Use Free Social Media Data to Find Customers Online

You can use free data from social networking sites to find customers online. Large organizations pay big money to consultants and agencies with access to huge amounts of information so they can crunch the numbers and apply the data to their business model. You probably don’t have a budget set aside for specialists, so make the most of data available for free on the web.

If you’re on the Internet, you are part of the digital human power grid of social data. It’s no secret that websites know more about you than you probably wish they did. Everywhere we go, we leave a trail, exposing our likes and dislikes. Websites gather the data from the digital ecosystem and publish the information in easy-to-understand charts.

These are the most popular social networks where people hang out:

  • Facebook (7 billion visits per month): The site was founded in 2004 as a service for Harvard students to connect with each other online. Then the site was opened to anyone who was interested. A recent statistic quoted 901 million monthly active users. Statistics show that 42 percent of the U.S. population visits the site to connect via posts and photos with friends and family online.

  • Twitter (182.2 million visits per month): The first microblogging service, Twitter allows members to send and read posts, or Tweets, of up to 140 characters in length. Early in 2012, they reported 140 million users generating 340 million Tweets and 1.6 billion searches a day.

    People follow others on Twitter who have similar tastes or interesting information to share, everything from the weather to politics. Even President Obama has a Twitter feed (@BarackObama).

  • Google+ (150 million active users): This site is based on social sharing of news, photos, and data. Google+ is an identity service because the platform is built on people using their real names, as they use on a multitude of other Google platforms. (If you don’t use your real name, your profile might be closed down and you may lose access to Google products.)

    People use circles on Google+ to organize their online friends for sharing, so posts may appear to only a selected group of friends. Hangouts facilitate group video chats for up to 10 people on the site.

  • LinkedIn (98 million visits per month): The site was launched in 2003 as a professional networking site. You use LinkedIn’s social network to build a contact list of people you have worked with in the past, through which you make new business contacts.

    Membership is gated. Contact with any professional requires a preexisting business relationship or an introduction. Many use this site to hire employees and contractors; members post their work histories and resumés to their pages.

  • MySpace (31 million visits per month): MySpace was the first website deigned for social interaction. At its height, in 2006, it surpassed Google as the most visited site in the United States. With the advent of other, more organized networks, MySpace experienced a rapid decline. Figures released by Comscore suggest that they lost 10 million users just between January and February of 2011.

  • foursquare (3 million check-ins per day): The original location-based social network, foursquare was founded in 2009 for use with mobile devices. Users check in at businesses and venues through mobile apps, often with comments and photos, and are awarded badges based on multiple check-ins.

    (Astronaut Douglas Wheelock unlocked the NASA Explorer badge by checking into foursquare from the International Space Station.) Mayorship of a business is awarded to the user with the most check-ins at a specific location.

    Businesses may offer deals to those who check in and often provide bonuses to the mayor (such as a free order of French fries). American Express allows card members to merge their foursquare accounts with their credit cards, offering them discounts at preselected locations.

  • Pinterest (34 million unique users): New on the social scene (launched in March 2010), Pinterest allows users to share photos, quotes, and videos in a pinboard-style format. (If you have a refrigerator with a lot of stuff on it, you’ll quickly get the gist.) Pinterest’s mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

    Angie’s List (1.5 million subscribers): As a way to capture word-of-mouth wisdom, Angie’s List collects approximately 40,000 reviews each month solely from subscribers. The list is a paid subscriber model and prices are based on the geographic area that it serves. The site reviews businesses in the service industry, health care, and auto care.

    Each company on the list has its own page and is rated by members who have used the services of that business. Reviews are based on price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality, and professionalism, with businesses rated from A to F.

  • Yelp (54 million visits per month): In 2004, Yelp started a local search network that quickly turned into a popular user-review-based social networking site. Businesses can be searched by community, city, state, and ZIP code (for example, Chinese restaurant in 91325). After a search is run, users can select a business and go to that business’s own page, where customers post reviews, comments, and photos.

Google Ad Planner provides free, directly measured traffic and audience composition reports. The table shows the search results for all these social networking sites.

Age Distribution on Major Social Network Sites
Age Group < 18 18–24 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–54 65+
Internet Average 18% 13% 17% 19% 17% 10% 6%
Facebook 14% 9% 22% 24% 22% 6% 2%
Twitter 13% 12% 24% 26% 18% 5% 2%
Angie’s List 2% 3% 14% 28% 31% 15% 7%
Yelp 3% 6% 22% 29% 27% 10% 4%
foursquare 6% 9% 27% 30% 21% 6% 2%
MySpace 10% 16% 22% 23% 21% 5% 2%
LinkedIn 4% 5% 24% 30% 25% 9% 3%
Pinterest (74% female) 4% 7% 29% 26% 24% 8% 3%
Google+ (U.S.) ? 45.3% 23.7% 11.6% 6.5% 12.9% (and over) ?
Source: Google Ad Planner and Plus Demographics

The data in this table fluctuates from month to month. However, the numbers clearly indicate that social media is not just for the young:

  • 55 percent of Twitter users are 35 or older.

  • 63 percent of Pinterest users are 35 or older.

  • 65 percent of Facebook users are 35 or older.

  • 79 percent of LinkedIn users are 35 or older.

An interesting trend fueling social networks is that consumers are reaching out to a brand’s customer service representatives online. This practice is gaining traction both on Twitter and Facebook and broadening their user base.

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