Social media has proven to be a golden opportunity when it comes to research. No longer do companies have to rely on small sample surveys or focus groups; they now have millions of consumer comments at their fingertips.

But how to find all those comments? And what to do with them once you have them?

Firstly, let’s consider why you might be doing market research. You might be:

  • Looking to understand how visible your brand is in comparison to your competitors.
  • Looking for a gap in the market – what do consumers want that isn’t being delivered, by you or your competitors?
  • What your customers like and dislike about your brand/products.
  • What a certain type of people (mothers, teenagers, car enthusiasts, etc) think about specific topics/brands/products.

Social media monitoring tools allow you to quickly and easily mine thousands of conversation about your brand for the first time. Those comments can be stored and are searchable, and of course, are publicly available. 

‘But what’s wrong with traditional market research?’ I hear you cry.

Well, whilst traditional research methods are still valid and valuable, monitoring social media is a cost-effective way of complementing them and even replacing some of them. 

Instead of having to send market researchers across the globe, you have global conversation at the click of a button, allowing delivery of both individual responses and rolled up data in one.

Plus, monitoring can have added benefits to traditional research, such as uncovering trends or insights that you had not considered or spotted before, as well as backing up findings from traditional research methods (or, in some cases, contradicting them, in which case why can be a revealing insight).

There are various elements of market research that you might use monitoring for, and this article will give an overview of them. 

Evaluating competitors

Social media means that you can keep tabs on your competitor’s activity and your position within your market much more easily than in the past. Online monitoring can give you powerful insights into both competitors’ online and offline strategies when it comes to branding, strengths, weaknesses and the perceived value by customers and industry thought leaders.

With monitoring you will be able to see what does and doesn’t work for your competitors, therefore learning from their efforts, whilst also showing you gaps in the market by identifying what your competitors aren’t doing. 

For example, you can uncover:

  • How are they interacting with customers and prospects?
  • What kind of marketing campaigns are they running?
  • Where are they getting PR?
  • What is their brand messaging?
  • How much do people talk about them? What are the key topics?
  • What causes spikes in conversation about them?
  • What do your target customers like about them?
  • How does customer perception of you differ from perception of them?
  • What products or services are they focusing their efforts on most?
  • What new products are they developing? 

You should monitor competitors on an ongoing basis; social media monitoring allows you to do so with little maintenance as once you’re set up, data will continue to be added going forward.

Understanding consumers

Consumer research has, in the past, been dominated by focus groups and surveys. These can be effective, but lack the unfiltered, unprompted opinions that social media allows us to access. 

Social media monitoring allows you to listen in on conversations consumers are having with their friends, family and followers and gives access to:

  • Independent, candid opinions.
  • Large samples.
  • Ability to experiment based on what you are finding.
  • A searchable record of conversations.
  • Automatic analysis of the topics, common keywords and sentiment of conversation.

Finding your audience

It can be difficult to know where your target audience is hanging out online. For some industries, people discuss products and brands in fine detail on very niche forums. For others, fans may be on more general lifestyle forums, or writing a blog. For many, consumers are focusing their time on their favourite social networks. 

You can use social media monitoring to search for discussions around a topic or theme, rather a specific brand or product. This is an oft overlooked use of tools. By searching for phrases and keywords within your industry, you can begin to learn where people go to discuss that topic/industry.  

Once you’ve found these communities, you can monitor them for topics that attract the most attention while seeking ways to subtly promote your brand.

Familiarise yourself with the communities and understand how they like to communicate and form their opinions; this can help you develop your next marketing initiative. What topics do they seek advice for?

Are reviews and recommendations important to their decision-making? If you can begin to learn how they interact and what it is they like about these methods and communities, you can begin putting in place processes to optimise your marketing.  

This is just a brief overview of how social media monitoring can be used for market research (some more tips here). Monitoring offers an easy entry into analysing competitors, understanding your target customers, and gaining insights from the broader market.

We recommend starting with the basics first, and using monitoring to find:

  • Where people talk about you.
  • Which topics come up most frequently in relation to your brand.
  • Who your main competitors are and your respective shares of voice.

Once you have a monitoring process in place which keeps you informed of these, you can start to look more deeply at competitors, consumer opinions, and wider trends. 

And don’t forget to experiment! One of the great things about social media research is that you have the freedom to try different queries and tactics. You’re not paying focus group members by the hour, and you’re not limited to the number of people who opt into a survey.

Better yet, if you’re not getting results that interest you, simply modify your search and start again.