ImageMarket research can be a costly and time-intensive process. However, many businesses have begun to turn to social media as a cost-effective and in-depth tool for gaining insights into their customers, market, brand appearance and other important market research aspects. The keys to utilizing social media for market research are to understand the benefits and creating a proper research plan. These six tips offer easy to implement ways to utilize social media in your market research methods for improved, measurable results.

1. Track Trends with Social Media for Real-Time Insights

Most social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook, offer numerous ways to analyze trends and conduct market research. By simply searching the latest posts and popular terms, you can gain insight into emerging trends and see what customers are talking about in real-time. One example of this is conducting hashtag searches on Twitter. By setting up a few searches with hashtags related to your brand, industry or product, you can receive instant notifications when customers, clients or competitors use key terms.

2. Learn the Language of Your Audience for Improved Marketing Appeal

The words and factors that you use to track the success of your product or business might not always align with what customers find most important. By analyzing social media exchanges about your product or service, you can learn what factors customers use to determine value as well as the way that they speak about your product, service or brand. By utilizing these factors and terms within your own marketing, you can speak directly to consumers and improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. By creating customer-centric definitions of value, quality and other important terms, you can help to create a brand or product image that is unique amongst competitors and speaks directly to your target market.

3. Use the Real-Time Aspects of Social Media for Quick Research

Traditional market research methods, such as surveys or study groups, could take months to plan, form and execute. With social media, research can be conducted in a matter of minutes or hours. This makes it possible to use market research to follow increasingly specific aspects of your marketing efforts. From product launches to follow-up marketing, each part of your marketing plan can be analyzed independently for improved results across the entirety of your marketing plan. Instead of spending months developing a marketing research plan, and possibly only gaining outdated information as trends change, you can use social media for market research right now.

4. Use Social Media to Broaden the Scope of Your Market Research

Social media is increasing in popularity with both businesses and consumers across virtually every market demographic in existence. A 2011 report by Nielson on the state of social media claims that approximately 80-percent of people with Internet access utilize social media. This makes it possible to conduct market research with an audience that is many times larger than nearly any other marketing or media source can provide. The casual nature and easy access of social media also helps to promote user interaction, engagement and participation. This improves the chances of obtaining useful, accurate and honest data from your efforts.

5. Discover Unnoticed Trends and Insights by Engaging Instead of Leading

One of the biggest weaknesses to most marketing research methods is that they are driven by questions. To obtain the proper information, you must first know what to ask. At the same time, simply rewording a question can result in drastically different answers. This means that your market research is only as good as your questions. With the broad scope and interactive nature of social media, information is gained through interaction and observation. Instead of leading the discussions, you can simply observe or join in as an equal. This can result in a variety of answers and discoveries that might have remained hidden using other research methods.

6. Harness Social Media Research for Improved Cost Efficiency

In most cases, utilizing social media for market research is simply a matter of investing time. Free tools exist for nearly every social media platform to help gather information and use it to derive useful information. When compared to focus panels, discussion groups, studies and surveys, the cost difference is staggering. Through user engagement and discussion, your social media research also serves as advertising, brand building, network building, lead generation and offers numerous other improvements for your business or brand. When planned and implemented properly, few market research tools offer the cost efficiency and overall benefit of social media research.

From reduced costs and real-time access to information to the ability to uncover hidden trends and improve your marketing approach, social media offers powerful ways to optimize the market research efforts of any business. Best of all, social media research offers numerous ways to interact with your market and build your business. Conducting research is as simple as signing up for a social media service, such as LinkedIn or Twitter, and utilizing their built-in search features. Within minutes, your business can start analyzing trends, improving your marketing strategies and work towards achieving your desired results.

image: market research/shutterstock