Creative Research Tactics for Facebook

Facebook, Spencer E Holtaway

The beginning of any good social media strategy is rooted in research. Before any brand or organization decides to embark online or move forward with a new idea, it’s essential to understand what’s already out there. Who is the audience and how and where are they already talking?

Looking at the stats, the where will almost always include Facebook. Though it may not be the primary platform to meet every organization’s objectives, the truth is that Facebook is the behemoth. It’s the largest social network in the world, with 155 million users in the United States alone, an audience that spans all ages and demographics, visits the site multiple times a day and shares billions of pieces of content . That’s not to be ignored.

Too easily though, Facebook, the giant, can be overlooked. The majority of Facebook’s content is private, which means listening tools, such as Radian6, cannot access all of the information. Since these tools can only pull in public status updates from Facebook users who keep their privacy settings open to the web, results frequently show little conversation from the major platform. The findings skew more towards platforms such as Twitter, where more users keep a public account.

To avoid missing such a key part of the puzzle, social media strategists need to get creative in how they dig in to Facebook’s data. I recently stumbled upon an article in TIME which shared how academic researchers are tapping into Facebook. The story cited that the number of academic papers referencing the site in the title has gone up 800% over five years. Through scientific methods, researchers are using the wealth of information on the social network to study specific, niche groups or more closely observe societal behaviors. After reading about these examples, I realized that social media strategists should be considering research on Facebook in the same way.

Coming from this mindset, here are a few ideas on how Facebook research can be expanded:

  • Survey your target audience: A traditional and powerful research technique, surveys provide firsthand insights on awareness and behaviors, and tools like SurveyMonkey simplify the setup. Use Facebook advertising to target a specific audience based on the near-infinite range of demographics and interests listed and provide an incentive for users to participate. You can also use Facebook Polls on your brand page to survey fans on a smaller budget.
  • Examine relevant pages or groups: Facebook’s pages and groups gather people online based on shared interests. Look for active ones that are relevant to your target audience, and do manual research to find observations from posts or comments over the past month.
  • Learn from your fans: If the brand already has a Facebook presence, mine the page for information! Don’t just glance through likes and comments; take the time to measure and examine how fans are responding (manually, if necessary). The ability to quantify this information will help clearly justify the direction of your strategy.
  • Take advantage of competitor pages: While there won’t be access to Facebook Insights data, the public wall and comments on competitors’ Facebook pages contains valuable knowledge to gain. Invest the time to manually track sentiment, topics of discussion or overall engagement and compare to your brand.

Without the abilities of a listening tool, research on Facebook will require more manual involvement and, therefore, time and resources. However, the opportunities on the platform make it essential. In the end, smart research to inform smart strategies will reap the reward.

What research methods have you found effective to learn from Facebook?

Facebook statistics referenced from:

Image credit: Spencer E Holtaway, Creative Commons