How to determine market demand on a start-up budget

By Alexandra Reid

Monitoring social media is like drinking from a fire hose. If you don’t abridge the flow, you will get washed away.  As a community manager, I have an intimate understanding of what it feels like to be pummeled and drenched by the waves of content that constantly come at me. However, I also realize the tremendous opportunities that float alongside the masses of Tweets, status updates and blog posts published on the web every second of every day.

Measuring market demand through social media is a growing opportunity that may prove to be extremely valuable to entrepreneurs. There are many companies currently developing software to measure “social media sentiment” to determine public perception over time and pinpoint when a brand is under attack and, more importantly, why.

This tactic requires software to siphon targeted streams of content from the social media fire hose to measure mentions of a company or person as well as if the mention was positive, negative or neutral. However, software of the caliber produced by companies like Meltwater Group is still in its early stages and can be expensive for a start-up budget and produce overly intricate analysis for early stage companies.

There are alternative methods to measuring sentiment and demand potential for a new product or service, which I list below. It is important to keep in mind that while these tools are free, social media monitoring and analysis requires a considerable amount of human resources and long-term dedication. It is also crucial that you determine goals for your research or you will not be able to siphon the right information. Marketing Profs suggests that you write down the questions you hope social media will answer. If you don’t think you will take action on the information you receive, ask yourself why you should include that question at all.


Ask online communities what they think of your product or service, about the current state of your marketplace, future trends and past successes and failures of companies in your space. These sites are well known for their high level of participation and their communities should provide you with some insightful input:

  • LinkedIn Groups and Answers
  • Quora
  • Yahoo Groups and Answers
  • Aardvark
  • Google Groups
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Other forums that cover your industry (we are currently testing out BusinessWeek Business Exchange, still in Beta)

For polling on Twitter, Marketing Profs recommends that you:

  • Include a short personal message about the survey or poll within a tweet
  • Include an incentive such as “win a gift card,” etc
  • Use popular hashtags related to your surveyor poll. Take a look at third-party site,, to get an idea of popular hashtags used on Twitter
  • Don’t be afraid to tweet your survey or poll more than once. By simply updating the messaging, you can tweet it again later on that day or over the weekend. Try to send the tweet at peak Twitter times for maximum exposure (Tweet O’Clock can help determine optimum Twitter times to reach specified influencers)
  • Use a link-shortening service, such as, to shorten your survey or poll link and track to clicks
  • Ask for a retweet from your followers
  • Send a final reminder tweet, such as “survey or poll ends today, results to follow.”

You can also poll your existing customers using online surveys. This may be a good place to start as it will allow you to focus your questions. Social media users typically have short attention spans so it is best to ask only a handful of short and focused questions that they can answer quickly.


Keyword searches can reveal huge amounts of information about a specific subject. Use the search option to reveal current market trends and consumer opinions on influential sites including:

  • Technorati
  • Blog Catalog
  • Google Blog Search
  • Blog Pulse
  • Twitter Search (can be refined to “Tweets with links,” Tweets near you,” and “People”)
  • Small Business Trends
  • Small Business InSite
  • Small Biz Daily
  • Social Mention
  • Samepoint

Marketing Profs suggests you also make use of secondary data such as customer profiles, purchase patterns, sales data and customer service calls.


Use a third-party management tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to monitor the Twitter streams of influencers in your space and keywords related to your product or service. You can also schedule Google Alerts to automatically monitor the web and receive updates of the latest relevant Google results, including news stories and current information on your competitors or marketplace. LinkedIn’s company pages are excellent for monitoring competitive companies as it reveals employee listings (current, former, new, number, recent promotions, job titles, career paths, top universities, median age and gender percentages), company information (including products and services, number of employees and stock charts), job listings and related companies.

There are a variety of other online tools that allow you to monitor trends over time. For instance, you can monitor Google Trends to get a good understanding of popular products, services, companies and people.


It is important that you organize all the information you receive over time in a way that is comprehensible. We use Google Docs to track our social media progress. Google Docs is better than Excel because it allows you to share your spreadsheets with coworkers who can update documents as the team moves forward.

Now it’s your turn. Did I miss any important online tools? Do you have experience using these tools and have an opinion? Did you find this post useful?

Photo: Arthur’s People Clipart

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