Focus groups have long been a primary weapon in the marketer’s arsenal – anyone who’s watched Mad Men (which it seems is just about everyone at this point) has seen a focus group in action, and there are even marketing firms who specialize solely in running them. But that can be expensive, and besides, why limit yourself to a small group of people when you have the entire internet at your fingertips?

There are many different ways to take advantage of that, and here are some of the best techniques along with the reasons why you should use them.

Determining The Best Places To Advertise

Using social media monitoring tools to see where your target audience lives, works, and plays online is definitely not a new tactic; however, using them to decide where and how to advertise could possibly be the most valuable use of your social media software. But perhaps not in the way you currently think.

Of course, you can use these types of free and paid software as well as your own analytics set-up to see where your users are already posting positive things about your company and the brands and items that you carry, but that might not be the best use of your budget. Rather, you want to see where they aren’t saying those things – where your target audience is either actively posting negative things about your store and the products you stock, or where they aren’t saying anything at all. After all, that’s where you have the chance to introduce yourself and change their minds.

Monitoring software options range from free or low-cost platforms (e.g. Social Mention, Sprout Social, and Hootsuite) to more high-end solutions like Sysomos and Radian6. And these will be useful for many other purposes beyond market research and media planning as well.

Discovering What Kind Of Ads Work Best For Your Store

Not all advertisements are created equal, as every marketer knows. However, you can use the ways that users already interact with your content (and the way that they engage with your competitors – more on that following) to ensure that your future ads are the most effective.

Take it beyond just click-through rate and ask users what they think – directly! You could even consider crowdsourcing ads or asking your audience what products you should feature, or feature positive comments or reviews in your ads themselves. Anything you can do to help your clientele feel like they have a personal investment or exclusive access will help them develop an increased affinity for your company, which leads to repeat purchases, recommendations, and more social capital.

Performing Competitive Analysis

Discovering what your competing brands or companies do on social media seems easy enough on the surface – you just need to follow them and see what they post. But that’s a one-way street – it is more important to see how people reply to them and what they think of them as a whole.

However, seeing what other people say about them, their customer service, their offerings, and overall user experience can offer even more valuable insights. Social media reviews may need to be taken with a grain of salt, of course (especially the anonymous ones), but they can also provide a unique learning experience that no real-life focus group could provide, and tracking them costs nothing but time.

Finding New Products To Carry Via Social Media

Start by tracking the items and brands you currently carry and see what other products your audience recommends – essentially, this is the social media marketing version of “related content” or “you may also like”. Start with shopping search engines and see what they position alongside the products you already carry.

Next, you can use social media tools like the ones mentioned above to see what other keywords commonly appear in your audience’s posts – including the names of products or brands they mention as they are comparison shopping and seeking the opinions of others online.

Holding An Actual Digital Focus Group

Twitter is perhaps the best forum for this, but Facebook and even Reddit can work as well, especially if you choose the right subreddits (the niche communities within the site itself – there is literally a subreddit for every topic you can think of and then some). Granted, people on Twitter and Facebook tend to be more open than most to interacting with marketers, but other forums can work as well – just be open about your intentions.

Advertise the focus group ahead of time, offering a special promo or discount code to those who participate, and make sure to collect their info (email addresses, social media handles, etc.) for future marketing purposes.