Time To Evolve How We Target Social Media?

How many times have you read something like this in a digital communications plan?

“One in three of our target audience is using Facebook. So, we recommend creating a Facebook page for this program.”

As social networks become more and more prevalent, we’re at the point now that almost every client brief appears to point, on its surface, to one of a few key networks. As a result, we’re seeing more and more programs based on “insights” like:

  • Only eight per cent of Canadians in the target demographic are inactive in social media (according to Forrester)
  • There are more Facebook accounts for Canadians aged 25-34 (according to Facebook’s ad creation tool) than there are Canadians in that age group
  • We need to reach our target market in the place they inhabit.
  • Therefore, we should create a Facebook page.

Right there, without any knowledge of the company, the product or the objectives and only minimal knowledge of the target audience, you’ve made a pretty standard case for a Facebook page. Trouble is, these insights are no longer particularly insightful. At this stage of the game, they’re akin to “2.6 million Canadians read the Globe and Mail. Therefore, we should do a traditional media campaign.”

This only leads to a plethora of Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and the like – some of which are well targeted, but many of which are not. Let’s face it, most B2C clients are going to target people somewhere in the 18-55 age group. Using just a demographic rationale, you could propose similar social media campaigns for all of them.

I think it’s time to move beyond sheer demographics when we’re planning social media campaigns, and towards more sophisticated analysis. What about:

  • What are the company’s business and communications objectives?
  • What behaviour are you trying to motivate?
  • What are the norms within the different social networks? Do they fit with what you’re trying to achieve?
  • Would you be better served via mass reach, existing niche communities or your own hosted site?
  • Do the company’s culture and existing policies lend themselves to social media engagement?
  • What existing properties do we have that we could leverage?

Let’s move away from generic demographic analysis and towards more sophisticated, critical analysis. For sure, some people are already doing this, but I think we can work to raise the bar.

What do you think?

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  • Great post! It does seem that majority of campaigns look past the simple questions before starting. Questions like: what do we want out of this? and what are we offering as value?

    The challenge here is that traditional methodology forces marketers/brands to rely on funnel strategy (aim at 1 million to reach 1 thousand).
    This becomes problematic with Social Media because of the 2 way communication and the fact that relationships have the potential of being developed at a faster,but not necessarily easier, pace.

    This is why it is extremely important to know what you want out of the relationship you are building with the community. Just like when you are looking for a new relationship you first determine what YOU WANT out of that relationship and what are YOU OFFERING the other party.

    For instance: Am I looking for a buddy to go hiking with? or am I looking for a new girl/boy friend? or am I looking to find new members for my book club?

    I’m actually looking forward to reading @unmarketing book which further looks into this challenge and potential solutions.

    • Thanks Afshin. I’ve almost finished Scott’s book – I’ll share my thoughts on here too once I’m done.

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  • Nice post Dave! I think there’s no shortcut for finding out what your target audience wants. You can’t just gather a little demographic data and call it a day. In other words, you have to ask them yourself. So I say 1. find your tribe. 2. listen to what they are saying 3. ask them questions, become part of the community, infiltrate. 4. THEN build your campaign.

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  • Good piece Dave.

    I read another blog post by by Melinda Brennan at Copyblogger called “6 Online Marketing Mistakes that Will Kill Your Business”. The mistake I found most interesting was #2: Marketing to a demographic, not a niche. The killer here is that marketers tend to over target to numbers and stats instead of people with common issues (niches).

    The point, along with what you’ve outlined in your article really hit home for me, especially after years of targeting demographics; it is, after all, what they teach in PR school…”Know thy audience” instead of “Know thy audience’s issues or pain points”.

    I don’t think target demographics are completely null and void now. But regardless of how a marketer or a PR pro or a social media (so-called) “samurai” decides to target, with so many online tools to help with research, there’s no excuse for anyone to not micro-target. Today it’s very possible to find those green moms bloggers who love cats or tweens on MySpace who might not like Bieber (the horror!).

    Thanks again for this piece.

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  • Good post. The evolution of the web and by extension marketing means that we are no longer restricted to targeting by demographics alone which is a total crap shoot in itself. While I agree with what you are saying, the challenge comes with actually getting those questions answered by your target audience. While listening on social media and observing their behaviour is one, it also requires engaging with them and working out where the boundaries are and how they want to be engaged with them.

    Do you have any thoughts as to how we should go about this?

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  • I always enjoy a post that asks the right questions instead of accepting general consensus. It’s time to evolve the conversation.