Social Media: The Perfect Tool For Spying On Your Customers (Aka Doing Market Research)

Marketers need to take a page out of the modern parenting handbook and utilize social media to spy on their customers and target

Okay, that sounds bad — but just like parents that keep tabs on their 14-year-old’s Instagram account, marketers should follow people in their target demographic to see where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing.

Like the parent, marketers have their customers’ best interest at heart — we just want to give them what they need. But, like the 14-year-old kid, they won’t always tell us directly.

If you aren’t already doing so, here are five steps you need to take to leverage social media to get the skinny on your customers.

1. Identify

Many businesses make it a goal to get as many followers as possible, but they often forget to tap back into the rich pool of data that followers create.

One way to do so is to follow a select group of key fans, influencers or followers that perfectly fit your demographic. Identifying these key individuals isn’t a simple task; luckily, there are some tools that can help, such as:

  • Radian6
  • Klout
  • Twitter search bar
  • Facebook Graph Search

You can use these tools to find those that are already engaged in conversation about your brand, match your product’s target demographic or are already fans of the brand.

One thing to note is that the identification process is never ending. You always want to be searching for new influencers and members of your key demographic so you have an accurate mix of people that are already fans or consist of the demographic you’re trying to target. Additionally, you’ll (hopefully) be capturing new followers with new information to offer on an ongoing basis.

2. Follow

After you’ve identified the people you want to follow, now it’s time to actually follow them. But following is an art unto itself. Following tactics also vary by social network. Here are some tips on how to manage your following activity:


  • Key Influencers/Fans: Follow from the primary business profile. This allows you to more easily see and follow current chatter. Current fans of the brand will be excited by the recognition because social media is nothing short of egocentric.
  • Target Demographic(s): Create a new account (disassociated with the brand) so you can follow your target demo separately from current fans. This will make it easier to separate chatter among fans vs. the larger demographic. If you have various cross sections in your demo, think about creating a few separate accounts so you can have isolated views of each. But definitely try to keep it manageable.


  • Since you can’t follow people from a brand fan page, tapping into Facebook is tough. The best way is to utilize Facebook Open Graph Search to find those in your demographic and hope most/some have open profiles for you to check out. Since you really can’t follow them, you may just want to observe and see if there are any interesting similarities in other interests your demographic may have that may help target others like them.

3. Observe

Once you’ve set up the appropriate profiles and started following people, the next step is to observe and take note of the chatter. You want to keep an eye on things like:

  • Sentiment of brand (if being discussed)
  • Sentiment of competition (if being mentioned)
  • TV shows commonly talked about
  • Brands commonly discussed
  • Other brands that are frequently mentioned
  • Events that are commonly promoted
  • Topics (articles, videos and photos) that are commonly shared
  • Websites of content commonly shared

You want to gather as much lifestyle data you can on these people — especially those that are already fans. It will help layer psychographic data onto of your demographic data.

4. List

Now that you’ve spent some time observing comments, shares, trends, etc., you need to start listing out common threads.

If you see a few websites that are frequently referenced, then create a list of popular sites. If you observe certain article topics or image themes that are shared a ton of, create a list of preferred topics outside of your own brand’s focus. Here are some recommended lists to create:

  • Websites
  • News topics
  • Celebrities
  • Image topics
  • Brands (outside of your brand’s industry)
  • Political leanings/opinions on political topics

This may take some time to accumulate. Definitely spend a month or two observing, and list out as many common themes as you can see. You want to be following enough people to make these observations statistically relevant.

5. Engage

Once you have your lists situated, now you can use this data to engage with the larger audience. Here are some thoughts on how to engage based on your lists:

  • Websites (Display Buys)
  • News topics (Content Marketing Strategy)
  • Celebrities (Partnership/Celeb. Endorsements)
  • Image topics (Web Design/Content Marketing)
  • Brands (outside of your brand’s industry) (Partnerships)
  • Political leanings/Opinions on political topics (Marketing Messaging)

How you engage will vary greatly depending on your brand, product and the target marketing you’re going after.

Keep Your Ear To The (Virtual) Ground

Social media marketing isn’t all about pushing content and building followers. It’s also a way to gather information on your target audience and use this information to expand your customer base.

So, put on your parenting hat and tap into social media to keep tabs on your customers and target markets.

 (Stock image via Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing Column


About The Author: has over 9 years of Search Engine Optimization experience with a specific emphasis on content marketing/optimization and website taxonomy/organization. He currently sets search marketing strategy for a wide array of top-tier clients in various industries and countries at The Search Agency.

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  • Deep End

    What a great idea. Must admit I’ve been finding social media marketing to be akin trying to fight the tide. Putting on the deerstalker makes a lot of sense so you’re not wasting your time & energy barking up the wrong tree. (Sorry about all the analogies) Thanks for the tips David!


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