How to Use Social Media for Market Research

Classic OPTE Project Map of the Internet 2005 Pssst, wanna hear a secret? You can conduct free market research using online social media tools. I don’t know about you, but free is my favorite price.

You may already know that you can tap into a plethora of statistics from the US government (e.g. census data, economic statistics, etc). There are also a ton of articles from Entrepreneur Magazine, INC. Magazine, and Not to mention all the great books out there.

But for immediate, real-time commentary, criticisms, and opinions from your customers (potential, current, and previous), social media is the key. Here are some tools to help you.


These tools take a keyword and offer detailed search results sourced from social media sites. All of them are constantly tweaking their algorithms and pool of sources, so their result sets vary quite a bit. Most, but not all, provide RSS feeds of their results too.

The benefit here is monitoring mentions of your brand, products, and/or services. Though you will have to wade through a lot of noise, occasionally, you can find useful suggestions or criticisms. These tools even allow you to engage with potential, current and former customers, which can add to the personability of your business.

I differentiate the blogosphere from social media in my descriptions below. The blogosphere is the collection of blogs on the Internet. Social media sites are social/community-oriented sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. For each, I’ve used the Amazon Kindle (AMZN) as an example topic.

  • FriendFeed – searches through whatever social media sources its members have added.
  • Technorati – searches through the blogosphere, but not other social media.
  • Google Blog Search – also searches through the blogosphere.
  • BlogPulse – also searches through the blogosphere.
  • Twitter Search – provides results only from Twitter.
  • OneRiot – searches just the URLs shared on Twitter.
  • Dipity – searches through social media sites and displays the results against a timeline.
  • Kosmix – creates a customized SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for each keyword with results from blogs and social media sites, including notes from human editors.
  • Addict-o-matic – also creates customized SERPs from social media sites.
  • Social Mention – searches through social media sites and includes statistics of the keyword: strength, sentiment, passion & reach.
  • Scour – searches through social media sites and includes the result’s ranking on various search engines.
  • Samepoint – searches through social media sites and includes how negative or positive that source is on the topic.
  • Whos Talkin – searches through the blogosphere and social media sites.
  • BoardTracker – searches through popular forums
  • Omgili – searches for discussions of your keyword on popular forums, mailing lists, answer boards, blogs, and even reviews on ecommerce sites.
  • BackType – searches for discussions of your keyword on blogs and social media sites.
  • Talk Digger – searches for discussions of your keyword on blogs.
  • HowSociable – provides a visibility score ranking based on the number of keyword mentions on various social media sites.
  • Google Alerts – sends an email each time a new page based on your keyword is indexed.


In contrast to searching for existing discussions and opinions, you can also ask specific questions. There are a variety of methods with a wide range of pros and cons. Some of these offer you an automatic community, while others require you to cultivate a community first. Some of these allow you to aim for a targeted community, while others are open to a mass audience. All have inherent biases based on the types of people who use their services. Fortunately, all of these methods are usually cheaper than putting together a focus group.

Be careful not to come across too commercial or promotional whenever talking to the public. People tend not to respond well to someone they perceive as a spammer. Craft your questions carefully. If you are in doubt, start by asking how people solve the particular problem your business is trying to address. They may cite your product, your competitors’ products, or other indirect competitors, all of which could provide interesting insights.

  • Yahoo! Answers (YHOO) – questions are categorized and social incentives are offered to encourage people to provide answers.
  • Aardvark – uses your extended social network to answer your questions, which may or may not be your target audience.
  • Forums – there are forums for almost every topic and industry out there; look for a few popular & active forums aimed at your target market and post your questions there.
  • Yahoo! Groups – look for a few popular & active groups aimed at your target market and post your questions there.
  • Google Groups – look for a few popular & active groups aimed at your target market and post your questions there.
  • Blog – start a blog and ask your questions there, though without cultivating a meaningful following, replies may not be forthcoming.
  • Twitter – create an account and ask your questions there, though without cultivating a meaningful following, replies may not be forthcoming.
  • Facebook – start a group or fan page for your business and ask your questions there, though without cultivating a meaningful membership, replies may not be forthcoming.
  • Hunch – this is a different kind of question & answer service that does not allow outright commercialism or product promotion, though you can ask general questions about your product category or industry; just be careful not to come off as a spammer.


Want to monitor how popular or unpopular a particular topic has been over a range of time? These tools generally return search result volumes on nice time-based line graphs. Many also allow you to drill down to the individual search result, news article, blog post, or tweet that mentioned your keyword.

The value here is in detecting a growing trend and riding the wave. If you’re trying to start a trend, this can be a good way to monitor its progress. If you’re looking for new product lines or services, this can help you identify new opportunities.

For each, I’ve used the Amazon Kindle as an example topic.

  • Google Trends – displays the keyword search volume and news articles over time, including search volume within geographic regions, cities, and languages.
  • bing xRank – displays the keyword search volume over time, including related keyword phrases, news, videos, and images.
  • Trendrr – searches through a range of social media sites and displays the keyword search volume on each over time.
  • BlogPulse – searches through the blogosphere and displays uses of the keyword over time.
  • Trendpedia – searches through the blogosphere and displays uses of the keyword over time.
  • Hashtags – searches through Twitter’s hashtags and displays uses of the hashtag (if it exists) over time.

Competitive Research

Once you’ve got a list of competitor companies, it is possible to research on them. You can find out a ton of information, including who works there, what kind of roles they’re hiring, and opinions on the company from former employees, current employees, industry analysts, and outsiders.

This kind of information can help you estimate the direction and next steps of your competitor, though it doesn’t offer a view of how customers perceive them. For that kind of info, use the search tools listed above. You can also check up on your own business, of course.

For each, I’ve used Amazon as an example company.

  • LinkedIn – provides employee listings (current, former, & new), related companies (acquisitions & subsidiaries), general company information (location of employees, number of employees, stock charts, etc), employee demographics (recent promotions, common job titles, common career paths, top universities, median age, gender percentages, etc), and job listings.
  • Jigsaw – provides employee listings (name, position, contact information, etc) and employee statistics (number of employees in different divisions & positions).
  • CrunchBase – provides general company information (using wiki software), key employee profiles (current & former), company acquisitions (acquired company, date, & amount if known), company investments (company invested in & date), dates of significant company events, traffic analysis of company website, and list of news articles from TechCrunch, Techmeme, and other sources.
  • ChubbyBrain – provides ratings & reviews of companies made by members of this site, key competitors, mergers & acquisitions, funding rounds (investor, date, & funding raised), and ratings & reviews of investors by members of this site (portfolio breakdown & companies funded).
  • Glassdoor – provides ratings & reviews of companies made by members of this site, salary information based on job titles, information about interviews with various companies, and job listings.

Do you know of other good tools for social media market research?

Photo by: curiouslee

Checking Your Twitter Reputation

Have you checked your Twitter reputation lately?

A reputation is an ephemeral thing based on the collective opinion of others. But nevertheless, enterprising individuals have built a variety of tools to compute your Twitter reputation. If anything, it’s a fun way to evaluate your tweets.

This tool measures the “combined influence of twitterers and their followers, with a few social network statistics thrown in as bonus.” That means the influence of your followers’ followers (your second-order followers) are also factored. TwInfluence is perhaps the most academic and thorough reputation measurement tool currently available. As of this post, my rank (and reach) is 43,527 (81%), my velocity is 4,499 second-order followers/day, my social capital is 6,585.3 +2.2 Very High, and my centralization is 13.20% / 0.0 Average – Resilient.
Twitter Grader
This tool aims to measure the “power, reach and authority of a twitter account” by using a proprietary algorithm that considers factors such as number of followers, power of followers, updates, update recency, follower/following ratio, and engagement. As of this post, my grade is 93 out of 100.
This tool analyzes the last seven days of Twitter usage and provides a measurement of impact, engagement, generosity, velocity, clout, and influence. As of this post, my rankings are – impact: 0.3%, engagement: 25.0%, generosity: 100%, velocity: 1.3%, clout: 0.3%, and influence: 0.2%.
This tool uses “semantic analysis to determine what a person talks about and then measures how influential they are on that topic.” As of this post, my score is 15 out of 100. According to Klout, I am a casual user and “don’t take this Twitter stuff too seriously.” Heh, true.
This tool scans Twitter’s public timeline “for new twits to tweet. A few times a day, we calculate individual statistics for each twittering twit in our database,” whatever that means. As of this post, my rank is 158,477.
This tool is a tongue-in-cheek tool that analyzes a profile’s last 100 tweets for readability and types of tweets. As of this post, my Twitter personality is popular, inquisitive, & cautious, with a chatty & coherent style. I am a parrot. (Interesting; I used to be a writer.)

What’s your current Twitter reputation?

How to Find a Designer or Developer Co-Founder Online

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur? Have a great Internet or technology business idea? Lack the ability to come up with a great UI design? Need a way to build out your idea? Sounds like you may need a designer or developer co-founder.

So how can you find one? Your own network is the best source. So are the social networks of your social network. But if you’ve already exhausted those avenues and don’t mind a cold connection (where you are connecting with a stranger), here are some other sources:


This is perhaps a no-brainer nowadays. Here’s a success story: the founders of MyBlogLog met through LinkedIn before they were purchased by Yahoo! (YHOO) for $10 million. Not bad, eh?

Build It With Me

This new service aims to connect designers, developers, and entrepreneurs interested in building an application of some kind, be it web, Windows desktop, Mac desktop, iPhone, Android, or some other mobile platform. It is the brainchild of Drew Wilson and despite being only a little more than a week old, is already sporting a fair number of designer and developer listings.


I hesitated on listing this site. It also aims to link up designers, developers, writers, and entrepreneurs, offering an option to work together in a long-term partnership. However, most of the listings cater towards freelance jobs as opposed to founder opportunities. It’s a potential source to check out, though I’m not confident it would be a good source for co-founders right now.

UPDATED 1/21/2010: Just added this one to the list.

Founder Dating

This is an event-based service that pairs up entrepreneurs interested in meeting co-founders. So far, they hold sessions in San Francisco, CA and Seattle, WA, but I’m sure they’ll do more as their service grows. According to their FAQ, they aim for a diverse mix of backgrounds & experience. Since it’s generally more effective to meet with partners in person, this sounds like a great idea.

Do you know of any other good online sources for co-founders?

Biz Idea: Reviews of Business-to-Business Services

No business owner wants to do this, but every single one has to – hunt around for a good business card printer.

There are tons available, but they vary wildly in quality. Especially online.

If you are as picky as me, this can be frustrating. I have gone through three vendors so far and was unimpressed by each. The card stock was poor, the colors were washed out, the ink scraped off easily. Bleh. I’d love to get a large number of reviews for my fourth attempt, so I can go with a vendor with a good reputation.

Hence the idea of a ratings and reviews site of business to business services. It’s like a Yelp for business owners, as opposed to end consumers.

Such a site could list services that provide logos, signage design, insurance, software programming, car rentals, employee benefits, legal services, accounting, etc. How many times have you sought such services and had no idea how to find hem? For me, lots.

Ratings and review sites tend to use advertising as their primary revenue streams, through either sponsored listings or advertising spots. I’m generally not crazy about such business models, but I’m not sure what other methods will work. Affiliate programs, perhaps. But that could pose a logistical and data quality nightmare. Such as: what if the service didn’t have an affiliate program? What if they all use different ones? Would services offer a higher affiliate rate in return for a better ranking, and how would that conflict with a sponsored listing?

Other challenges include initially populating the database with seed data, enticing business owners to write reviews, and most importantly, how do we cross the threshold of a self-sustaining community from a struggling one without enough reviews? Those are monumental problems that all ratings & reviews sites encounter. Many never cross the threshold because they cannot solve those challenges.

There are also competitive sources of similar information, most notably LinkedIn, though it would require effort to get such information. (Side idea: perhaps this could work as a feature on LinkedIn?)

Personally, I’d love a service like this, especially if it had good, reliable information. If I am in a rush, have a ton of tasks on my plate, and know of a good source of B2B ratings & reviews, I would gladly use such a site in a heartbeat.

What do you think? Does something like this exist already?

Photo by: FranciscoDiez

mikeleeorg on Caffeine

I took a peek at Google’s new Caffeine update for their search engine today.

Just for yucks, I started to type in “Mike Lee” because I’m always curious about how I rank amongst the gazillion Mike & Michael Lees out there. Imagine my surprise when I saw the second result in the auto-complete dropdown for both “mik” and “mike”:

Google Search for Mike Lee

Google Search for Mike Lee

Then I noticed the “remove” links to the right of each. Apparently, these results only show up for me, based on my previous search history. Awww. (Oddly enough, I’ve never actually typed in “mikeleeorg twitter” into Google Search. I wonder how they came up with that result.)

And here I thought my Twitter account was ranking high on Google!

What to Do, and What Not to Do

“Time is our most precious asset, we should invest it wisely.”
– Michael Levy

I like this quote.

It’s from Dharmesh Shah and his VentureBeat article “10 Things Business Schools Won’t Teach You“.

There are always more things to do than there is time to do them. Startups are a continuous exercise in deciding what not to do. You can sometimes win by just not doing things faster than your competition.

There is never enough time. I’m sure you’ve felt the pain of that statement. At the same time, it’s real easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything. “Otherwise,” you tell yourself, “we’ll miss something important and a competitor will do it.”

That kind of thinking is going to put you behind the competition. What you do is just as important as what you don’t do. Sure, you want to do everything, but that’s impossible. Time is a scarce resource in the marketplace. So what can you do?


Prioritize prioritize prioritize.

For feature development, here’s an example:

  1. List all of the features you want.
  2. Prioritize the features according to what solves your customer’s problem best and what satisfies your business requirements. Defer to what your customer needs if there is a conflict, then change your business model to accommodate the customer. After all, without customers, you have no business.
  3. Ignore what the competition is doing. They may sway you in the wrong direction. Feature parity isn’t that important. Be a company that others emulate, not the other way around.
  4. Decide on the barest essentials that will solve your customer’s problem. Keep cutting features until you can’t cut anymore – until the next cut changes the fundamental nature of your product. This same advice is given to journalists & authors (cut until you can’t cut anymore).
  5. The barest essentials should be your next release. The other important features can go into future versions based on priority and effort.

In a world of time scarcity, it is not about doing it all. It is all about what you do AND what you don’t do.

Photo by: laffy4k

Props to ReadWriteWeb

ReadWriteWeb I often check out Techmeme for my popular technology news. Then I’m off to Google Reader for further news.

A new realization struck me today. Every time I dig deeper into a story on Techmeme, I click on ReadWriteWeb’s related entries to get more detail. Once upon a time, Iwould turn to TechCrunch for story details & commentary. Now it’s RWW.

I’m not quite sure when RWW replaced TC, but I enjoy their longer posts, thoughtful insights, and occasional personal commentary. While I don’t always agree with their writers, it’s nice to see that personal flavor in there. They cover all the same popular topics that TC, Mashable, GigaOM, and all those guys do, but sometimes I like a longer, more in-depth article than a quick 2-paragraph “Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma’am” kind of post.

So here’s my very non-RWW, “Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma’am” post to give props to RWW’s founder Richard MacManus and his team of writers. Nice job guys!

Whatever, I Want a Facebook Username

Facebook Count me in as one of the super-geeky obsessives abuzz over the upcoming Facebook Usernames. And just several precious hours away!

I’ve even got it on my Google Calendar. heh.

There is some contention over these Facebook Usernames though, most notably by Chris Messina. He argues, and rightfully so, that usernames as URLs can be problematic. There is a limited universe of possible usernames out there, so collisions are inevitable. I know I’m not the only Mike Lee drooling over getting “”, for instance.

It is also going to spark a land-grab (username-grab?) for a vanity URL, unless you are a journalist. But this is nothing new. A similar thing happened on Twitter and other social media tools. And with domain names.

Imagine all the hair Messina’s pulled out over these cases. His bathtub drain must be all clogged up.

Personally, I think only a relatively small number of people in the world care about this. Geeks like me, for instance. And purported “social media experts” (FYI: calling yourself that is a sure sign that you are NOT an expert).

I also wonder how today’s youth views usernames. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that teens may have anywhere from 2-5 email addresses, instant messenging accounts, and social network accounts at any given time. I don’t think they place the same premium we old geeks do on usernames.

Perhaps a username to them is like underwear – a new one is fresh and exciting, but a bit stiff. After a while, it becomes nice and comfortable. Over time, it gets old, stained, and full of holes. So you (hopefully) toss it out. Then you get a new pair and start the process all over again. Natch.