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Social Media Research: A Comprehensive Guide

Guv Callahan

May 20, 2024

Social media research helps you unlock the potential of social content for business. We’re living in a world where tweets hold power and likes shape perceptions. When you know what to publish and who you’re posting it for, you can construct a stronger strategy that helps you meet key goals.

Data isn’t just about numbers; it’s about uncovering narratives and following the breadcrumbs of likes, shares, and comments to gain deeper understandings. There’s a method to the madness of selfies and status updates. The right approach to social media research helps you learn more about the collective consciousness of society — and use it to your advantage.

Let’s explore the language of social media likes and shares and dig beneath the surface of our digital interactions.


What is Social Media Research?

experts conducting social media research

Social media research is the process of using social media data to learn about trending topics, audiences, and content performance. Reviewing social data gives you quantitative insights (e.g., engagement rates, best posting times), but it can also lead to qualitative learnings like human behaviors, preferences, and opinions.

When conducting social media research, companies can look for patterns and sentiments to drive their social media marketing strategy. They can decide what content to create, which channels to post on, how to reach their audience, when to post content, and a myriad of other decisions that will lead to faster results.

Tools and Techniques for Social Media Research

putting a magnifying glass on data collected during research

There’s no single best way to do social media research. You can manually review engagement on your posts or look at your competitors’ content. Or you can use third-party social listening tools to aggregate social data for you. 

Social media research can be formal (like a traditional research project) or informal. You might have a certain goal in mind, or you might not know what you’re looking for and just want to see what pops up. 

Let’s review some options.

Social media analytics

No matter what channels you choose, you can gain a wealth of insights from built-in social analytics. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter give you instant intel about your content performance and audiences. 

Even better, you don’t always need to know what you’re looking for. You can start combing through your analytics, then jot down questions or ideas you want to explore further.

Tip: Learn more in our blog The Complete Guide to Social Media Analytics.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a free and underrated tool that gives you unique angles and insights on a given topic. You can set up a Google Alert related to a keyword or topic of your choice, then receive a daily digest of articles published on that topic. 

From there, you can learn more about what other brands and businesses are publishing. Repurpose your findings into your social media content to get ahead of trends and topics. You can lead conversations instead of joining them after they blow up on social.

Social listening tools

Social listening tools like Meltwater let you be the fly on the wall in the social world. You can “listen” to what your audience is saying and truly be everywhere all at once. 

These tools monitor billions of publicly available data points across multiple social channels, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They help brands track mentions of their products or brand names in real time so you can become part of important conversations. 

You can also track topics related to your niche or learn more about what your audience is talking about beyond your brand. This gives you direct insight into their lifestyles so you can meet them where they are authentically.

Media intelligence tools

Taking social listening a step further, you can add media intelligence tools to the mix to learn what’s being talked about beyond social media. Meltwater’s media intelligence suite lets you monitor TV and radio channels, blogs, print media, and other new sources around the world.

This gives you more comprehensive insights into hot topics and trends that you can repurpose for social media. News-worthy events make their way to social media, giving you an easy “in” to your audience’s attention. 

Understanding the Difference: Social Media Research vs. Traditional Research

handling news and posts on social media

Aside from the social-specific aspect, social media research holds a few advantages over traditional research. 

For starters, social research gives you real-time data that’s constantly changing. You can also get the most specific insights according to your audience and social channels, not just general info. This means you can shorten the research curve and get faster insights about topics that matter to you. 

By comparison, traditional research is often a more structured approach with specific goals in mind. It typically requires lots of sources and manual effort. It takes time to find and vet sources, cross-reference data, and ensure a high level of accuracy. 

Combining both types of research can give you the most comprehensive view of your audience.

Harnessing the Power of Social Media Research for Your Business

Now that you know what social media research is, let’s explore some ways you can apply it to your business.

Identify your target audience

Analyzing social media data can help you pinpoint who your target audience is (because it’s not always who you think). You might have your audience defined on the surface with basics like age, gender, and geographic location, but social research can dig several layers deeper to uncover new audience segments you haven’t considered. 

Audiences evolve all the time. Their preferences, needs, and interests change. This means that who you want to reach today might not be the same person you want to connect with in the future. Constantly finding new things about your audience will help you continue generating content that captures their interests.

Improve brand reputation

Monitoring online conversations and feedback gives companies a direct path to reputation management. You can more easily spot when trouble might be brewing so you can act fast and defend against hits to your brand image.

Proactively engaging with customers on social platforms shows that the company values their opinions and is committed to providing excellent customer service. This not only builds trust and loyalty but also strengthens the brand's reputation as a customer-centric organization.

Optimize social media marketing campaigns

When you know more about your audience and past content performance, you’re in a better position to create better posts that resonate. Learn what type of content your audience prefers based on engagement metrics. Tailor your content and messaging to reflect their interests and needs.

You’ll also have insights about what’s hot in the social media world. You can use these trends as the foundation for your own content, taking the guesswork out of what you should talk about. 

Tip: Learn more about tailoring your content and messaging in our Personalization at Scale Guide!

Ethics and Privacy in Social Media Research

image of a social media specialist checking her smartphone at her desk

Collecting social media research from outside data sources brings ethics and privacy into question. Marketers should be proactive in asking where their data is coming from and how it was obtained. 

Ideally, you’ll choose tools that are in compliance with regulations like GDPR and CCPA. Know how they obtain data and whether they safeguard individual users’ information. Getting ahead of your competitors shouldn't be at the expense of your customers’ privacy or potential legal challenges.

Success Stories: Real World Examples of Social Media Research

Companies around the world use social media research to drive engagement, create better content, and grow their brand presence. 

Take Shiseido, for instance. This Meltwater customer uses our Explore solution to learn what makes their brand special across 120 markets. The company uses social listening to monitor competitors, unify social mentions in a single dashboard, and understand the brand’s presence on a global stage.

Another Meltwater customer, Fifty Acres, uses the platform to learn about relevant narratives happening on social media. Learning what others are talking about allows them to shape their own stories, pitch new ideas for business growth, and connect with people in the right places at the right times.

W Hotels in Singapore is another great example of social media research at work. The company uses Meltwater to learn more about what customers like when traveling, allowing them to create custom experiences in their hotels.

Last but not least, Mailchimp uses Meltwater to inform its content strategy. The company looks for trends and themes on social media that resonate with creators, allowing them to easily scale their content by making their audience go bananas over every post.

Learn more when you request a demo by filling out the form below.