As social media continues to evolve, more businesses are finding different ways to benefit from it. Listening, learning and engaging are still the three guiding principles to using social media for business. Now a fourth one seems to be emerging – research.

There are many benefits to using social media for research purposes. For one, it’s more timely. You can capture pertinent information by engaging in real-time dialogue with followers, fans, etc. on your various social media pages. When you have a conversation, you can ask follow-up questions for clarification and get more details from people. Most of the time, you have access to specific demographic information for those people, as well.

Compare that to the traditional research process. The logistics are more complicated, they take longer and the entire process can be costly. It’s also somewhat limited. If you conduct a focus group, only so many demographics can be represented at one time, and your conversation is limited to one visit or group. There is no follow-up discussion. It’s the same thing with a survey. Consumers have to choose from the multiple choice answers you provide them, and you don’t always get an explanation for the way they score you. Traditional research certainly has its place, and social media doesn’t necessarily replace it. It does, however, give your financial institution more options.

First Mariner Bank uses the information it obtains from social media to create relevant content and to determine where and how the bank should advertise. For example, if most of its social media audience tends to watch the same television show, the marketing department may choose to purchase air time during that show. If its social media audience frequents a certain venue, the bank may partner with that venue on a marketing promotion.

Capturing data in this way is very cost efficient and very timely. At the same time, financial institutions cannot rely solely on conversation for these kinds of details. Most social media platforms have free tools to help you analyze your social media effectiveness. Those tools should complement any type of engagement strategy. There are many tools you can use even if you don’t have a social media presence on a specific platform. Take advantage of anything that will make your marketing research more timely and accurate.

For specific information about these free tools and more details about engagement research, read the May 2013 issue of my monthly e-newsletter. You will find links to tools as well as tips for how to use them.