Free Tools for Researching Your Customers’ Online Activities to Market on Social Media - dummies

Free Tools for Researching Your Customers’ Online Activities to Market on Social Media

By Shiv Singh, Stephanie Diamond

When developing a social media marketing campaign or a broader, continuing program, determining what your target customers are doing on the Internet is important. You can use several tools to find out where your target customers are going online. Without this information, you can’t formulate a smart social marketing strategy. You’re simply shooting in the dark.

Tools that help you research online activity fall into two basic categories: free and paid. You can simply register for and use the free tools. Tools and services for which you must pay can get expensive very quickly. Here are some of the free tools:

  • Blog search engines: These search engines crawl just the blogosphere for the terms that you input. They search for those terms in the blog posts and the comments, and the searches generally include all publicly viewable blogs on the Internet. Use these tools f you just want to get a sense of the conversations in the blogosphere about a specific topic or brand. The most popular one is Google’s Blog Search.

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    A discussion on blog search engines wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the official Twitter search tool. Twitter is the most popular microblogging platform. Microblogging is similar to blogging except that you’re restricted to a certain number of characters per post. Another microblogging search engine to consider is Topsy. You can use Topsy to search Twitter and, more specifically, the links, photos, tweets, videos, and influencers on the platform.

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  • Buzz charting: These tools focus on giving you a comparative perspective on how many different keywords, phrases, or links are discussed in the blogosphere. They search for the terms and then organize the responses into a chart, with the x-axis being time and the y-axis the number of posts. Typically, you can choose the duration of time for the x-axis. Omgili does buzz charting effectively.

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  • Forums and message boards: To understand online behavior in the social web, you must be able to scan the conversations happening in forums and message boards as well. Boardreader allows you to search multiple boards at one time. You can use it to find answers to questions that you may not find on a single board.

    Also, from a marketer’s point of view, you can research people’s opinions of brands or products. Boardreader is so popular that it powers a lot of the forum searches that the fee-based brand-monitoring tools conduct. Another player worth mentioning in this space is Omgili, which similarly focuses on forums and message boards.

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  • Video and image search: An increasing number of people are going online to watch videos — professionally created videos and personal ones, too. But how can you find the videos that are of interest to you or your brand? For video search, you have to depend on a couple of tools, because no single one truly captures all the videos created.

    All video searches must begin with YouTube because it’s the largest video website, but you should also look at Blinkx Video; Viral Video Chart, which also tells you how much the clip is being discussed; and AOL Video, another notable player.

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    On the image side, you’d want to search Instagram on its mobile app, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr and, to a lesser extent, Google Images. These tools, especially Tumblr, are valuable for understanding broader trends, your consumers, and conversations about your industry and potentially your company, too.

    Google Images also searches professionally produced and published images, not just user-generated ones, so you might not get an accurate picture of what people are talking about.