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Audience Analysis: How to Use Social Media as Your Largest Focus Group

Aleh Barysevich
Aleh Barysevich

Social media is the world's largest database of consumer insights that are extremely beneficial for a company.

What is social media, if not the world's largest database of consumer insights? Think about it: With as many as 3.6 billion social media users worldwide, there couldn't be a more fitting definition. For most companies operating today, most of their customers use social media on a daily basis. This redefines the nature of market and consumer research and transforms the way businesses use social media entirely.

The problem is that social media is overcrowded, to say the least. It's full of both valuable and completely worthless social data, and the path to meaningful insights is often a long one. If only there was a way to cut through the noise and get right to the data important to your business …wait, there is one, and it goes by the name of "social media listening."

What is social media listening?

Social media listening is the technology that monitors social media for mentions of a company, its CEO, its entire industry, or whatever it is that signifies users' involvement with an organization or a cause. In simpler terms, it's fully automated, 24/7 monitoring of social media for mentions of any keyword. What you do with the social data insights afterward is limited only by your own resources. These are just some of the possible uses:

  • Reputation monitoring and crisis management
  • Competition and market research
  • Lead generation and social selling
  • Influencer marketing
  • Customer support
  • Content curation, research and SEO

As you can see, the use cases of social listening are many, and so are the ways to get creative with it. In this article, we'll explore audience analysis through the lens of 24/7 social media monitoring with dedicated social media analytics tools. Let's dive in.

Audience analysis: Getting started

Seeing how the nature of social listening is searching social media for posts from customers, audience analysis starts as soon as you start monitoring your social media mentions. That can take a simple brand name or a complex Boolean query – either way, your social listening tool will start pulling in social media conversations that make up a portrait of your audience.

Most social listening tools will let you narrow the search down to a specific location or social media platform. This, together with any further search conditions you can specify along the way, empowers you to set the search in the right direction and collect only the data that'll help you examine a specific audience segment without all the noise.

What you soon end up is a dashboard full of mentions analytics, from the prevailing sentiment of conversations to the biggest opinion leaders shaping the discussion and putting the most engaging content out there. We'll now go through some of the stats to see how social data can be translated into audience metrics.


Depending on how advanced your social listening tool is, you'll get access to an array of user data such as languages and age groups. Most tools will at least show you users' languages and locations, and this is the starting place of audience analysis.

Locations and languages 

Exploring these metrics – that is, if you feed your social media listening tool every localized variation of your brand name, industry or any other seed keyword you might be tracking – gives you a basic understanding of your audience segments. Depending on where your customers are located and what languages they use on social media, you'll be able to target your messaging much more efficiently, covering every segment you can reach. 

Gender and age 

These are also key metrics in making up a portrait of an audience. Getting a clear breakdown empowers you to customize your content and make sure it's inclusive and diverse, which makes it more likely to resonate with all the audience segments you're targeting. You should also post your content on the channels most fitting for the different age and gender segments.

Online behaviors

It's not enough to know in what language and manner to talk to an audience; you also need to know where you'll reach your audience the most quickly. Social listening helps you get all the answers you need, since it lets you uncover the sources of mentions – i.e., the platforms your audience is most active on. 

Despite what the name suggests, social media listening often goes way beyond social media to the wider web and even offline, revealing the natural habitats of your audience. Again depending on how advanced your social listening tool is, you can search anywhere from social networks to TV and radio to know exactly what medium works best for any given audience segment.

Opinion leaders

No audience portrait is complete without a comprehensive list of opinion leaders, key publishers, and major (or minor!) social media influencers. They serve as the main content creators for the audience, shape and reshape conversations, and build bridges between brands, institutions, communities, and their many target audiences.

You can identify opinion leaders with social media listening in several ways. Depending on your ultimate objective, there are different approaches you can take to find your way to the loudest voices in the room.

  • Monitoring a brand name will bring you the most influential people already involved in the social media conversations around your company specifically.
  • Monitoring a competitor's brand name will bring you brand ambassadors and opinion leaders that could become your brand advocates in the future.
  • Monitoring an industry will bring you key publishers, opinion leaders and influencers prominent in the industry. From there, you can go on to discover niche influencers. 

Once you have a list of major content creators prominent with your audience, you can take these actions:

  • Explore the types of content they focus on.
  • Brainstorm ideas for joint projects.
  • Reach out to the opinion leaders who resonate best with your audiences to discuss joint messaging and influencer campaigns.

Interests, alliances and concerns

The beauty of social media is how much depth it gives to any audience research. People are eager to go on social media and share their thoughts on just about anything. For marketers, there couldn't be a better reason to move consumer research over to social media for good. 

With social media listening underway, learning about opinions, interests, alliances and concerns becomes a simple matter of setting up a search for all mentions of the topic, and then searching social data for relevant feedback. What's more, social listening tools empower you to research not just the potential of embarking on a trending topic but any topic and the way it resonates with your audience, however controversial and hard to study it might be. This means you get to research and test-drive content ideas with very specific audiences in mind.

In short, whatever data is publicly available on social media can be fetched, searched, and benchmarked for effective content planning and informed decision-making for every audience segment. 

Wrapping up

Audience analysis is a key part of effective content marketing. It's as rewarding as it is demanding, and thorough analysis is often a matter of careful, monthslong teamwork. However, there are ways to hack the system and use the data already out there, publicly available and relevant to your business. This data (like many of your audience members) lives on social media, and there are powerful tools to collect and process tons of social media posts to get you the insights you're after.

I hope my overview of audience analysis with social listening tools gives you a new perspective on how you can use social media as your largest-ever focus group. With social media monitoring and analytics set up and fully automated, working with social data becomes a breeze, and there's every reason to implement it. 

Image Credit: ViewApart / Getty Images
Aleh Barysevich
Aleh Barysevich Member
Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario. Digital Marketer & Speaker at SMX, BrightonSEO. Author at Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, & more.