How To Use Facebook For Market Research

This post should start with a few disclaimers:

  • I have no formal training in market research, although I am a trained researcher at the doctoral level
  • I’ve been very interested in social media for professional use for the last four years
  • For the last year my professional position has focused exclusively on social media for business

Given this information, you may not be surprised to find out that I think social media should be a key component of any business’s market research strategy. However, most businesses don’t know how to approach it because it’s 1) not taught in business school, 2) ever-changing, and 3) hard to automate. While that may be intimidating for others, it shouts OPPORTUNITY to me because it means that the majority of businesses won’t spend the time to do it right. So, I can do it well (for my employer and for others who may use my ad-hoc services) and blow the competition out of the water simply because I tried. And so can you.

A One Paragraph Market Research Primer

Market research has three main functions: describe, evaluate, and predict. While social media can play a part in all of these functions, it’s a gold mine for descriptive market intelligence. Current and potential customers are spouting opinions about your products, how they feel when they’re making specific decisions, what pop culture topics they’re interested in, and what questions they have related to your industry that you could answer. I’ve never been in a position to have access to a suite of expensive tools that automates all of this for me; I’m more of a do-it-yourself type of person. I’m willing to put in the work to collect, sort, and analyze this information into actionable intelligence. For most small to mid-size brands, this is not an insurmountable task.

But this post, specifically, is about Facebook.

Four Ways You Can Use Facebook For Market Research

A few caveats about these tactics. They rely on what Facebook users make publicly available. I’m consistently amazed by how much public information exists on Facebook, but not everyone makes their Facebook likes, check-ins, or demographic information public. Unlike some scientific market research, there is no recognized sampling technique here, other than convenience sampling. That being said, it’s self-reported consumer data that in most cases is freely available, and you or your company may find that to be valuable.

Use Graph Search To Identify Customer Interests

Did you notice that Facebook changed its search functionality earlier this year? Some of us got access as early as January, but by now everyone should have Graph Search. You’ll know you have Graph Search if you see this when you hover over the search box at the top of any page on Facebook:

Facebook Graph Search

Graph search organizes all of the information that people have publicly shared on Facebook, focusing mainly on likes, interests, photos, and places. If you have a healthy Facebook Page (or your competitors do) you can try any variation on the following search terms. If you don’t have a healthy Facebook Page, use your competitors’ pages where I’ve indicated [COMPANY PAGE], if you can assume that your competitors have customers similar to yours.

  • Favorite interests of people who like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Pages liked by people who like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Favorite sports teams of people who like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Favorite movies of friends of people who like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Apps used by people who like [COMPANY PAGE].

The information you glean from these searches can help you identify potential partnerships, sponsorships, or pop culture tie-ins to your marketing.

Use Graph Search To Identify Interests of Segmented Audiences

This is simply a riff on the previous tactic. By adding some clarifying language, you can further segment your customer (or potential customer) base to help you craft targeted marketing campaigns.

  • Favorite interests of people over age 18 and under age 24 who like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Favorite interests of people who have graduated from college and like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Favorite interests of people who are stay at home moms and like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Groups joined by people who are over age 65 and like [COMPANY PAGE].
  • Apps used by males over 13 years old and under 18 years old who like [COMPANY PAGE].

Use A Social Search Utility To Identify Comments About Your Company

This is probably the most commonly used tactic on this list. If you use a product like Radian6 or Lithium, you can search public posts on a variety of social networks, including Facebook, for a variety of keywords. These products are not free, but many of them have robust search functionality and timely alerts.

Use Graph Search To Identify Conversations

You may want to know what people are saying in certain life situations, like buying a house, deciding where to go to college, upgrading their television, or starting a small business. Although it’s not publicly available at the time I’m writing this post, Facebook has announced that they will be rolling out Graph Search for posts, comments, and check-ins in the future. I don’t have access to this yet, but I am very excited about it. Knowing exactly how people are talking about purchase decisions or life-stage struggles will help marketers identify the voice of the customer. For now, when I try to do this I’m presented with this depressing message:

Graph Search Not Available


If you’d like some more information about Graph Search, check out this presentation I gave earlier this year at a social media marketing conference.

Are there other ways you have used Facebook for market research?

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