The Ultimate Guide to Using Social Media for Niche Research

Social-Media-Niche-ResearchImage credit: Soshable

That’s right, social media.

You know — that place where you virtually hang out with friends, family, and business associates? Yeah, that thing.

Believe it or not, you can use social media to brainstorm niche ideas to kick-start your online business. Social networks are also fantastic tools to research your niche, i.e. learn about your target market, analyze your competition, and assess the profitability of a niche.

Wait … What’s a Niche Again?

Imagine you’re walking in a huge, sprawling, open-air grocery market/bazaar. Street vendors everywhere are peddling their goods, customers are haggling, money and groceries are trading owners. There are about 500 different vendors/sellers all told.

You’re browsing the vegetables section. Here, vendors stocks every vegetable imaginable — tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli (ugh), asparagus, you name it. In this part of the market, there are about 50 sellers.

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Image credit: Bert Knot via Flickr

You walk past the veggies, and you are hit with the aroma of freshly-baked bread. Long, crispy batons, flavorful pumpernickels, fluffy buns and more at 25 different bread-selling stalls.

Right now, you might be thinking — Why am I reading this? What does an open-air food market and internet marketing even have in common?

A lot, actually.

You’re browsing a market (more specifically, a food market). Just as there is a food market in “real life”, there is also a food market that exists virtually on the Internet. On the Internet, however, there are thousands of other vendors selling groceries, but they all sell within the same market (in this scenario, groceries).

There are also “sections” of markets on the Internet called niches. All the internet vendors who sell bread are grouped together in a single niche (the bread niche). The ones that stock veggies are grouped in the vegetable niche. Fruit vendors — fruit niche.

See the pattern?

First, there’s the whole gigantic internet. Then, it’s divided into chunks of markets (which are still of considerable size). That’s further divvied down into niches, and ultimately, micro niches (which, for instance, would be a specific food, like bananas, potatoes, or tomatoes).

As you go down each level, there’s a lot less competition (a lot more people compete to be worldwide vegetable sellers than just worldwide cucumber sellers).

That’s the basic idea of the internet, markets, and niches.

The Importance of Selecting the Right Niche

Internet marketing, and the whole “make money online” thing can be summarized into three ultra-basic steps:

  1. Find a problem. (niche brainstorming, followed by niche research to discover the needs in a niche)
  2. Solve it. (product creation and/or selecting an affiliate product to promote)
  3. Connect the people who have the problem with the solution.

The success of your online business depends on that very first step — identify a problem that people need solved in a specific niche. The other two steps, solving and promotion, are hinged on the first one.

Whatever niche you go into, you should ensure that it is:

  • Profitable. If people just don’t buy digital products in XYZ niche, don’t try to make your living in XYZ niche. You’ll fail.
  • Something you’re interested in. Down the road, you will need motivation. It’s a lot easier to be motivated to promote something you’re already interested in.

Small digression: don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be passionate about your niche to make money from it. I’ve made money from health websites for several years, and have created information products in a particular health niche that have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Not only do I NOT have the health condition that my sites focus on, I’m also NOT passionate about the topic. But I DO have an interest in the topic, and I’m passionate about the marketing side of my health websites. So there you go!

With the idea of what a niche is, and how it impacts your online business, let’s get into the real nitty-gritty of this post: how to brainstorm niches and analyze their profitability using the top 2 social networks: Facebook & Twitter.

Twitter for Niche Research

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Image credit: Scott Beale via Flickr

Let’s take another trip to the world of imagination (no, we aren’t heading for another food market).

Imagine that you were able to listen in on what everyone from any and every part of the world is talking about right now. You can learn about their passions, their problems, and their struggles. Do you think that you might somehow to be able to use that ability and turn it to your advantage?

Welcome to Twitter.

What Twitter is, basically: a giant melting-pot of cultures, ideas, and people where ingredients are tossed in 140 characters at a time.

Here’s how to use that melting point to brainstorm a niche for your online business.

Analyze Your Twitter Feed

No matter how small your existing feed is, it’s worth analyzing (unless, you know, it’s REALLY small, like just Justin Beiber and Rihanna).

If you’re one of the smart people who decided to keep your Twitter account a little more private and personal, you didn’t and don’t follow anybody and everybody you come across who promises they’ll follow you back. You kept Twitter for your actual acquaintances.

Then you’re in luck, because the people you follow are more likely to be more open and personal with you, sharing stuff that they actually think is important. Your feed isn’t crammed with automated spammers trying to get the odd retweet or favorite.

When analyzing your feed, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do my friends/family/acquaintances tweet about? How is their tweet content relevant to me?
  • What websites/blogs do they often share from? How is that blog’s content relevant to them?
  • What problems/questions consistently appear in my feed? Why do people tweet about them?

(Tip: These questions aren’t ones you’re supposed to just think about. Actually take action. Yes, that means opening up a new spreadsheet and creating lists of popular topics/questions in your feed. Do it. Now.)

Survey Your Twitter Following

There’s no better way to find out what’s on someone’s mind than asking them.

Outright questions.

Here’s an example of what you can do. Sign up @ Survey Gizmo and create a survey (completely free). I’ve used Survey Gizmo for years and have run dozens (nay, hundreds!) of niche research surveys using their service. They’re awesome.

Ask the following questions (feel free to copy/paste the entire thing):

  1. What is the #1 problem you’re facing in your personal life right now?
  2. What is the #1 problem you’re facing in your business life right now?
  3. Name three things you love doing.
  4. Name three things you hate doing.
  5. Name three things you’re afraid of doing.

Post the link to the survey to Twitter (make sure you assure them that their answers will remain anonymous — not everybody likes to reveal their answers to personal questions like these publicly). Make sure you post the link multiple times so that the majority of your follow will be able to see it.

If you have a close following composed primarily of friends, family, and people who actually know you, you might be able to get a decent amount of completions to start brainstorming niches.

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Image credit: Sponsored Tweets

Alternatively, if you feel you don’t have enough data since not nearly enough people responded, hop onto a site like Sponsored Tweets. Here, you can basically buy a tweet from a high-influence Twitter account (prices depend on the size of the account’s following). The added number of followers increases the number of survey completions.

You probably don’t want to do this more than once or twice, because it can get pretty expensive (around $100 to a tweet to 1,000,000 followers).

The same rule of “asking people” can be applied to any business — the best way to get inside a customer’s head is to ask for access.

Analyze a High-Influence Twitter Account’s Feed.

Even if you don’t have the money to sponsor a tweet on a high-influence account, you can still take advantage of the influencer’s profile by analyzing their feed and what they tweet about.

I mean, if they were able to somehow obtain XXX,XXX followers, they had to be tweeting something interesting, right?

Find out what that something was. Is it something that you could possibly reciprocate on a website and profit from?

Twitter Research Tools

Some wise person once said that an internet marketer is only as good as the tools he uses to research niches on social media.

Smart man.

The following tools for Twitter perform a variety of different functions and are great for brainstorming and researching niches quickly.

Hashtags.org is basically Twitt(url)ly for hashtags. You get to view a list of trending hashtags (again, this is more helpful for viral niche research).

However, Hashtags.org also has another special function that makes it great for niche analysis. You can search a certain hashtag to see how it’s trending on the web.

If you’re thinking about going into a niche, you can use Hashtags.org to see if any of the niche-related hashtags are getting any traction. For example, I now know that #rihanna got 5,700 tweets at 12:00 A.M., March 12th after keying in seven characters and hitting enter. Pretty powerful, eh?

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Hashtagify.me – Hashtagify is great place to both analyze the popularity of a hashtag, and also to find correlated hashtags.

The way that Hashtagify does popularity analysis of a hashtag is a little different from how Hashtags.org does it — Hashtagify rates a hashtag’s popularity on a scale of 1-100.

Additionally, Hashtagify displays a mindmap of conceptually similar hashtags and phrases (awesome for brainstorming related keywords! See image below).

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Facebook for Niche Research

It’s pretty obvious that Facebook is bigger than Twitter — much bigger. Facebook has a larger userbase, a higher percentage of active accounts, pulls in more revenue per annum, and logs more on-site time.

As such, you’d probably think that Facebook would be a lot more niche-research-friendly than Twitter.
But no.

You see, there’s one major problem with the whole Facebook-for-marketers thing — Facebook is more private. Much, much more private.

Think about it — when’s the last time you randomly send out friend requests to 50 people you don’t know? Do you accept every friend request from those you don’t know? Do you set each and every status update to “public” view?

No, of course you don’t.

But on Twitter, most people do. As a result, it’s much easier to get inside the heads of tweeps and brainstorm and analyze niches.

You might be thinking, then: why even bother with Facebook at all if doing the research is so difficult?

I’ll tell you why — Twitter is easier, but Facebook is more rewarding.

That’s right.

Because Facebook is so much more private and personal, whatever info you are able to get your hands on is likely to be much more relevant to niches, much more factual & data-driven, and much more personal. That’s why it’s easier to really engage a Facebook fan and convert them in comparison to engaging & converting a Twitter follower.

It might be hard, but it’s rewarding.

Here’s how to use Facebook for niche research:

Analyze Your Facebook News Feed

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Image credit: Paul Jacobson via Flickr

Just like with Twitter, the first thing you want to do with Facebook is to analyze your current news feed.

On Facebook, you’ll see a lot less activity in your feed since nobody interesting posts a status update about how they just bought a coffee (unless it was a really special coffee).

As a result, each item in your news feed is much more personal, and should be much more prized.

When going over your news feed, ask these questions:

  • Which brands and industries do my friends ‘like’ the most? (likes in real-time visible on the top-right-hand sidebar of Facebook)
  • What type of shared content is most popular in my news feed?
  • Who shares them? (locating an active Facebook user will often help you brainstorm more niche ideas, since he/she will share more content and talk about a greater variety of topics)

Survey Your Facebook Friends

Here’s where that rewarding side of Facebook niche research comes into play.

SurveyGizmo allows you to easily post a survey with just a couple of clicks inside your SG account. You can use the survey you created for your Twitter following to survey your Facebook friends, but this time, the process will be a lot simpler. You can use that same survey you created for your Twitters users to survey your Facebook friends.

But that’s not even the best part (this is where that rewarding side of Facebook niche research comes into play)

Get this — since they are, well … your friends, they’re likely to be much more open and vocal about their problems, struggles, and complaints. So, you’ll get a lot more detail per survey answer.

They won’t have a problem giving you this info, because they know and trust you. One survey completion from a Facebook user is probably going to be more helpful than three from tweeps.

Facebook Groups

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Image credit: Jiahao Chen via Flickr

Another advantage of Facebook are the groups.

You don’t get groups with Twitter (unless you want to talk “lists”, which isn’t a very heavily used feature (learn more about using Twitter lists for marketing with this post on Simply Measured from Kevin Shively).

Facebook groups are a great way to assess the activity within a niche — how large the audience of a niche is, how active and engaged they are, etc. If there’s a boatload of activity, great. You’ll probably be able to channel some of that engagement over to your blog/website when you start one in the niche.

If there isn’t much Facebook group activity, be wary of the niche but don’t discard it completely. There may be a simple reason for the inactivity.

For example, if someone is having mental trouble as a result of depression, they don’t want to broadcast that fact to all their friends. As a result, they won’t join any Facebook groups centered around helping depressed people.

But you know what they WILL do?

  • Subscribe to a self-help newsletter.
  • Watch relevant videos on YouTube or listen to podcasts.
  • Read (but possibly not interact with) get-out-of-depression blogs.
  • Buy eBooks written by experts on self-help.

All of which you can profit from.

So, take the levels of Facebook activity with a grain of salt.

Analyze Target Demographics

Facebook is absolutely fantastic for researching demographics of your target market, i.e. the personal information (location, ethnicity, age, gender, etc.) of the majority of the people in a certain niche.

You can use this information to attract the right, targeted visitors to your blog/website that are significantly more probable to convert.

Here’s how to do this:

  • Check out a popular page in your niche or a niche that you are thinking of going into;
  • Click on 20-30 profiles that have interacted with the page (i.e. left/liked a comment, shared/liked a post); and
  • Record their demographic details in that Excel spreadsheet

The majority of the accounts will probably be private (you won’t be able to see enough details to really determine your target market), but there will still be a few public accounts. Besides, you can even use the profile pictures to determine certain personal details (race, age, gender).

Facebook is fantastic for market research, and relatively simple to use when you know how.

Facebook Research Tools

Just like for Twitter, there are some pretty awesome tools for Facebook research with a variety of powerful functions.

Facebook Graph Search – An in-built part of Facebook released not too long ago, Graph Search got a lot of negative hype on the Internet, because it (supposedly) stripped users of their personal privacy (which is actually NOT true).

For the average Facebook user, it was a near-outrage. For the Internet marketer, Graph Search was Christmas come early.

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Image credit: Stefano Maggi via Flickr

You can use Graph Search to find members of your target market by searching for people and shared content by a certain criteria. (e.g. people who live in San Diego and like Nike). Ric Dragon has an in-depth guide to to using Facebook Graph Search for community research.

Like Button – Like Button is essentially Twitturly for Facebook, minus link tracking. Like Button tracks the most popular Facebook posts from a variety of existing pages, using your friends’ activity as a guide to show you content that you are (supposedly) interested in.

Like Button is a great way to brainstorm some niche ideas, and introduce yourself to ones that you’ve probably never heard of before.

Wrapping Up

Deciding what niche you will go into is the single most important part of your online business.

Whatever market you choose to go into will affect your earnings, your reputation, your brand, everything.

It might be redundant to tell you to choose wisely, but just in case: CHOOSE WISELY!

How are you using social media to do niche research?

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