How much do your customers really use social media? This seems to be a question that’s asked often and answered often. You might ask this question if you’re just starting out in a new industry or maybe you’ve been in your industry a while but just don’t have a clue where to start online. Lack of knowledge, disconnect with data and not knowing who your customers are can cause issues when trying to figure out how social your customers are.

The first step in figuring out how social your customers are is research. Turn your lack of knowledge into expertise just by putting in the research. Conduct social listening exercises across multiple platforms to get started. Here are some suggested social listening exercises to help you gain the social insight you need into your industry.

Site Search

Monitor the large social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and even MySpace. Use the search functionalities of each of these sites. Search for keywords related to your products or services. Who is talking about your products and services? Are any of these users very influential – you can figure this out by going to their profile and looking at how many friends they have and how active they are.

Additionally, try typing in frequently asked questions into the search bar. Are there users asking those questions? Make note of how regularly messages are sent out and/or responded to. This can help you figure out how social your customers are too.

Competitors

Search for competitors brand pages. You can gain a lot of insight by seeing just how other brands are using social media. How active are their fans? Do fans comment, “like”, “share” and post regularly? Do they foster a sense of community on their pages? Make note of how your competitors are using social media marketing.

Forums

Use a search engine to find discussion boards and forums. How regularly are people posting, answering and sharing? The conversations in forums and on discussion boards can show you how often your customers feel compelled to post about industry related topics.

Blogs & Industry News

Use a search engine to find industry blogs and websites. Does the site allow contributors? How many bloggers write for the site and how active are they on social media? Make note of how regularly posts are updated, commented on and responded to. This can help you see exact how social your customers are.

With each of the listening exercises above you’ll gain great insight into the social activities of your prospects. In addition to the research you put forth through social listening, try looking at studies put together by by Forrester, Marketing Hub, Pingdom, and others. Some of these studies will help you identify how social certain demographic groups are.

Additionally, you can get insider tips from people within your own industry. Search Google for articles about marketing to your industry through social media. Or follow experts like Jay Baer who wrote this great blog post, “4 Detective Tricks to Find Your Customers in Social Media”.

Hopefully after a few of these exercises you’ll start to get a better grip on exactly how social your customers are. Don’t forget to go back and conduct these exercises often – the social activities of your customers change over time.

What sites do you currently use to conduct social listening?