12 most important uses of social media research

Discover your true competitors, uncover new uses for your products, enhance your traditional research methods, and more.


Over the last few years, social media research has evolved from speculation to practice. But many people still approach social media research without goals in mind. This ultimately leads to failure.

To avoid that problem, here are 12 important opportunities and goals social media research offers:

1. Measure an advertising campaign.

Likely the most popular use of social media research, tracking a commercial or marketing campaign from anticipation to launch to completion is simple. You can measure any changes in conversation volume as consumers positively or negatively anticipate the campaign. You can then discover whether the anticipation evolves into a viral sensation or a dismal failure.

2. Compare your brand to competitive brands.

Regardless of how well your brand is doing, the best measure of success is whether it’s doing better than your competitors. No one likes bank or service fees, or waiting for a repair person to arrive, but when social media research says your company consistently does something better than anyone else, you have a good thing going.

3. Discover your true competitors.

As brand managers, we think we know our brand inside and out. But sometimes consumers have different ideas. They may lump your brand in with brands you never considered, or brands you never realized compete in your space. Pay attention when consumers mention those other brands.

4. Identify product flaws.

Consumers love to complain and vent, but when it comes to a survey, they can be too polite to say all the little things they wish they could. When it comes to the millions of people who make comments on social media, thousands have no qualms about saying exactly how something smells, or if something is gross or embarrassing. Social media research will help you learn just how pervasive and bad the problem is.

5. Identify innovative product uses.

Not all consumers are spontaneously innovative, and certainly not all 10 people in your focus group can make surprising discoveries as someone watches them. When you listen to millions of people on social media, odd comments and strange product uses will inevitably arise. Be ready and willing to hear them, especially when you aren’t expecting to.

6. Discover the psychographics of your brand.

We’re used to learning the basic characteristics of our target consumers, but social media research lets you go far beyond traditional measures. The next time you want to learn about people who eat Nutella, let social media research also tell you what cars they like, which banks they hate, which sports they watch, and what they grow in their gardens.

7. Identify brands for co-branding.

Which brands should you approach for a co-branding opportunity? Why not choose brands your consumers are already talking about? Social media research will help you identify and rank the brands your consumers say they like so your co-branding consideration set starts with the right brands.

8. Identify celebrities for co-sponsorship.

Which celebrities do you want to hold your product in your next commercial? Once again, use social media research to identify and rank the celebrities your consumers say they like. From that list, simply choose the celebrity who best suits your campaign goals.

9. Identify the exact date of an event.

People rarely plan or instantly recognize foot in mouth disease, a la Todd Akin or Dan Cathy. By measuring the volume of conversations, social media research can instantly identify the date an event took hold with consumers. This allows you to run a pre-post measurement process.

10. Measure recovery from an adverse event.

As much as we want to avoid adverse events, celebrities make off-the-cuff remarks they later regret, and product recalls are common. Social media research allows you to measure your brand’s progress after the event to track the remedies you implemented.

11. Improve traditional research.

The worst surveys have grid questions with 20 or 30 answer options. Even though these survey questions are space efficient, responders hate them. Social media research gives you the opportunity to see which of the 30 options consumers will actually answer, allowing you to reduce those 30 items to 10 or fewer.

12. Build on traditional research.

The best surveys are no more than 15 minutes long, which means you have to cut any questions that go beyond that time frame. But if you don’t have space to ask consumers a specific question on your survey, chances are people are already talking about it on social media. Your data isn’t gone. It’s just somewhere else.

In all cases, social media research is simply one more tool in your measurement toolbox. Be creative when you try to solve your business problems, and choose the tool that best solves the problem.

Where are you? Are you floundering in social media data or actively solving problems?

Annie Pettit is the chief research officer at Conversition, a company that specializes in social media research. Republished with permission, courtesy of 12 Most.

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