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Social media monitoring can supplement – or even replace – traditional market research. Traditional market research – surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews — has disadvantages. It reflects feelings of a small group of people at one point in time. The information gathered is time-constrained, selective and skewed.

People may not tell researchers what they really believe. They may not even know what they think at the time. Researchers may ask the wrong questions, speak to the wrong groups or interpret what they say incorrectly.

Advantages of Research through Social Media Listening

Social media listening offers a solution. Market research attained through social media monitoring has several advantages:

More current. Companies observe how feelings toward their brands and more general consumer preferences change over time.

More accurate. Because information gathered is unprompted, it is more likely to reveal customers’ true feelings.

Fast. Social media analytics can produce data in hours or days, as opposed to weeks or months for conventional research methods.

More affordable. Social media analytics can produce reports at a fraction of the cost of conventional research methods.

Research Uses of Social Media Monitoring

Product satisfaction. Companies can determine deficiencies and strengths of products or service by monitoring social media conversations. That can help guide future product enhancements and produce new products that would not have otherwise been considered.

Audience segmentation. Social media monitoring and measurement tools can filter and analyze data based on demographics, geography and sentiment to provide detailed analysis and insights.

Competitive intelligence. Companies can also monitor conversations surrounding competitors’ products. They can take care to avoid similar issues that prompt complaints and quickly emulate features that elicit praise from consumers.

“Used right, it can help you hear and act on opportunities to delight and service your customers better or identify a competitive niche,” states Anand Rao, innovation lead for PwC’s U.S. data and analytics practice. “Used preventatively, it’s a way to hear negative buzz, or spot competitive or political moves that may indicate risks, and allow you to build resilience to them in time.”

Advice for Implementing Social Media Listening

Rao offers these recommendations:

Start with the business challenge. Base your social listening approach on the business challenge your organization is trying to solve and what you hope to gain from social listening.

Break down silos. Don’t treat this as simply a data, IT or marketing issue. Bring together the right skills from inside and outside your organization to address the business challenge at hand. Make sure that relevant data feeds back to the relevant corporate functions to inform business decisions in a timely way.

Choose the right tools and techniques. Many social analytics tools provide superficial data. Find a service that provides insight into your industry or the topic you need to understand. Because social listening technology changes rapidly, select a tool that is flexible and can seamlessly integrate new advancements. Ideally, you’ll be able to customize the tool to meet your specific needs and objectives. Asking the right questions will help you select a media monitoring service that meets your needs. Asking the right questions will separate high-quality firms from the less desirable services.

Make the benefits last. Don’t just set up a one-off analytics project or tool. Make sure the right conversations flow to the right stakeholders. Make social listening part of normal data gathering practices so that insights gained continue to help you achieve business objectives.

Bottom Line: Social media monitoring and measurement can produce market research that is more accurate than traditional research methods – and faster and more cheaply. These recommendations can help companies apply social listening to research their markets and products.

This article was first published on the blog.