Companies tapping Facebook, Twitter for inside track on you

(CBS News) You may think of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as fun places to stay in touch with friends. But they've also become rich sources of consumer information, and retailers are turning to them for market research on a regular basis.

In March, MAC Cosmetics asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. Beer maker Samuel Adams asked users to vote on their favorite yeast, hops, and color for a new beer. And just last week, Frito-Lay invited visitors to its new Facebook app to weigh in on their favorite flavors of chips.

Companies ignore social media at their own peril, according to Danny Meyer, chief executive officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes several New York restaurants including Shake Shack. Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," he said, "(Social media) is a great opportunity to listen to what people are saying and a great opportunity to get your own message out and become part of the mind share."

However, he also said, "You should never use social media to replace your own intuition. At the end of the day if we're all doing what everybody wants, then who really has anything to say."

Part of creating that marketing space on social media is making fans part of the creation process, according to Stephanie Clifford, a business reporter for the New York Times. She said companies are using social media to roll out products, gathering feedback on products before they're released. "There's a stuffed animal brand called Squishable. And on its Facebook page it will put up two versions of a stuffed animal and ask people which one to roll out and do the one that's most popular, so they're almost creating instant demand for it."

It's a far cry from the "old-school focus groups" that used a long, drawn-out process to figure out what would appeal to consumers, Clifford said. "Now they realize there are millions of Twitter posts and Facebook updates to analyze to figure out what consumers want. So when somebody is posting, 'I love the cake pops at Starbucks,' it may not seem that interesting. When you see that across millions of people, you realize that's something there."

For more on how companies, such as Starbucks and Walmart, are using social media to tap into consumer interest, watch the video above for the full interview with Meyer and Clifford.

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