Why Research is Key and How to Create a Research Station For Your Social Media Strategy

Why Research is Key and How to Create a Research Station For Your Social Media Strategy

Danny Brown research stations

Back in the day, if you wanted to know how successful your marketing had been you had to use expensive and time-consuming analysis.

You might have spent time putting together a direct mail package that had a call-to-action to return a slip with a customer’s details on it, and the amount returned to you would show how successful that campaign had been.

Of course, the problem is, if you sent out 10,000 flyers, you don’t know how many actually arrived at a home; how many were read versus how many were put in the bin; and how many never made it out the post office.

The only gauge of success were the returned slips, and when you’re spending money and time creating and distributing 10,000 flyers, knowing what worked and what didn’t becomes pretty damn important.

The same goes for radio ads, TV ads, newspaper ads – sure, you’re guaranteed airtime but unless you know who saw or read your ad and what their actions were afterward, you’re no better off than that wayward flyer.

Thankfully, that was back in the day. Now you have a lot more power at your disposal when it comes to grabbing results – and by using the research from that to tailor your future moves, you can have a research station ready for every campaign.

A Research Station?

Sales are great. Sales are what helps pay the bills, pay the employees, pay stakeholders – without sales, no business will succeed. Of course, to get sales, you need to market.

But to market effectively, you need to research and then use the research to prepare your future marketing for your next batch of sales. This is where your research station comes in.

All a research station is is clever use of information-gathering tools, and collating these tools into a cohesive action plan. There are a ton of tools to use, but I’m going to look at some of the best free ones and how you can use them for your needs.

So, first things first – where to start.

Building Your Research Station

To build a solid and practical research station, you need to know where to grab your information from. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds (although the level of information will vary – free is good, but premium research will always offer more).

The best way to carry out any research is to have the information at hand you want to know about. Then you start collecting the bricks to build your station.

  • Google Alerts. Still one of the best tools for knowing what people are saying about you and your company. Set up your keywords, set up the frequency of alert, and let Google Alerts do the rest.
  • Social Mention. One of the best free solutions for finding information across the social web, Social Mention even gives a basic overview of sentiment and shared value.
  • Social Search. Not a single tool as such, but using platforms like Twitter Search and Facebook Search (amongst others) can yield a ton of information.
  • Vanity URL’s. Having a call-to-action is great – having a call-to-action that appeals to your audience is better. Use URL services like bit.ly or budurl are great for providing URL’s to increase your level of attraction. (budurl is premium but offers a free trial.)

These are just some options I recommend. As I mentioned earlier, Google is your friend, so use its search to see which other platforms might interest you.

So now the bricks are in place to build, it’s time to solidify the foundations by mixing them together.

A Research Station Campaign

Because each tool above (and any you find to use) offer different strengths, the easiest way to show an example of how to use them together is with a dummy campaign. Hopefully, this can be transferred to your needs.

Let’s say you have a widget to sell. It’s not a revolutionary widget, but it’s a damn cool one. So you want to market the heck out of it and sell a ton, and retire to Barbados.

While you still use TV, or radio, or other “traditional media” to advertise, this won’t tell you why your widget is selling (other than folks like your advert, possibly). This is where you combine the research station with the media station.

Media station

Every flyer or ad you send out comes with a vanity URL (make sure the URL appeals to your audience and the needs your widget meets). This URL sends interested folks to a micro-site built specifically for the campaign.

Every area of advertising or marketing also has its own URL – so newspapers, radio, TV, etc, would be URL/tv or URL/radio (just as an example – you can be more creative).

To make your campaign even more effective, use multiple URL’s to take people to different pages of your site, based on demographics, type of widget, location, etc.

The micro-site has more call-to-actions, like a downloadable mobile APP or a QR code to scan, along with a newsletter sign-up for free updates about the widget, etc, where to find you online and more. Or you have coupons to download to get discounts from offline purchases, or to share with your friends.

You have your analytics package set up ready to grab the information about your visitors as they arrive and leave.

Your campaign is also set around specific keywords, which should also be in your micro-site URL for added visibility and measurement.

So now you have all the pieces in place, and you’ve sent the marketing out, it’s time to use your research station to gauge, measure and act upon.

Planning New Stations

By setting up your research station before your campaign – alerts, URL’s, micro-sites, type of media, what message is going to each, etc – you’ve created the basis of what information you want to receive.

This, coupled with sales of the widget from the campaign, can give you focused information that will make your next one even more effective.

So what do you take from each nugget?

    • Google Alerts. Set your keywords up from your campaign, as well as the widget name, the company name, the website address and “blog posts about WIDGET NAME”. See when you’re mentioned; where; who by; what topic they normally talk about, etc.


    • Social Mention. Type in your keywords and marketing efforts (WIDGET X on the radio, for example). Bookmark the most relevant mentions from the network results. Measure the Positive/Negative/Neutral feedback for each term.


    • Social Search. Much like Social Mention, but this time view more about the demographics on who’s talking about you. What Groups do they belong to on Facebook? Are they part of a bigger picture (mommy bloggers, widget enthusiasts, etc). Are they sharing you with their networks? If so, good or bad?


    • Analytics. Which URL’s were used? Which landing page had the biggest bounce rate? Why? Did your call-to-action work? How many apps or coupons were downloaded? What nationality was your biggest visitor base?


  • Vanity URL’s. Which keyword URL drove the most traffic? What medium offered the most return? Were location-based URL’s useful?

By collecting all of this information and more, you’re painting a picture of your customers, and how they want to be marketed to.

You’re no longer guessing about which media worked and which didn’t. No longer questioning traffic spikes and who was responsible for them. No longer wondering if people were liking your approach or if they bought on a whim.

Once you have that, it’s not rocket science as to what comes next – you use that information to get rid of the crud and build upon the good.

You eliminate the need for costly mistakes and solidify the best parts of your previous campaign into your next one. And your next one. And your next one.

You win, the customer wins – result.

How about you? How are you building stations and what binds yours together?

image: Zanthia
image: Krista76

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  1. says

    I have been doing research and creating a research station, but not in so many details as you are explaining. My biggest challenge has been to get more information from Facebook. I haven’t found the proper way to search it.

    By the way, using vanity urls for each campaign is something a lot more companies should do. I live in Norway, and I hardly see any companies doing this, and especially when it comes to newspaper/radio/tv ads.

  2. says

    I’ve started to really get into social search to find other people with like interests as mine.

    I use search.twitter.com the most. Up until this point I have grown my Twitter Account completely organically. If someone likes me they follow me and vice-versa.

    But recently I’ve been actively seeking out new relationships on Twitter by using search to find people that Hashtag topics I enjoy.

    What I’ve found is searching for Information in general opens you up to so many ideas that might not have otherwise run into.

    Great article Danny!

    Ryan h.

  3. says

    Uhh, very good information! I am not sure about vanity URL’s, it could bounce back on you. Some potential customers definitely want to be crystal clear about what they are doing, and therefore need a URL they can understand

    • says

      If you buy custom domains, you can keep your branding intact and therefore not confuse the customer, Lloyd. So, they’re still happy and you get to track better.

      Hope that helps!

  4. says

    As with all SEO tactics one really needs a wide range and good mix of tools and methods. I don’t really understand the vanity URLs (here in France they are not much used) but the social media sites and all the Google tools have helped me to hoist my sites to going concerns within 6 months at the most.

    • says

      The real benefit with vanity URL’s is you can allocate to specific campaigns – but not only that, you can allocate to specific promotional partners. So, say you have 100 bloggers promoting your products, your vanity URL’s will really help define who’s giving you the most traffic and success and, therefore, bang for your buck.

      Cheers, Simon!

  5. says

    LOVING this one! Being a media buyer since 1999, I’m amazed at the changes that have taken place to develop a marketing strategy, especially since social media came on the scene. Our tracking usually consisted of calling a specific number or going to a certain URL associated with the specific media used. And you could never really tell exactly how well the whole thing worked unless the offer was incredible and people reacted immediately.

    I’ve used most of these tools with my clients but not in the process that you described. Thanks for the great suggestions to use to help us develop a more comprehensive research strategy.

    • says

      Hey there Penney,

      Glad you enjoyed, miss. It’s scary to think how far we’ve come in just a little over years, huh? Makes you wonder where we’ll be in another . Hopefully I’ll be retired and not have to worry about it all. 😉

  6. says

    I am building my research station now. Not nearly as large (yet) but building. My one big struggle is picking the right analytics. It took me awhile to realize some people visit who don’t show up in Google analytics because they have it blocked, like I do. It’s great as a site owner, but I’ve been trying to look at other tools, because that’s frustrating. I think before any big launch, preparation is critical. I appreciate your willingness to share as always.

    • says

      Hi Sue,

      The analytics one can definitely be a bugbear. Take Compete, for example, held up as one of the best gauges of how successful a site is traffic-wise. Yet it only measures traffic from the U.S…. 😉

      Hopefully some of the options here will be useful to you. :)

  7. says

    Wonderful article Danny, really interesting and full of useful info. I didn’t thought about Google Alerts or Social Mention but I’ll use them. Really a great post.

    Btw I see Livefyre is back, just when I was thinking about going with CommentLuv. 😉

    • says

      @Andrea Hypno Often the simplest options are the most effective. What I like about these two is they’re great for people on a budget, without sacrificing too much quality from premium products.

      And yes, I missed livefyre – now I just need to do some code tweaking, but hopefully the nice folks at Livefyre will be able to help. Once they stop giving me stick for always changing my mind, right jenna langer and jordan kretchmer ? 😉

      Home to stay this time. :)

      • says

        @DannyBrown@Andrea Hypno Oh hey! Look who’s back! New York Times starts using Livefyre, and only THEN it’s good enough for @DannyBrown 😉 I see how it is. Either way, great to have you back bud, again, and again, and again. Haha.

        • says

          @jkretch @Andrea Hypno Dude, you do know that the NYT only came on board after extensive consultation with me… 😉

          Now, if only I could get some of the quirks ironed out again (username boxes close together and my Trackback code sorted). Know that’s not a @livefyre problem as it’s a remnant of WP Comment CSS. But hey, if you know anyone that can help… 😉

        • says

           @jkretch The question is whether AriHerzog.com returns to you and whether @DannyBrown has anything to say about it. I heart commentluv so you have a ways to persuade me, considering I am now a premium member.

        • says

          @Ari Herzog @jkretch I’ll be staying on Livefyre and I’m sure Jordan and the LF team are happy to have folks that want to be on LF and those that don’t can stay with their preferred platform.

  8. joshcorbelli says

    I’ve never called these tools “research stations,” but I kind of like that term. Simplifies things. I think you covered most of the big ones, but while Social Mention is a great tool, I often prefer to use TweetDeck or HootSuite to monitor social mentions. No real reason, just a creature of habit I suppose. Additionally, I like to do some keyword research (AdWords research tool, etc.), but other than that, you seem to have a pretty solid Research Station format set up. Nice work.

    • says

      @joshcorbelli Hi Josh,

      You’re singing to the choir with Hootsuite, mate – definitely one of my favourite tools, much more than a Twitter dashboard. :)

      AdWords is awesome, and agree, it’s another great part of the equation. That’s the beauty – and pain – of research and monitoring options; there are so many great ones, it can be hard to try and narrow down to a few to use for examples.

      Cheers, mate.

  9. says

    A good alternative to Google Alerts is Trapit (disclosure: I work there). Like Google Alerts, Trapit is a free tool for following topics of your choice. Trapit is a lot less noisy than Google Alerts, though, for a few reasons. One, it only pulls content from human-vetted sources. Two, it learns from your feedback. Finally, its recommendation engine is smarter because it attempts to actually read the text in posts. It works pretty well.

  10. DennisYu says

    Danny– ninja social monitoring methods!

    I use Google Alerts to grab everything except for Facebook.

    We happen to have a private Facebook tool to monitor brand pages– if you’d like access, let me know.

  11. says

    Really good blog post Danny. The methods that you explained in this blog post makes a lot of sense and also gives a clear picture as to what you should be focusing on too with your marketing campaigns.
    With my upcoming product launch this was some very useful information that I know I will be implemented more of. I have used Facebook search and Twitter search before and actually gained some new clients with using them. The Google Alerts is something I’ve only used for with my name for guest posting and such.
    Thanks for your insight.

  12. says

    This is a great article, as a student of PR it really opens my eyes to all the options out there. I will definitely be bringing this information with me to my first job! Thanks :) 

  13. says

    Mind sharing what you’re searching on Google Analytics and the other tools, Danny? It’s one thing to say they exist but it’s something else to see what the author is using them for.

    • says

       @Ari Herzog Google Analytics I use to track behaviour on the blog, as well as keyword campaigns for certain posts (generally I write for the reader first, then search).
      I use other stuff like InboxQ, for instance, to get ideas for posts, while social search I use for feedback on my content.

  14. says

    Hi Danny
    I’m really interested in the research element of this in relation to blogs – especially given your previous post. Some good stuff in here, and some more in the comments. Google alerts, social mention etc get me so far, but if I want to get a ranked list of relevant blogs for a particular vertical, any tips for where to go? (I am not finding the search results from the blog directories to be overly helpful)