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How to use social media for research

Social Media Research

One of the first things one thinks about when they hear the phrase social media is content creation, marketing and advertising. But research? Not so much. Concepts like social media listening have been around for ages. But they’ve only gained prominence in recent times. However social media is a perfect environment to gather information and evaluate your social media marketing efforts accordingly. It has proven to be a valuable research tool, despite it not being the greatest representative sample. Especially for smaller companies or brands with low engagement levels.

In this article:

Social media engagement, as opposed to likes, is vital in gathering information like true audience opinions and feelings. Firstly because consumers crave ‘personal’ communication from brands so they’re likely to have an honest conversation with you if you give them personal attention; and secondly because of how easy it is to spread information on social media. This is great if for example you’ve attached a prize to the question.

Social media also allows you to get real time or immediate feedback. This makes it easy to critically review the response of your target to a new product or blog feature idea for instance. Paying attention to the conclusion you drew during this research can help you tailor your campaigns and content better and grow your followers and fans.

In this article, we’ll look at how you can use different info-gathering methods on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to inform your marketing efforts.

1. Social listening

Social listening is a form of audience and/or market research where brands monitor, analyse, and respond to feedback, mentions or conversations about them on social media. Though often confused with social media monitoring, social listening has a one upper on social media monitoring. It considers and engages in active discussions around and about the brand and keeps tab on the sentiment or how people feel about the brand where as monitoring only tracks similar metrics without the analysis or engagement. 

Why is it important?

There are endless benefits to social media listening:

  • It takes the guess work out of what customers want and feel
  • Gives you an opportunity to convert followers into sales leads
  • Insights gained allow you to produce content your customers actually want to see and enjoy
  • Allows you to tailor your brand voice to your audience and will give you an indication of when you start to deviate from it
  • Functions as a customer service platform where you can address negative comments or experiences and answer questions
  • Allows you to manage your brand’s reputation and quicky deal with bad PR
  • Responding to your customers encourages loyalty and improves retention

Platforms like Hootsuite, HubSpot and Sprout Social are perfect for social media listening.

2. Social media polling

Over the years, social media polls have gained prominence and there’s a good reason why – they’re easy to create and they work! There’s really only one thing better than asking your customers just about anything you’re wondering, and that’s getting responses that are just as enthusiastic.

Why polling?

Social media polling gives you an insight into the opinions and thoughts of your followers. It’s also a great way to make your customers feel important (because they are) and included in decision-making. You can create a poll on Instagram (as a sticker via stories), Twitter and Facebook (but you must have a business page).

There are many reasons why brands create polls, here are a few:

  • For market research purposes
  • drive traffic to their website
  • encourage certain behaviour (e.g. mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • market a new or soon-to-be-released product
  • find out what their customers prefer
  • educate their followers about something specific
  • Just for fun and to improve general engagement

When you create a poll, have a plan of (re)action and know why you’re doing it. Also remember to keep it casual without sounding like you’re trying too hard.

Social media platforms give brands a wide range of information gathering tools that are instrumental in social media research. Instagram for instance, has tools like emoji sliders and question stickers (used inter-changeably with polls). You’ll also find many polls in the form of a normal tweet (retweet for A, like for B) though inaccurate if people retweet so their followers can see it and ‘vote.’ 

All the elements discussed in this article should be evaluated together with your social media analytics dashboard. This will help you keep track of your social media research and also see how successful your implementations are.

Ps: It is critical to first asses how much of a representative sample your social media following is before you completely neglect all other research methods.

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