In terms of marketing, social media has changed the world forever; it has forced marketers to think of new ways to brand products and services. Not having social media integrated in your online marketing strategy is almost unthinkable nowadays. Facebook campaigns, customer service via Twitter and branding on LinkedIn are all incredible marketing developments involving social media. However, there’s another factor that should draw marketers’ attention: the ability to conduct market research using social media. Because the results are based on the opinions, behavior and perceptions of your target audience, it is qualitative research. Think of all the information that people post on their social network profiles; as a marketer, you have to recognize the possibilities of consumer research. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few ideas to get you going.

The option of commenting on a brand’s content has a lot of potential to gain consumer knowledge and perspective. If you take Facebook for example, you have a few options:

–          Use Facebook to ask questions Yes, it is as simple as it sounds, yet not all companies take advantage of this opportunity. You can post some pictures of a few new package designs and ask a question about it, for example: What design is most appealing to you? Now have users vote by clicking ‘like’ and have them comment on the pictures. Then start reading all the comments, and you never know, they might inspire you to get new ideas for a future design.

–          Use Facebook to promote surveys and polls Apart from setting up surveys and polls, you need to promote these tools. They are very useful for your market research. Encourage people to vote and to share the surveys and polls: you can offer a free gift (or more free gifts) among the people who have shared the content.

And if you want to use Twitter for market research, these are a few ideas:

–          Use relevant hash tags – Find out what the most popular hashtags on Twitter are and apply these to your product or brand – just make sure the topics are related to your content.

–          Tweet frequency Don’t tweet the same message 10 times a day, it will cost you followers. However, you can use a reminder tweet like “don’t forget to vote on your favorite design! (linktosurvey)” after a day or two.

–          Ask to retweet (RT) Using this type of call-to-action is very common among Twitter users, so use it too! A simple and clear “Please RT!” will do.

–          URL shortener Use a URL shortener, because Twitter only allows you to use 140 characters, so you better use them wisely, and furthermore, full URLs look unappealing and old-fashioned.

There’s another way to conduct market research, a more passive way: observing. Some call it monitoring or listening, but the methods are the same. You have to observe and analyze what kind of perceptions about your brand or company the public is sharing with their networks. For instance, use hashtags (#YOURBRAND/#YOURPRODUCT) to find out what your audience is thinking about your product; because they’re not limited to answering a single question, they can speak freely. When people can speak freely, they give more information. Use it to figure out their likes and dislikes of your product and start improving. Conducting market research via social media doesn’t require a lot of time, nor effort, but you do need commitment and devotion. Hopefully these simple tips have been useful, and if you have any more tips, I would love to hear them!