Stay Relevant With Social Media Research

Article 4 min
Explore how social media research can help you stay relevant in the ever-changing social environment.

One of the biggest hurdles for a public affairs officer (PAO) is knowing how to stop talking about what happened yesterday and start talking about what will happen tomorrow. Leadership does not operate in the yesterday, and they do not fight in the today. They operate in the tomorrow because the decisions they make impact the future. If they are operating and making decisions for the present, it is already too late for them to be effective.

Conducting social media research is the process of reviewing and analyzing the data from your social media channels to understand how audiences react to the content you are sharing. It is focused on your social audience's knowledge, attitude and behaviors and is used to learn their interests and perceptions. 

Accurate social media research helps achieve our leader's communication objectives by identifying who needs to motivate, activate or educate. You should constantly be asking yourself where your target audience gets their information and what is the best way to reach them on these platforms.

Follow these best practices to stay relevant when researching and analyzing your accounts.

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Effective Research Strategies


Using social media platforms is one of the most cost-effective ways to share content and disseminate messaging, and each social media platform provides data and analytics tools to track various metrics to help you make data-based decisions. For example, the Facebook insights tab tracks reach, demographics and post clicks, and Twitter tracks impressions, mentions and engagement rate. Use these free tools at your disposal to research who your audience is and what their interests are.

You can also set up tracking alerts on certain platforms that alert you to breaking news and popular stories so you can stay informed and analyze where you may have the opportunity to inject your messaging. For example, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow you to tailor your notifications and notification frequency to ensure you are alerted when updates are made to specific people or pages you follow.


One of the best ways to understand your audience's interests is through filter mapping. Filter mapping is a tool to inform your command of what is happening and why. After understanding your audience's interests and perceptions, you will begin to understand their narratives or the stories they tell themselves.

Once you perform your filter mapping, you can execute stakeholder mapping or stakeholder analysis. Ask yourself these questions about your stakeholders:

  • What are their interests?
  • What do they follow?
  • What are their perspectives?

After performing stakeholder mapping, you will know what stakeholders prioritize when disseminating messaging, which can help you anticipate opportunities to shape your audience's knowledge, attitude or behavior.


Next, you can use predictive analytics to anticipate and shape opportunities before they happen. For example, if you see something harmful to your mission gaining popularity on the fringe or niche, you can prepare a response before it becomes mainstream.

It is important to remember that you should always be predictive rather than reactive. Be on high alert for anything that could risk your organization's mission, force or brand.


The best way to stay current in today's digital world is to keep up with trends, especially the trends on social media. Research popular trends to see where you have the opportunity to input your messaging.

Trends start in small places on the fringe or in niche social channels before gaining popularity and becoming mainstream. Once something is trending in the mainstream, you may have missed your opportunity to engage your audience and disseminate messaging. You should constantly research niche and fringe social channels for indicators that something is about to become mainstream. This means you can prepare to disseminate a message or to combat any disinformation, misinformation or fake news preemptively.

Additionally, you can use social media monitoring and listening to track the information environment and extract critical insights about your social media performance and the performance of allies and adversaries.


Define your organization's goals for its social media platforms and analyze how successful you are in reaching those goals. The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Key performance indicators, the quantifiable measures used to evaluate the success of an organization in meeting objectives, are used to measure success to determine if you are meeting your SMART goals.

Do not get too bogged down by vanity metrics; qualitative measures are much more valuable. For example, do not measure your success based on how many people reply to or like a post; instead, measure how they feel by gauging how satisfied they are with your content.

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