Ask any marketer what they wish their superpower was, and they would tell you: “To read minds.”
To know exactly what people want is a marketer’s dream. After all, understanding your audience’s preferences and needs is the key to business success. Having accurate, insightful information gives you the chance to deliver the best products, write the best messages, and build engagement and customer loyalty.
That’s why marketers regularly conduct market research, investigating industry trends, gathering feedback, and surveying focus groups to try and glean whatever information they can. But in 2023, this research process can be slow and incomplete. This is where social media market research comes in.
Basically, with social media market research, you’re as close to being a mind-reader as you’re gonna get. Read on to learn how this superpower can help you boost your business, engage your followers, and implement a winning social media strategy.
Bonus: Download a free guide to learn how to use social media listening to boost sales and conversions today. No tricks or boring tips—just simple, easy-to-follow instructions that really work.
What is social media market research?
Social media market research is collecting data and insights about your target audience via social media platforms. This information can help businesses understand their overall audience demographics and brand sentiment.
Social media market research can offer real-time insights with extreme speed and accuracy—pull an analytics report, and it’ll give you the scoop about what’s happening this very minute.
Social media market research is also far more affordable than traditional focus groups or surveys and offers the potential to study the behavior of a staggering number of users: imagine trying to fit all 4.76 billion social media users into a board room for a chat about your latest ad campaign.
8 ways to use social media for market research
You’re ready to use social media to learn more about your audience. But what exactly are you trying to learn? Here are eight helpful insights you can gather once you start listening in.
Find out what people like about your brand or product
If your fans hang out on social media, they’re probably talking about you there, too.
Stay alert for mentions of your brand or product and keep track of the positive feedback. Watch for users tagging you in posts and Stories, and don’t forget to check your DMS, too, for any fan mail that may be lurking there.
If you use Hootsuite, setting up social listening streams for specific keywords or phrases can be super helpful for catching those not-so-official mentions, too.
For instance, set up streams for misspellings of your brand name or specific product or model names to make sure you never miss a casual-yet-positive tweet like “i swear i run faster in my nikees!”
This genuine feedback from real-life users is extremely helpful for planning future marketing content.
One hot example is the old-school thermos brand Stanley, which started to see an organic uptick in young moms posting about their mugs on Instagram, excited about how it kept their coffee warm while they ran after their toddlers.
So the company started releasing its products in Millennial-cool colors, targeting this new, surprising market of consumers.
Find out what people don’t like about your brand or product
While watching/listening to see what your fans love about your product, you may occasionally get some grumbling from people who aren’t quite as enthusiastic. And that can be helpful, too.
Shake off those hurt feelings and remember that hearing directly from your critics is an opportunity. Genuine complaints or criticism are a chance to do better or address something that you may have missed.
Netflix, for instance, might be interested to see this tweet, which mentions the name Netflix but doesn’t tag the company directly. This subscriber keeps canceling their subscription—and now, Netflix can see why.
I bailed on Netflix 6 months ago as I do every year. I keep a sub about 4 – 5 months then cancel when I've seen everything.
Boolean search logic can help you find meaningful trends and patterns you might miss by monitoring keywords and hashtags alone. You can then filter your searches by date, demographics, and location to find the conversations most relevant to you.
Insights also makes it easy to track brand sentiment with intuitive word clouds and meters that gauge your sentiment and brand awareness against the competition.
Listen to what people are saying about your competitors
Understanding what’s going well (or not-so-well) for your greatest business enemies can offer you an advantage. Fill a gap in the market that they aren’t filling yet. Reach out to an unhappy customer to provide an alternative. Tweak your next marketing campaign to let audiences know you can treat them even better.
If you make yoga pants and you notice that everyone’s raving about the color of Lululemon’s new leggings, maybe it’s time to put your own similar style front and center in your upcoming Instagram grid redesign.
Watch your industry for insights
As you’re setting up all your other social listening streams, you may want to add a few that include industry keywords, too.
Keeping up with what’s happening in your industry is going to help you understand what consumer expectations are for your specific type of product or how healthy the industry is overall. Are you a luxury realtor noticing that others in the real estate industry are flocking to TikTok… and racking up the views?
What can this tell you about what your own followers might like to see?
Use analytics to understand what content resonates
You can guess what your audience will like… or you can just crunch the numbers and know the truth.
Social analytics tools allow you to see exactly what kind of content clicks with your audience. If your celebrity home tours are getting likes and shares, now you know your followers love their interior design content with a side of star power. If your Instagram carousel posts are popping off, maybe it’s time to stop wasting time with Reels.
With Hootsuite Insights, you can even schedule recurring reports that compile your fave key metrics into cool, easy-to-understand infographics.
Social media marketing research involves putting on your sociologist’s hat and studying the way your audience likes to express itself.
What platforms are they most active on? Do they prefer tagging you in their “get ready with me” TikToks, or are you more likely to receive a private message to gush about your new plus-sized line of pajamas?
By practicing social listening, you’ll also learn what language and tone your target audience is comfortable using. Certain communities embrace specific slang or emoji use. If you’re going to be hanging with this crew online, you’d better study up.
Keeping all your social media monitoring and management in one place makes it easy to spot cross-platform trends. (Features like Hootsuite Inbox make it easy to get a birds-eye view of private messages from all your different accounts at once.)
Explore trends that might click with your customer base
Even beyond your own analytics, social media is a place to observe the world. Trends come and go at a rapid-fire pace but watch for long enough, and you’ll start to understand what kind of content really thrives on each platform.
Resources like Hootsuite’s annual Digital Trends Report and Social Trends Reports can give an interesting macro-view of how different demographics use social media and what they love to see and do.
Ask your audience directly
If you really want to know what your audience is thinking, social media allows you a chance to ask them point-blank.
Put up a poll on your Instagram Stories asking followers to pick their favorite new package design, ask your fans to share TikToks of how they style your fanny packs or prompt your Facebook audience to dish about their dream suitcase color.
Fashion Brand Company is the master of this. The avant-garde clothing brand regularly asks followers to vote on what products they’d like to see available for sale next.
Challenges of using social media for market research
Of course, for all of its benefits, social media marketing research can be challenging, too.
Without analytics, it’s meaningless
If you’re just watching the Tweets come in and not crunching the numbers, your data is going to be flawed. To get big-picture data that’s truly useful, you must go beyond anecdotal evidence and individual examples.
Embrace the power of social media analytics, using tools like Hootsuite to create regular reports that can identify growth, trends, and audience behavior with precision.
You need big reach to get an accurate analysis
If only 10 people are seeing your posts (and two of those are your employees), then the insights you get aren’t be that helpful. Make sure your social media content is actually getting in front of your target audience so you can accurately see what type of posts really engage their interest.
If you are just starting out on social and have a small audience, consider experimenting with paid ads or boosting your posts to reach more people.
The loudest voices might overwhelm the quieter ones
There’s a danger in social media listening of over-valuing the loudest super-fans (or critics). But just because someone is tagging you in every Facebook Live unboxing video doesn’t mean they represent a whole community.
That’s where streams and alerts (which you can set up in Hootsuite) can be helpful: they’ll grab mentions and references from even the smallest of accounts to make sure that every voice is heard.