Social Media Audience Research & The Integration of Survey Data

Every marketing campaign needs to start with audience research. Then, it’s time to take out the guesswork and apply some rigor to our marketing and PR work.

There are several ways to go about conducting audience research. One method is to use social listening tools, which can help track mentions of your brand and competitor brands across the internet. This will give you insights into what your customers are saying about your business and what you can do to improve your brand reputation. Another method is to use demographic data from social media platforms themselves. This can help you understand your target audience’s age, gender, and location.

You can also use more traditional methods like focus groups and surveys.

Focus groups have always been used for audience research. A focus group is a small, informal group of people who meet to discuss a particular topic. A moderator usually leads the discussion, poses questions, and guides the conversation. Focus groups provide a way to gather insights from various people in a short amount of time. They can be used to explore people’s attitudes and beliefs about a wide range of topics, from healthcare to politics.

For example, this video was published by Vice in 2019. It’s a focus group of liberal Latinos debating conservative Latinos on immigration, Trump, and racial identity. It’s fascinating.

Additionally, focus groups can help test ad campaigns and product prototypes or understand the pain points of using a product or service. Because they offer a candid and unscripted look at people’s opinions, focus groups can be invaluable for understanding your target audience.

Primary research or surveys are standard tools used by researchers to collect data from a target audience. They can gather information about opinions, beliefs, preferences, pain points, and behaviors similar to focus groups. Surveys can be conducted in person, by phone, or online using social media.

When designing a survey, you must decide what data you want to collect. This will determine the questionnaire format and the types of questions asked. Once the survey is designed, it must be pretested to ensure clear, concise, and not too long. After the pretest, the survey can be administered to the target audience using several methods.

Surveys are an effective way to collect data from a large number of people in a relatively short amount of time. However, they do have some limitations. For example, surveys can be biased if the questions are leading or if the responses are not truly representative of the population. In addition, surveys only provide a snapshot of opinions at a specific time. Despite these limitations, surveys are a widely used approach for audience research.

While these are all great methods to use in isolation, there is power when you can combine two or more of these methods and dig deeper into audience research.

Integrating Survey Data With Social Media Audience Research

Here’s a quick example of using primary and social media audience research to gain insights into a specific customer group, in this case, IT decision-makers.

An IT decision-maker is responsible for making decisions about using technology within an organization. This can include decisions about security, hardware, software, networking, and other IT-related matters.

In March of 2019, Adobe fielded a study asking IT decision-makers what their top concerns and pain points were for the coming year. (Note: the link to the survey report no longer exists since was migrated back to a few years ago).

One data point that caught my eye was that 57% of the target audience said that data security was a top concern, followed by concerns about implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to optimize operations.

In the real world, it’s a good idea to commission your audience research rather than using someone else’s, but this is all we have. So let’s go.

To illustrate how a survey, social media audience research, and consumer insights can work together.

We built a social media audience panel of 200K self-identified IT decision-makers a few years ago. We scraped, collected, and curated social media profiles with keywords like CIO, Head of IT, and VP of Engineering in their bios.

The social media audience research data confirms that data security is certainly top of mind for the members of this audience. Below is a breakdown of the data from January 2019 to date.

The data below is calculated based on the social media mentions of the topics and keywords. It’s important to note that it’s not mutually exclusive either. If members of this audience mention security, AI and IoT, that mention would be counted three times. The data points in the parentheses are mutually exclusive counts.

  • Security: 4.45M mentions (3.8M mentions)
  • Artificial Intelligence: 4.3M mentions (2.5M mentions)
  • IoT: 2.6M mentions (1.02M mentions)
  • Blockchain: 2.4m mentions (1.7M mentions)
  • Automation: 1.01M mentions (619K mentions)

Audience Research

Audience Research: Drilling Down on Topics of Interest

When exploring the audience research further, ITDMs turn to ZDNet when consuming security-specific content. However, the top shared article among the audience members was “3 Enterprise Cybersecurity Trends CISOs Must Pay Attention To,” published by TechRepublic.

Another top concern for the target audience was security. More importantly, the perspective that security is more than just software and that enterprise organization must focus on products, processes, and people to keep their networks secure. Also, the conversation that security practices are struggling to keep up because the organization’s cloud security maturity cannot keep up with the rapid expansion of cloud applications.

When the audience discusses artificial intelligence with their peers, they tend to reference Forbes more than any other business media outlet. The top shared article is from Forbes, “Why Every Company Needs An Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy For 2019,” written by technology influencer Bernard Marr.

AI topics that are top of mind are innovation in healthcare, which seems to have been trending for the last 24 months. Additionally, as AI technologies standardize across industries, becoming an AI-driven company will likely be table stakes for survival. And this means rethinking the way humans and machines interact within business environments.

Audience Research: Rearranging the Model

This example used third-party primary research to inform an audience analysis. Another way to think about this is to start with social media audience research and use that to inform a primary research study.

For example, let’s assume we analyze an audience on social media. We find that a high percentage of the members strongly affinity for a particular brand. Still, that affinity has fluctuated over time, and you want to know why. Using text analysis of language and social listening, you can find answers to some of these questions, but they will undoubtedly be some missing pieces.

You can then use these insights to inform the primary research study and get more insightful feedback about why a business or brand struggles to maintain its reputation over time.

Depending on what you want, you may start looking at social media audience research to answer the “what” and then use survey data to answer the “why.” Either way works, and it depends on what you are trying to accomplish or what types of data you are looking for when you want to measure influence on social media.

How can Audience Research Help Brand Marketing?

Audience research needs to be prioritized by every company and business that want to make an impact. Brand marketing and PR media teams’ insights can prove invaluable if used correctly and implemented in marketing plans and programs.

Knowing your audience’s top concerns and where they go to educate themselves, you can use them to inform how you plan your programs.

Text analytics can drill down even more deeply with target audience research to understand the intent to purchase, customer churn, and brand loyalty to a specific product or service. This type of relevant information can be used for customer mapping exercises.


Q: Is audience research the same as audience analysis?

A: Yes. But typically, audience research is used within primary and secondary research. It’s more of a qualitative study. Audience analysis is generally used within the context of social analytics. It’s more quantitative.

Q: Can you use social media data for audience research?

A: Yes. Social media data can understand an audience’s behavior, sentiment, and preferences. Additionally, social media platforms offer various targeting options that can be used to serve ads to specific audiences, which is beneficial.

Q: How can audience research help with understanding the customer journey?

A: By understanding an audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points, you can map out the customer journey and create content that meets them at each stage. Additionally, you can use this data to inform marketing programs and campaigns.

Q: How often should you conduct audience research?

A: It depends on the research goals and how much the landscape has changed. For example, if you want to understand a new audience, you may wish to conduct research more frequently. On the other hand, if you’re going to track sentiment around a particular topic, you may want to research quarterly or monthly.

Q: Who should be involved in conducting audience research?

A: The team conducting the research will depend on the goals and objectives of the research. Typically, it includes marketing, research, and analytics professionals.

Michael Brito

Michael Brito is a Digital OG. He’s been building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.