Any colour, as long as it's austere

Thursday, 12 December 2019 09:53 pm

From time to time, we ask people we work with to contribute articles to our newsletter. This issue digital communications expert Adrian Lennon completes his series of thought pieces about how businesses can benefit from online communities.

How social media can help you research your own sector

Back to Newsletter


Online communities really do work

How social media can help you research your own sector

by Adrian Lennon

Recently I met with a B2B company to discuss digital marketing options. The topic of social media came up, which led to the number-one question marketers most want answered: how do you track the return on your investment in social media?

I was reminded of how difficult it has been for B2B businesses to grasp the potential of social media. Most still view this type of marketing as not relevant to them, when in reality social marketing is becoming one of the most effective ways to market online.

Getting started

Often the main difficulty is figuring out where and how to start fuelled sometimes by the impenetrable jargon. My recommendation is not to jump in head first and find you're lost in a digital media maze. It's a long term commitment, so a bit of planning is vital. The easiest way to start is to listen. By listen, I mean follow what others in your industry are saying online and also how the market is responding to them.

Valuable research

Listening is the first step on the ladder towards earning a significant return on investment in social media. It also helps build up valuable industry insight and is a great way of researching how best to capitalise on the conversations that are going on out there.

Everyone recognises social media as a communication tool; not enough people see it as a research tool. The challenge is the sheer quantity of data produced every day on social networks, blogs, and in conversations. To start to benefit from social media, it's important to discover how to filter out the non-relevant 'noise' and track who's saying significant things in your industry.

The best approach

Here are some tips that will help you to benefit from using social media as a research platform and also to get to grips with implementing social media into your marketing mix.

1. What's out there?
First, find out what online content exists in your industry and among business partners and competitors. Use search engines like Google, and scan social networking sites like LinkedIn to find people or groups active in conversations. Then sign up, join the groups and start to 'listen' to these discussions.

2. Receive useful feeds
Sign up for RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to continually monitor content on your industry's popular sites, news outlets and blogs that are updated regularly. An RSS feed will alert you to new posts for example on your web browser or by email.

3. Decide where to focus
After investigating the state of social media in your industry, decide which platforms would be the most relevant and would offer the best return on your time investment. Issues to consider:

  • Which social media outlets are the most popular? And why?
  • Which social media sites does your company's audience currently visit? Where do they post profiles? Generally you can find popular sites by searching on Google for social media industry-specific blogs. You can also use LinkedIn groups or 'search analytics' sites like
  • Who operates the most popular industry blogs?
  • Which competitors have a social media presence, who are they having conversations with and about what?
  • What questions are consumers posting about the industry?
  • Are social media users already discussing your company? If they are, who's responding and what are they saying?

This research will help define your 'listening strategy' and begin to allow you to get involved with more confidence.

4. Add your own views
Adding to existing conversations and starting new ones is your next step on the social media ladder. If a particular blog or forum receives a significant amount of traffic, contribute to the conversation by commenting on posts and answering questions. This will help to increase brand awareness and your share of voice. But the greatest benefit is that you'll begin to be more informed about the real conversations going on in your industry. This research is invaluable and you'll be able to respond to it directly.

5. Become a thought leader
Your company can achieve even greater influence by developing original blogs or creating groups on social networking sites that provide for online followings. You can then start to shape the conversations and their direction, tracking and influencing industry trends. Building on your research process, you'll become an industry thought leader which in turn increases acquisition, engagement and ultimately sales.

Make a commitment to social media

Regular listening and contributions to online conversations are among the most effective ways to develop an online audience. But, like any public relations or marketing campaign, social media campaigns require commitment. A large, established online audience takes time to create, but regular online postings increase the likelihood that followers will share information and come back for more. The key to success is persistence: you must get full engaged and contribute regularly to social media.

But in my experience, it's worth the effort. Even for B2B businesses, an effective social media strategy will bring a variety of benefits:

  • In the short term it provides important industry research
  • In the longer term it:
    • Improves share of voice against key competitors
    • Leads to increased engagement and sales
    • Improves brand awareness, brand perceptions and customer loyalty.

And remember right from the start, this is research made easy. So get on and climb the social media ladder!


Online communities really do work (1) – Building a reputation through blogs

Online communities really do work (2) – Using a networking site to communicate with identified groups

Adrian is Client Strategy & Business Development Director for Being - one of the leading digital agencies in the UK and Ireland. He helps businesses understand the benefits digital communications can deliver.

Being emphasises the importance of deploying digital communications technologies to align with and impact on business and marketing objectives. Clients include the Liberal Democrats, the British Red Cross and Stena Line.