how to use social media as a market research tool

5 Steps For Using Social Media as a Market Research Tool

September 04, 2014
Josh Light
caitlin jolley headshot

Caitlin Jolley

Last week I sat down with Caitlin Jolley to discuss using social media as a market research tool.

Caitlin is the founder and CEO of Inside & Out Cosmetics. In addition to running her business, she does social media consulting for a number of brands.

This article is meant for small businesses or startups who are looking for ways to understand their online customer base. This article could be used to market a completely new product, or to help your business understand how to market existing products to an online community.

Often times businesses make the critical mistake of assuming their customers have the same tastes and preferences as themselves.

In reality, you can’t market to yourself because it’s highly unlikely that your consumers have the same preferences as you. You need to put yourself in their shoes, and make marketing decisions that are data-driven.

Another mistake small business owners make is to assume their brick and mortar customers have the same preferences as their online consumers. This isn’t always the case.

To avoid these mistakes, you must identify your audience and customize content for them. When we say content we mean Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, pinterest posts, etc.

inside and out cosmetics

Screenshot from Caitlin’s cosmetic website.

5 Steps For Using Social Media as a Market Research Tool

1) Look at What Your Competitor’s are Doing


Looking at what your competitors are doing online will give you an idea of which social networks work better than others.

One of Caitlin’s clients is a high end men’s swimwear line. The first thing she did for this client was to explore how other men’s swimwear lines were promoting themselves online.

She did this by exploring hashtags, searching through Pinterest, and analyzing her competitor’s Facebook Fan Pages.

In her research, she was looking for content that was getting a lot of engagement (likes, favorite, etc), hashtags that were being used frequently, and keywords people were using regularly that were related to men’s swimwear.

She recognized that men’s swimwear performed exceptionally well on Instagram (based on likes). As a result, one of the first networks she ended up focusing on was Instagram….and it paid off.

Another perk to doing research on your competitors is it gives you some ideas on the types of content you can create for your small business.

We’re not recommending that you rip-off your competitors content, but examining it will get your creative solutions going so you can produce some original content.

2) Create Some Test Content

test content

Test content is content that is produced based on your research of competitors.

The idea here is to create some content, and get it out there. Try to think of content your customers will like.

The next step is to ask for feedback. We live in an age where people love to give their opinions. Make a post on your Facebook Fan Page asking people what they think, or create a survey.

Pro tip: you can use Survey Monkey to create free surveys.

It’s a lot easier for people to comment on something rather than creating something completely original. Asking for feedback works, and it helps you to refine your content.

Be sure to record any feedback you receive because you’ll be using it later.

Caitlin used feedback for her men’s swimwear line by asking her online audience their opinion between various product colors. This helped her refine their product, and it gave Caitlin insight on color preferences of her target market.

3) Research

researching social media

There are two types of research: primary and secondary.

Primary Research

Primary research is research that you do yourself. Step 2 is an example of primary research. Your test content if primary research.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is research done by someone else.

We are fortunate to live in a time where there is a ton of demographic information freely available on the internet.

Use Google to find demographic information on the social networks you’re thinking of targeting. For example, type “Facebook demographics” in Google to learn about Facebook’s user demographics.

Pro tip: here is Pew Research’s updated 2014 social media demographics.

You’re looking for general demographics like how old people are, where they live, what sex they are, etc.

You’re also looking for articles that provide information on when you should post content, and the types of content people generally use on the social network in question.

Bonus: if you want to know the best time to post content then download Redbirdq. It’s free, and it can help you figure out when you should share content on various social networks.

Once you’ve completed your primary and secondary research you’re going to need to ask yourself why certain types of content get more engagement, what social networks have the same user demographics as your current customers, and do you have the skills to produce great content for the social network in question.

Bonus: Caitlin’s male swimwear line targets¬†millennials. If you are targeting millennials too then you should look into using Pinterest to research your product or service. This is one of the primary tools Caitlin used when researching her swimwear line.

4) Refine

twitter quote

The next step is to use all of this information to refine your content. Listen to the feedback you get from your users, and look at what types of content gets the most engagement.

If some piece of content isn’t working then scrap it. Try something else.

One of Caitlin’s test content for the male swimwear line was the use of a specific hashtag. Caitlin noticed that it wasn’t being used by anyone besides the brand, so she stopped using it.

5) Repeat


Recognize that nothing in our world is static….everything changes all the time.

Markets, tastes, and trends are always on the move. This means that you will need to repeat this process regularly.

Caitlin recommends that you schedule a time to do this weekly, monthly, or whenever your resources allow.

This will help you produce content, and products your customers love.

How do you use social media for market research? Please comment below.

Caitlin Jolley is a marketing professional with over twelve years of experience in a variety of industries. She obtained her MBA from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT with an emphasis in marketing and entrepreneurship. Caitlin provides strategy, content creation, and budget management to a number of clients.  Her clients have ranged from clothing lines to nonprofit organizations to accountants and everything in between.  Caitlin is the founder of Inside and Out Cosmetics and sits on the board for Women of the World.

(Photo Credit: Flickr via Nicola, Joel Nilsson, Andy Rennie, Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Po…,, Sean MacEntee)