researchMany people simply jump into the social media pool with both feet, do the “splash-water-on-self” maneuver so they know what to expect.

Often times this is done with little to no research.

The first question to be answered is “Why?” Why do I need to be on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media network?

All to often the question “Why?” is generally answered after the fact – when asking why a social media strategy has failed.

While setting goals is the foundation of which a social media strategy is built, research is equally important. It is imperative to know where the conversations are taking place, who the influencers are, what the trends are and who the evangelists are before you start engaging in social media.

There are many options when it comes to research tools depending on resources, budget and abilities. There are several tools available for marketers to use to come up with the answers they need to choose the right tactics to insert into a comprehensive social media strategy.

Research should also help in developing a list of social media and web sites where you can potentially engage with people. More than likely, you will start with the big sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter and perhaps even Google+ and YouTube), then move on to doing research on various websites, blogs and online forums as well.

Check out each of the social media sites on your list and do additional research to determine relevancy by searching for your brand name, your competitors and your target keywords. Look at what’s out there – it will help you identify and better understand your target audience. It will also show you what is and what isn’t working well for others in your industry.

Research should also include looking at the competitions social networking efforts. Look at the businesses they are connected to and if applicable, connect with them too. Look at what they are saying, what their message mix consists of and pay particular attention to what days of the week and what times of day they are making their posts. If they appear to be getting better interaction with particular post types on particular days and times of day, these are all important elements to take note of.

The research can be time consuming and should not be a one-off activity. Make research an ongoing effort in the social media strategy. Review the entire research strategy as often as possible to make sure nothing is being missed.