A client has a problem; they want to sell more products (tickets, albums, drinks, merch..) and they ask you to do research to solve your problem. They might even ask you to find out how they can sell more through promotion on social media. Per haps you are a keen social media user, so you think it is going to be easy - a walk in the park because you know everything about Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Before you actively start counting the number of likes, photos and reactions, you should take a step back and first focus on finding out what the real problem is. Is it really about promotion, or is there too much competition? Perhaps the price is too high? What if you can get the same product for much less elsewhere? Or what if another organisation does it better? Perhaps the product is old- fashioned. Can you make an artist who makes music nobody likes famous through status updates on Facebook? Can you attract a younger audience to attend more concerts of that artist if the young people do not like the music?
Why should every organisation be on Facebook? If you want to be active on social media, the first step should be to look at the overall strategy of your organisation. What is your mission & vision, what message to you want to spread? Who are your target groups? Are these people online? Most governments have a statistical department that measures that kind of stuff for your country. There is a lot of useful information out there, but it is not always easy to find. How to find reliable and valid information on the internet is not as easy as it sounds. Only 10% of information on the web will be found by using search engines like Google. The rest is in the so-called deep web; you can access some through scholar.google.com, and most through university systems. Some research reports are very expensive, because good current data does not come cheap. You can usually use a university library to access new articles based on valid & reliable research for free, but at home you have to pay.
Luckily we have CBS in the Netherlands and in most countries you find a good reliable site with statistics about the population and their use of internet, how they spend their money, what they do with their spare time, how often they go to a concert, etc. there are also trade organsiations that publish date. For example the IFPI and RIAA for the music business (in NL try NVPI and VNPF).
Let’s return to strategy. Whether and how to use social media should always be part of your organsiation's overall strategy (based on your mission and vision). From your overall strategy, you look at the message you want to spread and the target groups. You develop a marketing strategy and social media can be part of the marketing mix. A student cannot do that for an organisation. All a student can do is gather data about these target groups and that can be used as input for the organisation's marketing strategy. Research does not solve problems, but it gives information (data) that can be used towards a strategy to solve a problem (see blog about management questions & knowledge questions).
Advice for students and other researchers is to use models that you probably all know when you want to pinpoint the problem. Do a SWOT to have a good look at the organisation. What are their (internal) strong and weak points? Look at the 7s model to see if there is anything that is stopping the organisation from being successful. Use PEST (or DESTEP analysis) to describe the problem in context: what is happening in politics that might affect the problem? Is the economical crisis a reason why things are not going well? What about competition - do they play a role? Use what you already know to map the problem. Look at the environment but also at the organisation.
Sometimes I just want to give them a handbook on social media. Why a research if you already know that you want to implement social media. Quite often I think the decision has already been made and they just want to know how. It is not always necessary to do research. And very often the problem is not what it seems. It is a challenge for students to probe, to ask questions. The client states the problem and wants a new marketing strategy; they think they get a quick and cheap solution. Unfortunately it ends in tears in many cases, because the student is studying a non-existent problem and the outcome is predictable. Nothing we didn't know or could have been drawn up by an expert in a day or two. In some cases, the choice for social media was a bad choice to begin with. Why social media if you do not have the resources (like money to hire a professional)? What is the use of social media if you only want to broadcast messages and do not want to listen or stimulate dialogue? Keep in mind that social media is only a tool to meet the general communication targets of an organisation and that it is always (a small) part of a marketing mix.
I realise it is difficult to question a client. Someone is nice to give you a graduation assignment and you are grateful, do not want to be too critical. I understand, but it doesn't help you or the client. Dare to ask, go back twice or even three times to ask even more! You help yourself and the client, because your research will be of more value. It is good to be curious, to be critical and to find out what the client really needs. Again, all you can do is gather data, give information to help the client solve his or her own problem. It is not up to you to write a new marketing strategy, but you can help by giving input, through telling the client what his target group wants and/or needs and/or does. Do yourself a favour and ask (please!).