Using Social Media to Learn About Consumer Needs and Preferences

Social media refers to a suite of online communication tools that enable people to easily share information and network with like-minded businesses or individuals on the Internet. From a marketing perspective, social media is a useful tool for promoting products, building a loyal customer base, sharing information and incentives, and generating buzz about products and services.

By using social media to engage customers in an online conversation, a business can gather feedback, learn about customer needs, and generate ideas for new products or services to satisfy those needs. In this capacity, social media can serve as research and development tools.

Besides testing ideas about products or services, social media tools also can be used to screen or evaluate advertisements, taglines, service concepts, websites, key messages for promotions, pricing, distribution options and the shopping experience.

Below are the five major steps for using social media as research and development tools.

1. Target audience

Identify and recruit the target audience. Develop a profile of whom to target and communicate your expectations for the community while recruiting individuals so the purpose and standards of the online community are clear.

2. Form of social media

Determine the appropriate form of social media. Social media come in many forms, including social networks, review sites, blogs, microblogs, photo- and video-sharing sites, wikis and search.

3. Online community

Find or build an online community that can match your product or service with potential customers. An online community can be public or private. Which structure is best? This depends on the purpose for the interaction, the type of interaction needed and the amount of time available

4. Two-way communication

Engage in two-way communication about the company’s products and be clear about why the company needs consumer insight. Social media can stimulate product development from the product idea’s inception to the physical product’s distribution. Depending on the social media site’s format, companies can begin customer dialogue in different ways, such as surveys and polls, discussion boards, and forums.

5. Content updates

Regularly update content. After recruiting members to your social media site, retaining them is crucial. To maintain their interest, direct information and promotions to them first. Contests, games, web special features, free product and other incentives can encourage increased consumer interest in the online community, make it easier to retain community members and drive new members to the site.

Social media communities are beneficial because they encourage long-term dialogue. Traditional market research methods, such as focus groups, test panels and surveys, often are short-term events, and then the company-consumer relationship ends. A long-term, online dialogue helps build respect and credibility between the group members and the company. However, to succeed, a company’s social media site needs regular attention from the company. A company that doesn’t spend time on its own site will soon find that consumers won’t spend time on the site either.

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