Looking for a low-cost way to conduct consumer research?
Social media can provide a free treasure trove of data about your customers.
With the right social media tools, you can learn what questions your customers have and which types of content they're sharing.
This information will help you answer their questions, solve their problems and define your social media and content strategies.
In this post, you'll learn how to quickly conduct research on social media and put it into action.
Find Out What Questions Your Customers Are Asking
Hearing the questions your prospective customers are asking and problems they're facing can help you find new customers, support existing ones and outline a content strategy that will appeal to both.
The best products solve problems. If you can solve someone's problem, they'll be much more likely to check out your products, because they already trust you as an expert.
Here are three places to easily find which types of questions are being asked.
Twitter Search is the perfect place to start looking for customer questions. Just search Twitter for your topic or niche and include a “?” in the search.
For example, searches for “Facebook marketing ?” or “yoga ?” will return any tweet with those keywords and a question mark.
From here, you can answer Twitter users' questions with your industry expertise. Remember to be helpful, not self-promotional.
You'll also find people with problems that your product or service can solve. In those cases, feel free to suggest your product. Make sure to provide helpful information, including why your solution is best.
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Quora is the highest-quality question and answer (Q&A) site online. Technology and startups were the first topics to gain traction, but Quora now has great content on everything from cooking to film.
To see how Quora works, start by typing a question into the search bar. You'll see previous questions that match yours as well as a link to add a new question. Just click on an existing question for an example of how the site works.
Next, type your business's main keyword or niche into the search bar and find the most relevant topic, not question.
Click that topic to navigate to the topic page. From here, you'll see all of the questions on a given subject. You can read answers from other users, contribute your own, follow the topic on Quora or set up an RSS feed of questions.
To set up an RSS feed, just add “/rss” to the end of the URL. For example, the topic page for yoga is http://www.quora.com/Yoga. The RSS feed for this page is http://www.quora.com/Yoga/rss. Now you can automatically monitor a Quora topic from your RSS feed reader and contribute where appropriate.
The questions you find here can help you define your business offering and improve your marketing strategies.
LinkedIn Answers may be the best social media research site for B2B companies. The Q&A section of LinkedIn's site has over 20 categories of questions including Business Travel, Management and Technology.
As on Quora, you can see who has answered each question and click on their profile to learn more about them.
You can answer questions publicly or reply privately. Make sure to provide a useful, topical answer. If you don't, your answer may be flagged as an advertisement or connection-building spam.
LinkedIn Answers has a scoring system called Expertise. Whenever a questioner chooses your answer as the best one, you gain expertise points. With enough points, you will rank on a category's Experts chart.
Getting ranked as an expert will help users interested in that category find you. Don't answer questions just for the points. Contributing helpful information and providing a great answer is the best way to market your business on LinkedIn.
Find Out What Content Your Customers Are Sharing
Your social media content strategy should be driven by the overlap between your expertise and your customers' needs and interests.
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By learning which types of content your customers are sharing, you can create content that will get shared. I'm not suggesting that you copy content. Instead, you should take inspiration from the type and tone of the most shared content.
Are people sharing how-to blog posts, funny memes or instructional videos? Is the most shared content authoritative or friendly and conversational?
With this research, you'll learn what your audience is most interested in sharing and understand the type of content you need to create.
Here are three places to easily find which types of content are being shared.
Start by browsing all of the tweets for your target keywords. Observe how people are talking about your niche and what they're sharing. Do you see a lot of links? Tweets with photos attached? Remember that Twitter skews towards sharing article links.
You can focus on just the content people are linking to using Twitter's advanced search. Add “filter:links” to the end of your search query. For example, search for “yoga filter:links” to see all tweets containing the word yoga and a link.
Using the Discover tab, you can find the top content among the Twitter users you follow. If you're following users in your target market, you'll see the most popular news articles and blog posts.
The Discover tab is a great way to stay up to date with the latest news in your industry. Being current will help you produce timely, shareable content for your followers. Make sure to comment on this news and offer your perspective.
If you're not already following users in your niche, you can find accounts to follow on WeFollow or Listorious.
Pinterest, the online pinboard, is a great source of visual inspiration. You'll be able to see which types of images are repinned and liked the most. Depending on your topic, you may find photographs, graphics, instructions, cartoons or memes to be the most popular medium.
Then you can create images for Pinterest or other visual social networks like Tumblr or Facebook.
The Pinterest home page will show you the most popular content, regardless of topic. This view is helpful for understanding what works across Pinterest, but it doesn't show you what's best for your niche.
For more specific content, use the Categories menu to view popular pins in the most relevant vertical. Even if a category is too broad for your business, you'll start to see what works for your type of customer.
For the most accurate view, search for your keywords to see the most popular and relevant pins.
Searching for popular pieces of content is more difficult on Facebook than on Twitter or Pinterest. Facebook does offer a search option for public posts, but they aren't sorted by popularity.
Instead, you'll need to go directly to the Facebook pages of your competitors and other businesses, publications and organizations in your industry. You only need to focus on pages with lots of fans because they'll have enough data to see popularity trends.
Browse the top Facebook pages in your niche to see which posts are liked, commented on and shared the most. If you don't know much about the competition, find one or two pages that you do know. Then see which pages they like. You'll find these likes in a box near the top right column of the page's Timeline.
Look closely at the most shared content on 5-10 pages covering the same content as you. Are image posts being shared? Are fans responding to question posts? See which types of content are working best. Then create your own based on what people like.
Social network monitoring is the easiest way to learn more about your target customers. By seeing what questions they're asking and what content they're sharing, you can offer support, establish yourself as an industry expert, define your social media strategy and improve your products.
What do you think? How do you use social media to learn more about your customers? Share your experience in the comments box below.
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