Companies wish they could use social media to conduct a focus group on an a product or serivce. But no, you can’t just open a Twitter account and say, “Hey, what do you think?” But you can use it for research and development two different ways: social media monitoring and directly seeking customer feedback. 

   The first approach is to use social media monitoring to gather research about your company, product or service, competitors or industry. By listening to online conversations about certain topics your customers might be talking about, you can gather competitive intelligence that can inform your decision making and produce a better offering.

   Let’s say you make HTML coding CD’s and sell them from your dorm in Florida and they sell fairly well. But you need some R&D or at least some market research to know if what you’re planning to produce makes sense for the new CSS code you intend to roll out in the coming weeks.

   So you go to a free monitoring service like enter some keywords until you start to see some relevant results for conversations occurring from users in or around Orlando. For instance, “This needs to be written like I’m five,” is a phrase you might see pop up a couple of times.

    Then you might notice that when people are talking about what their coding needs, they say the CD needs to be big Mac compatible. And there’s your new product idea harvested from raw data on the Web.

   A second approach is to openly participate in social media and build relationships and connection with your actual customers so you can turn to them into your focus group. As an active social media participant, building followers on Twitter, fans and likes on Facebook, readers of your blog or even subscribers to your email newsletter, you’re essentially growing your potential focus group every day.

   Make a list of the product or service feedback items you might want to ask customers about. Then make a list of the information you’d like to know about your customers or prospective customers. Look at that list and pick the one or two major areas you wish you could solve with a little customer input or feedback.

   These two scenarios don’t require big budgets, or lots of scientific testing. But they are legitimate research-and-development practices any business can use by implementing social media for R&D purposes.