R&D is not cheap. It takes time and staff to effectively understand what customers think about your product, how they access information and where they reside online.

Suzette Gardner, director of internet communications & publications at the National Sleep Foundation walked us through the steps that she and her staff took to better understand what customers want using social media platforms.

Like other non-profits and small businesses, budgets for research and development aren’t always available, yet the information is needed. Those strapped for cash, can turn to social media to help them measure audience demographics, capture and analyze feedback.

Gardner recommends the following steps to help effectively set up a process for initiating and monitoring social media for research and development.

Step 1: Establish the goals of your research
Step 2: Identify the important questions
Step 3: Research and collect data to answer questions
Step 4: Analyze data collection to make informed decisions

Gardner advises managers to establish a presence on social networks that targets the appropriate demographic you seek. In addition, she encourages organizations to join other relevant user groups and ask relevant questions that may help understand how users view related issues.

Before you implement your social media strategy, it’s essential that you develop a scorecard for measuring feedback, prioritizing changes, and assign values for sentiment, reach and passion, which will help analyze the data once its collected.

Gardner also provided many useful, and in some cases, free tools for capturing and reporting what people are saying about your brand, as well as who’s forwarding and sharing your information.

Though many social media platforms are free, they do require time and energy to manage successful. Yet with the right tools and strategies in place, it will help to supplement your organization’s research and development needs.