The rapid rise of social media platforms over the last decade has been astonishing. What at first seemed like a novelty for young people has become a global phenomenon. It’s now part of the fabric of daily life. So if it seems like everyone is on Facebook and Twitter, it’s probably because they are.
Although many people use social media to interact with friends (or post “selfies”) the implications for business owners are more far reaching. Pull up a Facebook or Twitter feed. What do you see? If you’re like me, you see millions of present and potential customers interacting with one another.
At Eidson & Partners, market research is a huge part of our toolkit. We’ve had great success with traditional methods, but it wasn’t until we saw how our accelerator companies were doing market research that we truly noticed how online social media is changing the way we do market research and new product development. Most startups have very limited marketing budgets, which means even less for market research. As a result, startup founders typically exploit all they can that is available for free and readily available on the web. While mining social media can be time consuming, it offers a wealth of information for little to no cost.
So how can you use these platforms to your advantage? Check out these three tips:
1) Identify Your Customer
One billion people use Twitter and Facebook daily, so identifying where your customers are is a good place to start. It can be difficult to identify where your target audience is spending time online, so start by searching for discussions around specific topics or concepts that are important to your field.
Joel Windels at Econsultancy.com states,
“By searching for phrases and keywords within your industry, you can begin to learn where people go to discuss that topic/industry.”
On Twitter, this means using #hashtags, and on Facebook it means using the search feature. Let’s say you’ve started a gym and are looking for potential customers. Type “gyms near [insert city]” and a long list will appear. Any one of these pages contains hundreds of people who are interested in going to the gym, and engaged enough to have viewed, liked, and commented about their experience. This is a great example of your potential customer base.
2) Understand and Engage with Them
Once you’ve identified where your customers are, observe both what they are saying and how they are saying it. Gigi Devault, a market research expert, points out that “Tweets are essentially written records of what consumers think about your product” in 140 characters or less. Analyze these social media interactions about your product to determine what factors your customers consider valuable. Also, pay attention to the way customers describe and promote your product—often times their dialogue will be different than yours, and teach you something about how they see your product.
Don’t waste all your time passively observing, though. Jump into the conversation yourself!
In an article for SocialMediaToday, Ray Nelson writes:
“Instead of leading the discussions, you can simply observe or join in as an equal. This can result in a variety of answers and discoveries that might have remained hidden using other research methods.”
Consider this: You own a restaurant and you want to get reviews on what people think of your new menu. Along with Facebook and Twitter, you can use sites like Yelp and Yellow Pages to see what customers are saying, and engage in conversations with them.
More from Ray Nelson:
“The casual nature and easy access of social media also helps to promote user interaction, engagement and participation. This improves the chances of obtaining useful, accurate, and honest data from your efforts.”
3) Get Real-Time Feedback… Fast!
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow businesses the opportunity to get feedback across a huge range of topics instantaneously. Facebook even has a survey tool that allows your customers to weigh in on questions or topics you are promoting. Twitter can be used in a similar fashion: share an idea, concept, or achievement and ask your followers to favorite or retweet it.
With a market research pool just a click away, you can analyze the success of individual parts of your marketing or product development plan and make changes accordingly. Social media can simplify the process of developing a market research plan while also allowing you to keep up with current trends in real-time.
The Bottom Line
Often our social media focus is on how we reach and communicate with customers, but these platforms also have amazing potential to allow customers to educate and inform us. Open up to dialogue and conversation with your customers through Twitter, Facebook, and the like. We know you’ll be amazed at what you will find out. Don’t let this valuable resource slip by!