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Turning social media into research and development for the rest of us

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Research and development seems like a foreign concept to many of us. Small businesses, nonprofits and countless others often consider the very ideas of focus groups, surveying and researching customers to be outside their typically tight scope.

The problem is, these businesses can benefit most from the type of insight that market research provides. Where should you allocate your budget? What products or services are most important to your customers? Until recently, small businesses had to roll the dice and hope their decisions yielded results.

Suzette Gardner, director of Internet communications and publications at the National Sleep Foundation, found herself in the “small budget, big needs” predicament many nonprofits struggle with. At the OMS DC Summit, Suzette provided attendees with an inside look at her team’s efforts — explaining how her organization took advantage of the scope and low cost of social media to better understand and prioritize the needs and demands of her customers.

After setting concrete goals focused on increasing sales of the foundation’s literature and getting a better read on which subjects mattered most to their customers, Suzette and a team of four set out to use social media to get the answers they desperately needed. Here are five tips she provided:

  1. Establish your company in as many social networks as possible. For many, this is a no-brainer. But if market research is your first time exploring the wide world of social media, it’s important to get your feet wet in as many puddles as possible. Gardner and her staff expected (the “Online Community for Boomers”) to be the most active, given their typical demographic. But in time, other networks and platforms proved to generate more data, so their small group was able to focus and become more efficient.
  2. Create groups. Initiate and build groups around your issues. Once you have built the focused communities necessary, solicit feedback on issues important to you.
  3. Start conversations. It’s OK to ask the very questions that you’re looking for answers to. Often times, businesses dance around what matters — but customers and constituents want to help drive your products and services. Ask and you shall receive.
  4. Pose relevant questions. Once you have identified the most appropriate spaces, your questions should be in the proper context. If you feel like your question is off-topic and will not be well-received, chances are you’re in the wrong community.
  5. Join groups and conversations that are already in progress. Suzette saw most of her success in these endeavors. Although she created new groups, joining the larger, established groups and gathering input proved to be the most useful. Also, Suzette noted that some of the “older” group platforms (Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, Windows Live Groups) were the most active and fruitful spaces.

The information the National Sleep Foundation Foundation gathered was immediately acted on. After about three months of creating, engaging and gathering, the organization found that users were interested in more information about restless leg syndrome. Consequently, the team built Even though they gathered 100% of their insights from social spaces, the group members found that their customers preferred print brochures over digital, so resources were allocated back to the some of the outdated yet important brochures.

Some companies have research and development departments. Some bring in consultants. While a good strategy and proper execution still takes man-hours and dedication, research and development via social media is a useful and cost-efficient alternative for those of us looking to make better decisions.

Image credit: binabina, via iStockphoto