Not every research project requires a fancy survey or focus group. In fact, a great place to do some exploratory research is LinkedIn.
LinkedIn now has over 80 million members! (I swear just 2 weeks ago it was 70 million!) This is an insane "sample" group of professionals that is eager to share information and answer your questions. In other words - most LinkedIn participants just want to help you. So you should take advantage of it.
What Do You Want to Know?
No matter what your question, chances are LinkedIn has an answer. The key to making it work is knowing where to find it and how to pull it out.
Ideal Customer Profile: Perhaps THE most important piece of market research info is profiling your ideal customer. Log into your LinkedIn account and start searching on typical job titles of your ideal customer - i.e. IT professional
When I searched on "CIO" I got an entire list of names beginning with people who are closest to me in my network. But the really terrific feature is what you'll find on the left column ; an actual count of the number of people who have "CIO" in their profiles. Now you can read through those profiles or reach out to people that you know with your questions.
Simply click on one of the profiles that you find and scroll down to where you'll find a list of the groups they belong to:
Now you can go to those groups and take a look at the discussions that you'll find there. Click around the groups and find the groups that fit you best, then join the group and join the conversation and ask questions.
You can search the "Question and Answer" categories on your industry keywords and see what people have been asking about and how others have been answering . Here is an example of a search with the keyword "medical billing"
Company Pages Give Insight Into Industries
Before there was the internet or LinkedIn, one of my favorite ways to do research for my marketing plan was to make a list of the top market share holders in a targeted market. Then I would search articles and papers trying to decipher some kind of pattern or information. But now there's LinkedIn and now you can get a quick search of company pages, will give you the latest news stories AND the people in your network who are associated with that company.
If you haven't explored the "insightful statistics" section of LinkedIn Company Pages - then you are missing a wonderful opportunity to get some insights into your customers. This section takes information from your connections and compiles them across all the people who are affiliated with that company to give you some interesting information.
The "People also viewed" box will tell you what similar brands that are considered to be alternatives to your brand. And then -all you have to do is search around those companies that are listed.
Another terrific comparative chart compares the company you're researching against other similar companies.
There are many more research features that you can explore within LinkedIn that will give you ideas into what to include in your surveys and polls. Not only that, but you'll actually get a list of real people that you can reach out to for conversations and questions that you might have.
Use LinkedIn to start your market research process and see how much more you can learn in a few hours that might take days or weeks to learn otherwise.
A Word of Warning
LinkedIn is NOT the end all of search or research, it's a tool to help you get a head start on helping you create questions about strategies that you might be considering. I wouldn't go quoting any of the findings, but I would certainly use them to help be build a list of similar comparative brands.
Have fun with this and see how much more you can learn.