research. You can search by keyword for see what is happening right now for any topic. Major enterprises are increasing using Twitter to monitor how their brand is doing in terms of public perception. A tool called Twazzup will give you news results pulled from across the internet. In addition, services such as Feedly and Alltop enable you to follow online publications about any topic you select and aggregate all the relevant articles onto one page for you.
As your social media presence develops, the data you get from your analytics (a very deep rabbit hole) will be extremely valuable. At the simplest level, looking at which of your posts are shared and commented on most often can give you an idea of what resonates with your audience.
Finally, following online discussions can give you a sense of emerging trends which can help you in positioning your business for future opportunities.
If you have found creative ways to use social media to gain more insight into your market, please share them with us.