Will it sell? Ask Twitter
Test-driving your product ideas on social media … before you invest
Last year, I read an article in Time: Sitting is Killing You. It listed all kinds of health problems that stem from sitting too much — from obesity to cancer — and advocated standing desks as one fix. A lightbulb went off. I have a bad back, and sitting all day makes it worse. But when I started searching for standing desks, they all looked too big, complicated and expensive. So I thought maybe I could make one of my own — and maybe I could even sell the thing.
But would anyone buy it?
If you’re an entrepreneur, how do you quickly and easily gauge demand for your new product? What’s the best way to feel out the market before investing thousands in equipment, materials and office space? The smart kids have been using Google for years to suss out product demand. But as I found while bringing my standing desk idea to life this year, an integrated approach that also incorporates newer social media tools may be the best way to tell whether you’ve got a winner on your hands.
What should I sell?
My first stop was Google Trends, which shows the volume of searches for particular keywords over time. Search interest for “standing desk” has been steadily rising since 2005 — a great sign. I could also see where people were searching for standing desks, mainly in the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and Australia, and popular related search queries, including “standing desk ikea” and “adjustable standing desk.”
For more granular data, I turned to Pinterest, an invaluable resource for exploring product and design ideas. I typed in “standing desks” and results were enlightening. The most popular pinned images — with thousands of “pins” each — were for cheap DIY desks, many cobbled together using IKEA materials. There was also a big emphasis on ergonomics and adjustability. Whatever desk I made — I realized — would have to be inexpensive and adjustable, with a DIY feel.
Finally, I also used a Twitter-monitoring site called Topsy, which goes beyond the standard keyword searches to show overall sentiment behind Tweets (from positive to negative), as well as who is tweeting. I discovered that there were nearly 8,000 Tweets sent about “standing desks” over the last month, with an overall sentiment of 82/100, very high. The most-shared tweets were mainly “hacks” for making your own standing desk, and I even noticed that influencer Guy Kawasaki was getting on the standing desk bandwagon.
But are there really buyers out there?
It was time to test the waters. I didn’t have a final prototype yet, but I wanted a sense of how many people would be interested and at what price point. So I built a very basic web site called a landing page (Tools like Lander makes this easy). I included an image of my newly designed standing desk — made from lightweight cardboard and easy to fold down and store away — and a buy button. The proposed price: around $30. Visitors who clicked the buy button could sign up to be notified as soon as the desk was released.
Of course, I still had to drum up traffic for my site in order to see who would bite. The classic hack here is to use Google AdWords, the little text ads that appear alongside search results or on related web pages. To select the best keywords to target in searches, I used Google’s Keyword Planner, which showed me exactly how many people were searching for the phrase “standing desk” and related terms. I wrote up a short, four-line ad, picked my target countries and designated a modest budget of a few dollars a day, leaving it to Google to optimize my spend to get the most clicks to my site.
The social media advantage
Site visits to my landing page and signups began to trickle in. It was time to see if I could crank up traffic by using social media. I drafted several dozen Tweets and Facebook Posts about the new desk and scheduled them to go out over my social networks in the weeks ahead on Hootsuite, the most widely used tool for social media management. (It also happens to be a tool I developed.) I used the auto-scheduling feature to optimize when the posts would be sent out, then sat back and waited for the results.
To gauge how individual posts were performing, I dove into the analytics tool inside the dashboard. As the days went by, I was able to see how often individual Tweets were retweeted, how many people in total had reacted and engaged with posts and even the sentiment behind the reactions. Meanwhile, more and more people were visiting my site and signing up for the desk.
To up the ante, I added some paid social media into the mix. Both Twitter and Facebook let users buy “native” social media ads, which look just like normal Tweets and Facebook Posts, apart from tiny disclaimers. What’s unique about these ads is how they can be targeted. On Facebook, you can target users not just by age and gender but by a seemingly endless list of interests, from Game of Thrones to, yes, standing desks. Meanwhile on Twitter, it’s even possible to target the followers of your competitors. Knowing that Ikea is popular among standing desk enthusiasts, for example, I could pay to send Tweets to their millions of followers. While buying ads can sometimes be tricky, new tools are simplifying the process to one or two clicks.
Traffic to my site and sign-ups for the desk continued to swell. After a few weeks — and hundreds of orders — it was evident that I was onto something. Lots of hard work lay ahead: sourcing the right materials, finding a manufacturer, developing distribution channels. But I could be relatively confident that when it was all over I’d have a ready and willing pool of buyers for my product. A modest amount of forecasting using Google and social media tools — before my idea had ever left the napkin-sketch stage — helped avoid unnecessary spending and frustrating dead ends down the line.
Postscript: The first batch of desks is due to hit homes and offices early this summer. And if initial interest is any indication, the combination of Google and social media market analysis did not lead me astray.