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Social Data 101: Simple Techniques Anyone Can Master

Social media data can help us better understand our customers—so why don’t we use more of it?

Everyone has heard about big data and how rockstar companies like Amazon and eBay use data to better target customers.

But for most companies, this level of sophistication remains out of reach.

As many marketers know, it’s really hard to find insights. “Everybody talks about big data,” says Scott Monty, executive vice president of strategy at SHIFT Communications and Ford Motors’ former global digital and multimedia communications manager. “But what most companies need at this point are small insights.”

Last week, I published a workshop with simple ways to use social media data to uncover your customer’s hidden motivations.

These are techniques anyone can use. You don’t need to be a data analyst or an Excel pro.

The workshop shows you how to:

  • Better understand your customers by using social data to paint a human picture of your prospect.
  • Create ads and landing pages that resonate by adding actual customer language into campaign messaging.
  • Increase traffic and sales—with social content that has the right level of complexity for readers, viewers, and fans.

I’ve included the written version of the presentation below.

How to use social data to better understand your customer’s frustrations


In this post, I’ll use a fictional dog training company to illustrate these techniques. This gives us a lot of data to analyze (people love talking about dogs online) AND gives me a chance to sneak a picture of my dog Watson into a blog post (finally!).

So let’s say you work at a large company that sells dog training products.

You have a new dog training video course that you plan to sell on social media.

But right now, your landing pages, social ads, and content are not connecting with dog owners.

How could social media data help you better understand customers and craft more compelling marketing messages?

1. Use these techniques to find humans, not spam

A key challenge with social media data is the volume of spam and sales messages on social channels.

Search phrases such as “dog training tips” or “train dog to sit” will turn up endless links to product pages, ad campaigns, sponsored content, and spam accounts.

So how can you find conversations between real customers?

I’ve found these three techniques to be helpful.

Avoid SEO keywords—instead use simple, human sentences

In my experience, noun-based SEO keywords are magnets for spam, making it hard to find genuine insights.

When searching in Google, people have been trained to formulate their problems as nouns and short phrases. “I need to train my dog to sit” becomes “dog training tips” or “basic dog training.”

But people don’t complain or talk with their friends like this on social media. Invert these noun-based keywords into simple sentences.

For example, convert “train dog to sit” into “my dog won’t sit.” That’s how a real person would talk about that problem on social media.

I used Hootsuite Analytics to test the impact of inverting SEO nouns into simple sentences.

As you can see in the preview, this type of SEO phrase—a short keyword focused phrase—returns spam, marketing messages, and products.

Those are not the results you want. Zero insights. All noise.

Watch what happens when you invert this SEO noun-based phrase into a simple human sentence. I used Hootsuite Analytics again.

As you can see, I’ve now found real dog owners with Hootsuite Analytics. This is the data you want. Real human conversations.

Find humans with -filter: links

This is one of my favorite Hootsuite search techniques. It helps you eliminate spam and sales messages.

Go to Click “Add Stream.” Click “Search.” Use -filter:links to filter out posts with links as they are often promotional

Example: coffee -filter:links

As you can see below, this filter reveals real humans talking about their day. You won’t have to wade through links, branded content, or promotional posts.


Look for F-Bombs in your social media data

Look through your results. Is it clean and professional language? You are likely looking at vendor and brand results.

Refine your searches until you find actual humans talking (and often swearing) about products and services. Humans write with horrible grammar, swear, and say offensive things.

If you are finding offensive language, you are on the right path.

2. Pinpoint customer frustrations with product reviews

One of the best ways to get inside the minds of customers is to read product reviews. By using this search operator—!Amazon + Your Keyword— in DuckDuckGo you can tap into Amazon’s rich search engine. It also works for eBay and YouTube.

Go to DuckDuckGo and enter this search: !Amazon + Keyword.

Duck Duck Go 600PX.jpg

Example: !Amazon + dog training or !eBay + dog training.

Now, you can quickly read product reviews and swipe real customer language to use in Tweets, emails, landing pages, and blog posts.

A quick review of Amazon reviews for “dog training” shows that people wished one popular book had more specific steps rather than abstract theory.

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Mirror this customer language on landing pages and social content—for example, you could talk about how most dog training products focus too much on theory, rather than giving specific ways to leash train and other step-by-step instructions for new dog owners.

3. Reddit is a goldmine for consumer insights

I find Reddit is incredibly useful for uncovering true conversations about brands and products. Companies and spam accounts are kicked out the front door if they try to game the community with fake discussions.

You can track conversations with the Reddit Keyword Monitor Pro app for Hootsuite. That way, you can monitor for new content and follow customer conversations without leaving your Hootsuite dashboard.

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4. Book time in your calendar to listen

Once you’ve found the phrases and topics you want to monitor, build a listening dashboard. I recommend booking an hour in your calendar every week to observe customers in their natural habitat. What are they sharing? What do they love or hate? What’s their daily life like?

There’re lots of different ways to build a listening dashboard.

You can use a solution such as Hootsuite Analytics. Or manually pull mentions and data into a spreadsheet.



I also have my Hootsuite dashboard configured with search streams for different terms and customer social profiles.

Here’s how to build a listening dashboard for your customer personas.

  • Make a list of 10-15 social media users that represent your ideal customer. These are real people that you follow and study on social media.
  • Create search streams in Hootsuite to easily monitor and learn from these ideal customers. Add them to a list in Hootsuite.
  • Use a solution such as Hootsuite Analytics to conduct deep social media listening, pulling in broad data about your market and phrases (such as “my dog won’t sit”).
  • Book time every week to listen to your market and understand their daily struggles.

5. Add your new insights to your marketing plan

Once you’ve begun to listen, refine your marketing strategy based on this new data.

  • Make sure landing pages and ad copy mirror the language and challenges you’ve pulled directly from real customers.
  • Find new ways to position your products, using customer-centric language instead of product features and marketing jargon.
  • Build blog posts and social content that solve customer questions you’ve found on social networks.

It’s also important to add your new insights to your customer persona documents. For example, here’s what I would create.

Our ideal customer: Sarah

  • Sarah’s buying trigger is dog behavioral problems.
  • Common phrases used “my dog won’t sit next to me,” “my dog won’t cuddle,” “my dog doesn’t like me anymore.”
  • How to position: don’t focus on tricks. Instead, focus on training as a way to restore her damaged relationship with her dog.
  • Twitter is a common place where dog owners complain (invest in Twitter ads?)
  • Reddit is a popular place where owners seem to go to ask peers for advice. Could we partner with a famous dog trainer to do a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) about dog training? We could co-brand our product with the influencer so that the promotion fits into Reddit’s strict community policies.

More simple ways to use social media data

In our Social Media Data Cookbook, you’ll find more simple ways to use social media data. The SEO cluster recipe for increasing website traffic is one of my favorites.

The Cookbook shows you:

  • The No. 1 persuasive way to prove impact of your social media campaigns
  • A simple test you can run to see the exact ROI of social messages
  • Dead-practical ways to discover what your customers want
  • Why conversation clusters and social media data boost SEO traffic
  • How SXSW uses social media data to measure the success of live events
  • Extra videos, bonus resources, and step-by-step instructions

You can download your free copy of the Social Media Cookbook here.

How Hootsuite’s social media analytics help

With Hootsuite, your team can analyze social conversations happening on news sites, blogs, forums, and other public places.

  • Discover customers talking about your brand, industry, and competition right now
  • Analyze social conversations around your products from 100+ million data sources in 50+ languages
  • Build live dashboards to easily monitor market terms and customer conversations about your products and competitors

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