What role does social media play in market research?
The online space is crowded, and more brands are vying for consumers' attention than ever before. Market research is becoming increasingly important in helping brands understand how to stand out from competitors and connect with their customers. That's why more are turning to social media to gather insights on their target audience.
What is social media market research?
Social media market research focuses on gathering information about specific audiences via online social channels. Whilst it's easy to focus on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there are other places where people interact. For example, Reddit, Quora and specialised forums, as well as customer reviews sites and blogs. These are valuable sources of social data.
By analysing how people interact on these social channels, you can gain more insight into your audience: how they speak, their likes and dislikes, etc. Combining this with other market research methods, such as surveys and focus groups, helps build a much clearer picture of your customers and how they use your services.
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Reddit, Quora and specialised forums, customer reviews sites and blogs are all valuable sources of social data.[/caption]
What are the advantages of using social media for market research?
Unlike other methods of market research, which take place in controlled settings, people tend to be more open online. Without the feeling of being observed, they're likely to share their opinions more freely, providing more organic insight.
You can also gain insight faster. By continuously monitoring social channels and tracking mentions of certain words or topics, you can quickly assess their importance and adjust your strategy accordingly. More traditional methods, which require time and planning, often only capture one moment in time. This can limit its usefulness when you're looking to learn and progress quickly.
Social data can also answer questions you might not know needed asking. Monitoring people's behaviour on social media provides a lot of data. With this, you can begin to see trends and patterns that you might miss with more targeted forms of market research. This can feed into your overall business strategy. It might even help you to identify a completely new audience.
What are the challenges around analysing social data?
The same benefits of social media can also throw up a number of challenges. Although you can gain more organic insight away from a controlled environment, it's not uncommon for people to have a different persona on social media, especially on certain platforms. So, what they say and how they act online isn't always reflective of their behaviours in the real world.
And, although social media provides a lot of data, it's only valuable if you can extract insight from it. When you're working with big data, you need to know how to ask the right questions. This can require someone with a specialist skill set to be able to analyse the data properly.
There are a number of tools that can help you to make sense of the data, but it's important to understand their limitations. There are many nuances in language that can affect how something is interpreted. Whilst Web analytics tools help to filter through large amounts of information, it's important to incorporate human interpretation to get the most accurate results.
Examples of market research using social media
There are many use cases for social media based research, from identifying popular hashtags to increase the reach of your marketing campaigns, to measuring the success of a new product launch.
One great real-world case study comes from specialist equipment manufacturer, 3M. As one of the biggest providers of ventilators and medical grade personal protective equipment (PPE), their role during the early stages of COVID-19 pandemic was essential. They analysed social data to track mentions coming from frontline workers around the shortage of PPE. This information fed into the communications strategy, ensuring they could keep people informed around future availability in a clear and timely manner.
Another great example comes from Walmart. Again, during the pandemic, the retailer extracted all kinds of insight from social media conversations, including supply issues and problems with online shopping. These insights fed into all areas of the business. By being able to track customers' concerns in realtime, Walmart could meet their needs much more quickly.
How should you incorporate social media market research?
Social media is becoming an increasingly important source of insight for brands. Especially when it comes to understanding customer needs in real-time. This type of research won't replace more traditional methods. Rather, it will enhance existing research practices, helping to create a much bigger and more accurate picture of the market.
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