Social media is no longer just a way to kill time. These platforms can help you find a job, market your products and connect with valuable contacts. They can even spark business ideas.
Instead of aimlessly scrolling through your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed, here are eight clever ways to use social media to find new business ideas.
1. Search questions in subreddits.
If you're on the prowl for a new tech product or service idea, head over to news and entertainment social media site Reddit and start surfing the subreddits (subject areas). In particular, people looking for new business ideas should review subreddits and use the Ask Me Anything feature, where users can ask experts and celebrities questions that may uncover potential ideas for small or midsize businesses.
2. Look at the comments on Pinterest.
If your talents lie in identifying or creating the next great must-have product, get a Pinterest account. The image-based social media site provides a constant stream of new images to get you thinking creatively about new business ideas.
"Of all the social media sites, Pinterest is one of the best to see the next hot product trend," said Gail Oliver, a small business consultant and blogger at Attention Getting Marketing. Oliver said she's seen many wedding, home decor and fashion trends take off because of Pinterest.
Pinterest users can monitor comments without alerting other users and get a sitewide look at what people think of each pin. Oliver said the often-overlooked comments section provides more inspiration for new ideas than some other social media sites.
"Comments are also visible to everyone, so you can see what people are saying," Oliver said.
Pinterest recently started to support hashtags on pins, which is a win for both business owners and individuals looking to start a business. You can now plug in a relevant hashtag in the search bar to quickly find relevant pins. You might be able to find popular niche pins that could spark an idea.
3. Uncover under-the-radar social media networks and apps.
For another largely untapped social media source of idea-rich content, use your smartphone to cruise through one of the lesser-known mobile social networks or visit a social shopping network. If apps aren't your thing, try a visit to a couple of niche social sites for inspiration.
"I think social sharing sites such as Wanelo [an online world shopping community] and Loverly [dedicated to shopping for weddings] are better for identifying business opportunities," Oliver said, because they gauge people's interest and approval with the whole "like" system, instead of just measuring the reaction of your followers.
4. Check out your competitors.
A stealthy way to find new business ideas is to quietly monitor the social media activity of the big players or competitors in your potential industry.
"The trick to using social media to find new ideas and stay on top of the current trends is to monitor your competitors," said Matthew Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com.
When you see the totality of engagement from your market competitors, you get a better sense of an overall pattern that allows you to connect the dots to discover new ideas, he said.
"Read your competitors' content about the industry and their tweets about new initiatives in their company," Reischer added. "Pay attention to the social banter among all participants, and you can begin to assemble a better-informed understanding of the market ecosystem in which you operate."
5. Pay attention to complaints.
Social media is the go-to place to complain about everything, including products and services. While reading complaints might not make for a fun afternoon, if you see multiple people complaining about the same thing, you can identify gaps in a market.
"People don't always know what they want, but they know what frustrations they have," said Dayne Shuda, founder of Ghost Blog Writers. "A good indication that you're on to something as an entrepreneur is when you see a very common frustration. Social media provides the ability to observe this like nothing before in history."
Nicky Barua, co-founder of Nidel Dresses, also recommends looking at complaints and how people receive different products you're interested in.
"You can take it a step further and search in forums whether there is a big market facing the same problems," said Barua. "That's the perfect time to generate your business idea and swoop in with a solution."
6. Look for trends.
While you are scrolling through your social media feeds, be cognitive of what you're seeing and start looking for trends. When Lilia Karimi, co-founder of Wedwell, was searching the internet for wedding ideas, she noticed most of the wedding industry is focused on planning and weight loss, instead of wellness and emotional health. So, she decided to fill the gap in the market and create a company that brings wellness to the wedding industry.
"I recommend people take a closer look at their news feeds and see if it's motivating and inspiring them, and if not, [decide] what they would like to see more of," said Karimi.
7. Search for hashtags and keywords.
Barua suggests starting by searching for hashtags and keywords that resonate with an idea you're passionate about. This feedback could spark a new idea.
"Consider following key hashtags on Instagram that are relevant for your particular industry," added Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. "Doing this allows you to discover what your target audience is talking about [and] uncover new trending topics too."
8. Join Facebook groups.
Facebook groups are increasingly popular, and a gold mine for business ideas. Find and join some groups that are relevant to the industry you're thinking about joining, then monitor what people are saying in the groups.
Hopefully, people are active in the groups and will provide you with a lot of ideas. When people complain, take notice of their pain points and think of ways you could help. When they praise something, take note and think about how you can add to that.
Large Facebook groups typically include both potential consumers and competitors, and it's important to know what they are all saying.