“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”
Nobel Prize-Winner Albert Szent-Györgyi
How well do you know your competition? How well do you know your customers?
When putting together a business proposal, many entrepreneurs and small business owners will do competitive research to build a business strategy. How long has it been since you really dug into some research? It may be time to shake things up to stay ahead of the game and to deliver fresh ideas.
Research can be intimidating – charts, data and time-consuming analysis. But who says all research has to be scientific?
Social media helps make research simple.
1. Tweet to Compete.
Specific Twitter tools such as TweetDeck, HootSuite or simply Twitter Search can help you track what your customers are saying about your company and your competitors, research who is talking about trends in your industry and find out what customers want.
For example, if you own a lawn maintenance company in Atlanta, GA, try using TwitterLocal to search for words like #grass, #lawn, #drought or #garden. You will find potential customers in your area – create a list of them, respond to their tweets to build a relationship first, then offer your services and follow-up. Find out how your competitors are using Twitter (if at all) and do it better. Twitter is one of the most effective tools for eventually building relationships.
2. LinkedIn is your Friend.
Though it isn’t as well-known as Twitter or Facebook, LinkedIn is a valuable tool for business research and networking. Business owners can easily search for competitive companies in their area, join groups to find other industry professionals or fans, and connect directly with business partners or potential customers. Your customers will be able to find your company more easily, recommend your business and provide feedback if you maintain your own company’s LinkedIn page.
For example, the owner of a coffee shop in Seattle may want to join the Seattle Start-Up Club to network with area entrepreneurs, or Seattle Gourmet Foods to research potential partnerships.
Guy Kawasaki posted a helpful article on his blog this week to help SMBs create opportunities using LinkedIn.
3. Face it: Facebook.
You know you like sharing with your friends and family on Facebook, now make it work for your business! Create a business page for your company to begin gathering feedback with your customers and fans. This week, a social media company announced that they consider Facebook fans as earned media – worth $3.60 each, to be exact. But more important than measuring your social success using numbers, use Facebook as a tool to ask your fans questions and allow for feedback. Be prepared to be as transparent as possible and take the good with the bad – it’s most important to gather information from people who are dedicated enough to become your fan.
SAS Cupcakes, which has locations in Newark, Del. and Charlotte, NC recently used Facebook to advertise an in-person taste test and gather feedback from some sweet-toothed customers. This is just one great way to use Facebook to connect both online and in person!
Small Biz Trends has some more great tips for utilizing Facebook here.
If you’re really ready to “keep tabs” on the competition, Inc. Magazine has a guide for you here.
Remember that research never ends – but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task on your to-do list. Set up a weekly research plan as part of your larger communications strategy. Don’t rely only on Google only – there are so many tools that you can use to strengthen your business. Have other examples of how businesses are using social media for research? Feel free to leave comments and share.