The owner of a small cafe is pictured behind the counter of her shop. She is holding a smartphone in her hand. She is looking to the right and is deep in thought.
There are a number of tools — free and paid — that you can leverage to better understand your followers' wants and needs. — Getty Images/andresr

As an influencer, content creator, or small business owner, you must know your social media followers' problems, preferences, and needs. Understanding your audience inside and out is key to developing entertaining, useful content you can then monetize or turn into sales. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and strategies that can help you get to know your following better.

Start with audience analysis tools

Every social media platform offers an analytics dashboard that provides basic audience demographic data, such as a follower's age, gender, and location. This data can serve as the initial building block for understanding your follower base. Instagram Insights, YouTube Analytics, and TikTok Insights are just a few places to start when it comes to understanding who makes up your audience.

Many of these tools also tell you what content resonates most based on likes, comments, and shares. Note that for some platforms, including Instagram Insights, you need to reach a certain number of followers to get any audience information.

[Read more: Understanding Facebook Stats and How to Measure Success]

Interact with your followers

Respond to comments, messages, and mentions from your followers to actively engage with them and gain valuable insights into their interests, preferences, and opinions. Not only can you start to gauge your followers' reactions to different posts, but you can also start to host Q&A sessions (live or in stories) to directly ask your followers what they want to see more of. It shows your followers that you're a real person who pays attention to their needs.

Track what hashtags your followers use to see what conversations they're already having around your niche. Go to sites like Reddit and Quora to dive deeper into your niche and discover hot conversation topics.

Use polls and surveys

Instagram polls, Twitter polls, and Facebook's built-in polling tools are an easy way to gather feedback and opinions from your audience. Ask questions about their preferences, interests, and what type of content they'd like to see more of.

"Once responses start rolling in, you can see how your followers voted, and even get a breakdown on how many people voted for each option and who exactly voted for each," wrote Business Insider. "After you collect responses, you can share the results with your followers so they can also see how people voted overall (but not who voted for what)."

[Read more: 4 Sources of Customer Data and How to Put It to Work]

Try a social listening tool

Social listening involves collecting and analyzing conversations happening in the wider marketplace to understand what discussions are taking place around your interests and community. Social listening can help you learn who your audience is, what they want, where and when they are active and engaged, and how to better serve their needs.

Social listening is usually accomplished using a tool like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, or Hubspot. These platforms aggregate data from social media channels to deliver deeper insights about your audience. Many also offer a free trial to see if their analytics are right for you.

Organize offline meetups

If possible, attend events or organize meetups to meet your followers in person. This face-to-face interaction can provide invaluable insights into their personalities, lifestyles, and preferences.

Brand activations are good opportunities to promote a business while meeting your followers in the real world. Networking events are also good for connecting with other influencers, learning about their audiences, and meeting your own followers in person.

Track hashtags and follow the conversation

If you don't have the budget to invest in a social listening tool, you can still achieve the same results manually. Track what hashtags your followers use to see what conversations they're already having around your niche.

Go to sites like Reddit and Quora to dive deeper into your niche and discover hot conversation topics. Look at other influencers' pages to see what posts are getting traction and take note of the time of day, format, and cadence of their posts.

As you learn about your audience, keep user privacy top of mind. Only use insights ethically and with their consent when necessary — especially when launching a survey.

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