Social media has undoubtedly changed the way brands think about digital marketing. Just a few years ago, networks like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn only played a small part in global marketing strategies. But as their user numbers have grown, so has their importance for digital marketing. Today, social media channels offer digital marketers excellent market research opportunities.
How market research sets brands apart
Market research has always been an integral part of building a brand. Conducting market research means gathering information and learning more about your target market, establishing potential customer personas, and evaluating how successful your product could be.
Market research also helps quantify product-market fit. Once your product or service has been launched, research allows brand teams to check whether customers receive the messages they want to communicate.
With a company’s marketing goals, market research forms the foundation of successful brand marketing strategies. In short, it is hard to overstate the importance of market research. Still, there are drawbacks. Traditional market research techniques, such as interviews and focus groups, can be time-consuming. These tools can also be tough on resources if the research is done thoroughly, forcing some brands to launch a marketing strategy built on hunches rather than data. Others limit the scope of their study in the hope that findings may still be valid. Both of these options are putting brands at risk.
Related: The 7 Secrets of Truly Successful Personal Brands
Social media lifts market research limitations
Social media platforms have all the tools necessary to provide brands with answers to market research questions. Social media can offer insights into branding, content messaging and creative design, as well as improve awareness of competitor activity and industry trends.
Much of this is made possible by the sheer number of potential customers brands can access via social media. Facebook alone has nearly three billion active users every month, which has been growing for nearly a decade. Instagram continues to gain ground, with currently around two billion active users.
Social media usage figures are projected to grow for at least the next few years. More than 4.26 billion people spent time on social media in 2021. Statisticians believe that figure will rise to nearly six billion within five years.
But social media can do more than provide user numbers. The companies behind Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok know a great amount of information about their users, starting with demographics and including lifestyle preferences. These insights enable brands to access the right audience faster than ever before and at lower costs.
Related: In a Crowded Field of Emerging Franchises, Only the Strongest Brands Thrive
How to use social media for market research
Social media channels allow brands to access several layers of information about their industry, the brand itself, competitors, messaging and creative design.
1. Industry insights
Using social media channels is an efficient way to assess industry trends in real-time. Channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram make it easy to spot and isolate leading trends and changes in those trends. A few years ago, images captured consumer attention. More recently, however, video-based channels like TikTok have cemented the importance of video as a tool to connect with customers. Of course, brand teams can choose to ignore certain trends, but it is still important to understand the drivers behind the industry.
In this context, industry drivers are not only topics or tools. Social media has created a relatively new digital marketing phenomenon — working with influencers. Identifying and working with the right influencers can be a critical driver of business growth.
Before the advent of social media channels, gathering similar information required more time and in-depth analysis simply because the information was not as easily accessible.
2. Competitor research
Social media has made it easier to conduct competitor research. Companies from virtually every industry sector have started embracing social media channels to connect with customers and partners. As a result, it is far easier to understand your competitors’ marketing strategies and analyze which marketing tactics and channels work best for them.
Following a competitor’s social media channels helps brands understand what audiences engage with and which content they ignore. Brand teams gain a deeper insight into the mindset of their competitors’ clients. Following these channels regularly allows you to clearly understand your competitors, their audiences, and their marketing approach.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Competitive Research for Small Businesses
3. Brand positioning
Are your target audiences perceiving your brand the way you would like to be perceived? Monitoring social media allows your marketing team to answer this question quickly. Hashtags and search functions make it easy to assess how a brand is being discussed without any delay associated with traditional market research methods.
As a result of gaining instant insights, your team can adjust and correct its brand messaging quicker than ever.
4. Content messaging and design
A traditional approach to determining advertising messages might involve A/B testing, among other methods. While these types of market research are important for developing successful (traditional) advertising campaigns, they can be expensive and delay the campaign.
Social media channels allow brands to test their content messaging and design directly with minimal costs. Through likes and comments, brands gain instant customer feedback. Throughout a few posts, it will become clear whether customers are more likely to engage with images, videos or webinars, for example.
If a brand uses social media to generate sales, conversion figures will quickly deliver more tangible insights than A/B testing can. Those insights can immediately be applied to the advertising content, allowing brands to conduct market research and put their findings into practice simultaneously.
Using social media channels for market research lets brands learn about industry trends and competitor activity in real-time. Brand teams can also assess brand perception, messaging and content design without delay, optimizing market research results and overall campaign performance.