How well do you think you know your customers? Every brand has its ideal buyer in mind and likes to think that it creates products that this buyer will love.
But too often, this is just an idea. This buyer was something you thought up years ago, based on a few assumptions or some early market research.
Good companies work to refresh market research. They hold focus groups a few times a year and employ marketing analytics companies to tell them about their buyers (based on even more focus groups).
Those are the good companies. Great companies make it a priority to know their customers deeply and to use this information in every business decision. They find customer insights in market research, yes, but also through daily interactions with buyers, and especially on social media.
In this post, we’ll show you how to use social media to understand your customers better today, tomorrow, and always. There’s no more immediate source of consumer insights than social networks - you just have to know how to access them.
But before we do that...
What are consumer insights?
We live in an age where information is vital. Consumers have so much choice and so much access to goods and services that businesses can’t simply hope for buyers to find them.
Instead, they need to get to know them better.
Consumer insights are new and interesting pieces of information about a brand or industry’s customers. They include key demographics like age, gender, and location, but also topics of interest and sentiment towards certain products.
Don’t worry if this all sounds like buzzwords so far. We’re going to look at how you can use this information shortly.
Brands need as much information about their customers as possible. Not in a creepy, “I’m watching you” way - but they need to know what buyers want, where they spend time online, and how they feel about the main players in the industry.
And it’s not enough to just have “data.” It needs to be insightful.
What qualifies as an “insight?”
True insights, whether about consumers or otherwise, need to meet a few criteria:
- They should be new: If you already knew (or suspected) a particular piece of information, it’s not an insight.
- They should be unexpected: Ideally, you weren’t even looking for it.
- They must be relevant: New information might be interesting, but if it doesn’t match your business goals or your buyers, it’s not an insight you can use.
- They should inspire you to take action: There should be clear next steps coming from good insights.
If a new piece of information meets those criteria, it’s probably a good insight. But why do insights matter?
Why you should care about consumer insights
We can be brief here, because you already know this. How can you create the right products for your buyers if you don’t know what they really want? And then how can you market those products once you’ve made them?
But here’s another factor you need to care about: competitive advantage. The more actionable insights you have, the better your chances of staying ahead of the competition.
And that’s just one example. As we’re about to see, social media insights can also help you:
- Analyze your own customers and understand what makes them buy
- Identify your competitors’ buyers and figure out why they don’t choose you
- Watch industry trends to know what motivates consumers today
- Find new demographics and market your products directly to them
And of course, the deeper you go into your social media data, the more uses for it you’ll find. The goal is to incorporate consumer insights throughout your different business units, to try to become a more data-driven brand. If you can make decisions based on real insights, you can be confident that you know what you’re doing, and not simply guessing as you go.
Anyway, that’s enough of the why. Let’s get into the how.
How to find consumer insights on social media
Finding customer insights on social media is actually fairly easy. It may take some time to explore everything fully, but the data is available and shouldn’t be hard to interpret.
Let’s start with the one piece of equipment you’re really going to need, and then we’ll get hands-on with the insights you should be looking for.
1. Get a good social listening and analytics tool
There’s really no way around this: if you want good social media data and insights, you need a good tool. You can’t monitor social media on your own - there’s just too much of it.
A social listening tool will handle that for you, so you can focus on hunting for insights.
Your tool needs to have:
A. Great listening capabilities
You need data from all the major social networks, delivered in real time, all in one place. If your tool can’t provide that, you’re way behind already.
When you’re looking for a listening tool, there are three key questions to ask:
- Does it cover all the social platforms I care about?
- Is it in real time, or will I have to wait to get results?
- Can I narrow my search terms and apply filters, or will I just have a mess of information?
If you can answer “yes” to all three questions, you’ve probably got a good listening tool. You’ll be able to track everything said about your brand on social media, respond quickly to comments, and strengthen your relationship with customers.
But if you want great consumer insights, you’ll also want good analytics.
B. Excellent analysis features
We’re not all data scientists. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make smarter business decisions based on social media statistics and conversations.
Look for a tool that will take all those thousands of posts and comments, and present them in ways that you can actually learn from. The very best ones even use machine learning to keep improving the results they give you, based on what you need to know.
A good example is Content Landscape, which groups together conversations (and the people having them), to add context to social media data:
If all you care about is reacting quickly to questions and comments, focus on finding the best listening tool you can.
But successful brands like Danone and Expedia actually use social media insights to shape their product and business strategies.
All you need to do the same is powerful, easy-to-use software, and some smart execution.
2. Do some primary audience analysis
The obvious first step for consumer insights is to find out more about the people talking about your brand. Even if you think you know all about the people who buy your products, social media gives you a large sample with which to confirm your suspicions, and you may also be surprised.
Begin by monitoring your own brand name across social media. Once you’ve collected a large enough sample of social mentions - ideally a few thousand - look at the kinds of people mentioning your brand.
[Tip: you can also use a tool like Linkfluence Search, which lets you search for any keyword, whether you’re currently monitoring it or not.]
Image: Location and demographic data from Linkfluence Search.
Good social analytics tools should tell you the age ranges, gender, locations, and languages of these social media users. Which is a very nice start.
Now go further…
You may care specifically about the social users who most love or hate your brand. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to know the kinds of people who talk negatively about you? What do they have in common? And are these the kinds of people we were hoping to reach?
You can easily find out - simply filter your results by negative sentiment:
Image: filter panel from Linkfluence Search
Most good social listening tools offer sentiment or emotional analysis.
Now see whether the results look roughly the same, or if you’ve found a particular type of person who hates your brand:
Image: demographic data from Linkfluence Search
You can then apply the exact same steps to all kinds of different groups:
- Positive commenters only
- Men or women only
- Users in specific countries (or speaking certain languages)
- Users on specific platforms
Look for unexpected insights, and see if you can use these to inform the way you communicate with customers.
3. Discover the main topics associated with your brand
It’s not enough to know whether people are generally positive or negative about your products, and to read a few of their comments every day.
Don’t you also want to know the context for conversations in which your brand name is brought up? When people are talking about you, what else are they talking about?
For example, Nike wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people use their brand name when talking about fashion or basketball:
Image: Topic Wheel on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
But it might be surprised to know that a significant group of users bring up Nike when discussing Asia Pacific politics:
Image: Topic Wheel on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
And that the bulk of these users are between ages 18-24, live in the USA, and mostly talk about the brand on Instagram.
Image: Audience summary on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
This is the kind of insight that fuels future marketing campaigns and lets brands reach consumers in new and interesting ways.
4. Find out where people are talking about you
We already saw that you can identify your audience’s main geographic locations. But what about the platforms they prefer?
In the digital age, your message needs to reach people on their turf. So if your customers are on Instagram, you need to be too.
Social listening tells you where conversations about your brand are happening. For instance, these are the social platforms where people most often discuss major cosmetics brands:
Image: Platform data for major cosmetic brands from Radarly.
It’s likely no surprise that Instagram tops this list. But that Facebook is so far behind might be a shock.
And even if you thought that Instagram would be first, did you realize it would be that far ahead? If a cosmetic brand isn’t committed to Instagram in 2019, it’ll likely be throwing money out the window.
Do the same for your own brand or your industry, and you’ll quickly learn whether your current social strategy makes sense, or if you need to think about other places to communicate with customers.
5. Find consumer insights from your competitors
So far, we’ve only talked about analyzing your own brand. Because of course, that’s the best place to start.
But you can do all of this analysis for the other major players in your industry. Start with an overview of conversations about you and your major competitors:
Image: Radarly analysis of a selection of major cosmetic brands.
Which brands are mentioned the most, get the most engagement, and have the best sentiment?
If one is doing a masterful job, your next task is to try to figure out what they’re doing right, and how you can do the same.
You can look closely at one brand at a time. This is smart, especially if there’s a company that you know had a great quarter, and you want to figure out its secrets.
But you can also take the industry as a whole, and learn more about the typical buyer:
Image: Radarly analysis of four major cosmetic brands.
This gives you more context. You already know what your own audience looks like, but does it match the wider industry audience? And if not, are you ignoring potential customers by focusing too much on your own?
With all of these exercises, we’re looking for new and actionable consumer insights. So as you work through them, see whether anything takes you by surprise, and then whether you can use this to improve your products and communication.
Figure out what you want to focus on
Social media is an incredible data source for consumer insights. There are 3.2 billion social users worldwide, all encouraged to share their loves, gripes, and most immediate desires.
And we’ve only scratched the surface of what you can learn from social data. On top of what we’ve seen, you can also:
- Find leading influencers within your industry
- Identify trends as they emerge, and build your marketing around them
- See where your brand sits within the larger social media landscape
And so much more. It really just depends on your commitment to data.
Start taking your customers seriously, and create the products and services that matter most to them.
Of course, if you're on the lookout for a great social listening tool, we're happy to help: