Social media market and consumer research is a powerful insight tool for companies in this day and age. It’s more important than ever to understand why. Social Media Examiner found that using social media for marketplace insight ranked as the third most valuable benefit of social media, with 72 percent of those spending 11 hours per week using social media for research reported seeing benefits. That’s a huge number!

As companies turn to social media market research, we wanted to share how to get the most out of this method.

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How is Social Media Used for Market Research?

With 78 percent of companies planning to further integrate or begin integrating social media data into marketing campaigns, more and more companies are recognizing the value of social media.

In fact, 68 percent of business-to-business companies currently use social media for gathering intelligence. Business-to-consumer applications are slightly lower, but still more than half (59 percent) are on the social media intelligence gathering track.

What kind of data are these businesses looking for through social media? wanted to answer this question. In a survey of marketers, researchers found respondents use social media analytics tools for:

  • Campaign tracking (60 percent)
  • Brand analysis (48 percent)
  • Competitive analysis (40 percent)
  • Customer care (36 percent)
  • Product launching (32 percent)

Key Takeaways from Social Media Market Research

With so many marketers using social media, there are sure to be some pitfalls, or “don’ts” along the way. Here are a few to watch for:

  • Don’t try to measure everything. Social media provides a preponderance of data to researchers, and much of it will be spam. Defining goals and objectives early will help to separate the wheat from chaff.
  • Don’t focus on “viral” ideas. Social media analytics can be used to help determine what is about to go viral, but nothing tends to flop more than campaigns that are TRYING to go viral; don’t approach your data trying to hit a home run, but rather, use the insights organically to come up with something viral.
  • Don’t take data out of context. Social media analytics have been criticized in the past for lacking the rigor of traditional studies; data manipulation may be tempting, but can invalidate any conclusions which you come to.
  • Don’t confuse findings and insights. Remember: findings are your data, insights are the “so what” produced by the data. Insights come from effectively matching your findings with the objectives of your research to create something actionable.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Sifting deeply through data can take time, and projects may not get the traction you desire, or come up with the findings you anticipated. Be prepared to refocus your search, or just admit that there may not be enough evidence to support your anticipated conclusions.

Making the Most of Your Data

With those negatives are some great positives, or things you can do. What is social media market research best for? Remember, social media produces a LOT of data, so you should take time and effort to find what you need for actionable insights.

  • Start by keeping an open mind. Having your anticipated conclusions TOO ingrained before diving into the data can lead to wild goose chases and searching only for data to prove your own theories and beliefs, rather than gaining the most accurate portrait of your audience from the research.
  • Focus small. The major advantage of social media over traditional market research is the direct access to the thoughts and opinions of individuals who have something to say about your brand. Use this to your advantage!
  • Clean your data. Social media creates an incredible amount of spam; make sure your social media analytics tools have the ability to clean spam, and be aware of the spam that may continue to slip through. Sorting and cleaning of data should be one of the most time consuming aspects of social media market research, representing 60 to 80 percent of the total time spent.
  • Create a data culture. Make data and analytics more than “the thing to do,” and try to actively listen to and use the conclusions your analytic team comes to. Moving from gut feelings to data-driven action is a big change, but it will lead to a change in company culture toward respecting and appreciating data.

Social Media’s Role in Research

Social media also impacts and complements other forms of market research. Social media can be used to measure the number of mentions of certain brands before a survey, which can in turn be used to narrow down the number of questions in a survey, lessening respondent fatigue and leading to increased responses. Social media also can be used to complement traditional surveys by providing easily dividable demographic data. Interestingly, a major incentive for survey respondents is information; they want to know what comes of the survey. Traditional surveys are generally proprietary and cannot, therefore, be shared, while social media data generally can be.

Kinds of Research You Can Do with Social Media

The bottom line is that social media can and is used for just about every kind of market research. It is in need of some adjustments and wider adoption by market research specialists, but much of the resistance to it is rooted in its stark contrasts with traditional research methods, which makes for a good balancing pair.

Social media is great for identifying and quantifying trends over time and in real time, in fact, it is not unusual for social media analysts to sift through more than 100 million conversations for the purposes of study. It is a cost efficient tool for research; it improves customer targeting; it helps to identify industry influencers; it’s great for tracking competition; and it helps to inform and contribute to traditional research methods. Social media also can be used to search for qualitative research insights, a process that does not necessarily require a great quantity of comments, and an “aha!” moment can come from as little as one.

According to Ad Week, 52 percent of brands use Facebook analytics to monitor the customer experience. Thirty-eight percent focus on brand identity, while 32 percent look at corporate identity and crisis management within its analytics. Public relations also scored high at 31 percent. However, only 23 percent of social media analytics programs are initiated in marketing and communications departments—a sure sign of potential for growth in the New Year.