Market research used to involve direct mail, focus groups, surveys and tons of money. Researching your competition meant hiring friends to scope them out or attending tradeshows to see what they’re up to. Finding employees meant running an ad in the classifieds and spending weeks going through resumes. While there is still a place for those methods, small business owners can now make use of a more grassroots and budget friendly research tool: Twitter.

You can use Twitter to learn about your market, your competitors and even find employees or subcontractors. Here's how!

Researching Your Customers

The key to using twitter to research your customers is conversation. Yes, you can research keywords and find people who are already conversing. But it’s even better to start or jump into the conversation your self. Ask questions, take informal polls and tweet topics that will inspire your followers to respond.

While you’re at it, find total strangers in your market and ask them questions. Chances are, they’ll respond and you’ll be amazed at the kind of information and candor you can get this way.

These techniques will help you dig into your market and find out what your customers really think, what they’re struggling with and ultimately, what you can offer to help them.

Researching Your Competition

Finding out what the competition is doing is often a step small, online business owners leave out. The competition isn’t in the shop across the street, so it’s easy to forget about them – until one of our customers decides to use their service or product instead.

Before social media, finding out what our competition was doing, so we could do it better or cheaper, meant bringing in friends to be our undercover shoppers, buying expensive research or sleuthing at tradeshows.

With Twitter though, it’s like we have a window into the competitor’s customer service department. By searching for the competitor’s name or product name, we can instantly see what people are saying about them. We can also see how the competitors are responding to their customers and how they are interacting with them. We’re a fly on their wall.

Finding Employees or Subcontractors

Once we know what our customers want and how to give it to them better than our competitors, we’ll need to hire employees or subcontractors. Before Twitter, we had to pay for ads in the newspaper or bargain papers, or hire staffing services. Or hope someone we know can help up.

Once you have a following in Twitter that is interested in your industry, you can tap that pool for potential workers. What better person to provide virtual customer service for your company than someone who already loves what you do?

Twitter has revolutionized not only our social world, but also our market research world. We can now do in a few hours what used to take weeks, and tons of money.

In the next post we will discuss some Twitter automation tips.

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