Is the ‘next big thing’ lurking in your social media newsfeed?

Social media is a rich source of new business ideas and opportunities. So how can you mine that mountain of information for the next big thing and get a step ahead of your competitors?

The social sphere is awash with comments, ideas and observations from your current and future customers. The only trouble is social media channels are now so vast that it can be hard to identify the real insights. Here are a few ways to help you harness the power of all that real time information and interaction.

1. Search review sites

Online review sites can contain some fairly honest feedback about what people are looking for, so they make a great place to mine for insights. Try checking forums and sites for products or services similar to your own, or even Google reviews of your own service offering. Find out what customers are talking about, what features they’re looking for and what they have been unsatisfied with. Meeting those needs can be lucrative.

Yelp, Review Centre and Amazon UK are all good places to start. Some may even provide the opportunity for you to contact reviewers with your own questions and suggestions.

2. Surf Reddit

Similarly, the social networking and news site Reddit contains myriad sub-Reddits (specific topic-focused discussion forums) that can be fertile ground for ideas and feedback.

You can filter results down to your locality to find out what people are looking for and what they have problems with. Then go to /r/Startups where entrepreneurs actively seek feedback for ideas.

3. Keep an eye on crowdfunding

Successful crowdfunding projects such as sleep monitor Sense, which met its $100,000 goal within hours and has now raised more than US$2 million, are a great way to gauge market demand for new products and technologies. We can see from Sense’s success that people are clearly concerned about their sleep quality, which might suggest there’s a lucrative market for associated sleep improvement products. Keep an eye on popular and recent campaigns on Kickstarter and similar platforms Indiegogo and RocketHub to keep across what’s hot.

4. Monitor trending topics

Twitter and Facebook are too big these days to stay abreast of every single update 24/7. Instead, you can monitor trending topics, usually represented by hashtags (#), to see what and whom people are complaining about. Doing this may give you inspiration for how you could service them better.

The easiest and most efficient method of ‘hashtracking’ is to subscribe to a tracking and monitoring software program. According to Stuart Davidson, a UK-based digital marketer who has compiled a list of the 30 best social media monitoring tools for businesses, these sophisticated programs allow you to seize on possible opportunities, as well as building relationships with your followers and seeing how your business is being perceived in the online sphere.

However, it’s important to understand that while informative, hashtag trends are not actually indicative of what is trending among the general public – only that of Twitter users.

5. Look for questions

People are asking questions across social media and some sites offer condensed insight into what people are looking for. Quora is a key hub for questions and answers, as is Yahoo! Answers. You may also be able to plug your existing products and services there.

Lastly, don’t forget to tap your own social networks and communities. Ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers what they’d like to see. What bugs them about your own business? What do they appreciate? Seeking feedback from your fans and followers can be just as illuminating as a paid focus group, and a lot more cost effective.