One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to get inside your potential new customers’ heads is to hold focus groups. But did you know that focus groups can also help in the early stages of setting up your company as well as helping to develop new products and services?

According to figures released by the Federation of Small Business (FSB), small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2015 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs). Total employment in SMEs was 15.6 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. Because budgets are tight with any new start-ups, many successful small businesses are now using social media focus groups as a low-cost tool to help them form their companies and give their business an initial direction in which to go.

ideaIt all starts with an idea

So, you have this fantastic idea that you are so enthusiastic about you cannot sleep for all the excitement. But does anyone want to buy it? In your head, you are already putting together a marketing plan for your business, and you are wondering if you should ask some of your family and friends about it and whether they think you have a good idea.

Your family and friends may not be the best places to go if you want complete honesty about your new product or service idea. For one, they love you and will want to show support for your idea whether it is actually any good or not. So before you go rushing headlong into setting up your business, it would be a better approach to get some much-needed market research from an outside source that has no personal connection to you.

Conducting a focus group is a great way to help establish whether you have a marketable product or service before you even start. It is also a great tool for a business who is looking to expand it’s offerings or wants to diversify into another business sector but need to test the water before jumping in.

Planned out correctly you could have access to valuable information about your potential customer’s attitudes and opinions of your product or service, as well as their perceptions of the company behind the idea.

However, your research budget many not be able to stretch to conducting real-life physical meetings that involve location scouting, room hire, hospitality, and maybe covering travelling costs for the participants.

What is a focus group?

Focus groups are primarily a market research tool – and a very effective one at that! They usually consist of a group of people who have been gathered together to discuss something such as a potential new product or service coming onto the market. With the rise of social media, a lot of focus group research can now be done digitally.

The insights you glean from social networking can influence your business decisions in a positive way. Asking questions and listening to customer responses can help you to tailor your product or service to suit the needs of your customers. By doing this you not only gain very useful feedback about your product or service but you can also get a feel about how the general public perceives your company, and whether you need to work on your image or branding or fill in any missing gaps that are uncovered as a result of your research.

A great example of a company who uses social media feedback well is Domino’s Pizza. For a long time now they have been using a subtle form of social listening to collect customer feedback about the quality of their food, speed of delivery, how polite the delivery person was etc. The data they receive helps them to improve their menu choices and service.

What the pizza company did was to use a clever mix of combining together social media and classic research methods of focus groups and surveys. It was a way to get out directly to their customers and making it easy for them to give feedback rather than taking people out of their comfort zone and bringing them into a controlled environment where their feedback may have been influenced by their surroundings.

By asking the right questions and listening to your customers through your social channels you will be effectively cultivating a successful focus group or social test group of your own. Although you cannot guarantee that all of your social feedback will be entirely useful, the majority of your feedback can have a big impact on your business success.

And because you can potentially reach more people through social media focus groups than you could through a traditional one, you will be able to get opinions from a wider range of people than just a handful of available-at-the-time people in one room.

Can Social Media Replace Focus Groups?

Social media has some obvious advantages over traditional focus group environments. For one thing, social media is much faster, often giving you immediate feedback from a customer. The numbers you can reach on social media will far outnumber that of regular focus groups or real life surveys taken in the streets.

Businesses are already making good use of this kind of social feedback, and not just for their products or services either. You can gather data about all sorts of different things that relate to your business, but you will want to make sure you take the time to ask questions that are as clear and easy to understand as possible as well as thank your participants for taking part. Let them know they are appreciated and they will more than likely be happy to take part in further research in the future.

How to do market research using Social Media

Using a tool such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms would give you the tools to ask the public questions about your services, products or industry. These tools are generally free or very cheap to implement and can scale up to take responses from any number of people. The key is to make completing the form simple, quick and to have some form of reward at the end (often this is entry into a draw for a prize or we’ve even seen one firm offering Amazon vouchers for every completed form).

Another approach is just to ask your social media followers a single question and monitor the results. Nice and simple and cheap to implement.

Whatever approach you take always, always monitor the results and once you have a full set of data to analyse you can use this as content for future blog posts and Infographics so the value of the data can be increased beyond simply internal use.