PUBLISHED MARCH 2015
by Suw Charman-Anderson, social technologist
Using social media in business can be a challenge, even for those who already use it personally and are familiar with the tools, the culture, and the expectations of social media audiences. It can be difficult to know where to start and how to develop your social media presence. It’s especially tough for small businesses with limited budgets and resources. But this is when a social media strategy comes into its own. Drawing up a strategy will enable you to understand why and how you are using social media and which tools will reach your target audiences.
The first step in developing your strategy is to decide who you want to reach. Different social networks attract different audiences, so when you understand who your target audience is, you can make an informed decision about which social networks to use. And when you know who you’re talking to, you can craft content and messaging that will resonate with them. That, in turn, will make it easier for you to create a consistent voice across all platforms.
Your audience is very unlikely to be uniform. Instead, it will probably be made up of several groups of similar people. For example, if you publish business books, then your readers might be split into groups such as executives, consultants, and job seekers. Segmentation like this is something your marketing team may have already done.
A good audience segment should be:
If you can’t define the segment, you can’t know anything about the people in it, so you can’t serve their needs. For example, librarians might be a core group you want to reach, but what sort of librarian? A librarian who works in a large metropolitan library? Or a corporate librarian who chooses books for C-level execs? Or a community librarian with a tiny budget? Each one will have a slightly different focus and thus be interested in slightly different content and information.
A homogeneous group is, again, easier to serve. For example, you might publish health books, but do the people in your audience want hard, scientific evidence of the health benefits of certain foods or interventions, or do they take a more spiritual, alternative, scientific evidence of the health benefits of certain foods or interventions, or do they take a more spiritual, alternative approach? The kind of content that would resonate with one of those groups would almost certainly alienate the other, so you would want to make sure that each segment you target is homogeneous and that you serve different segments separately.
The way that you define your segments has to ring true with the people who would be their members. You’ll be talking to real people, so your conception of them has to be realistic or your messaging will sound forced and inauthentic.
Once you have thoroughly segmented your audience, your next step is to decide which segments are most important to your business. You will almost certainly end up with more audience segments than you can thoroughly serve, so prioritizing them is a good way to focus your efforts. It’s better to serve a few segments well than all of them badly.
An easy way to prioritize your segments is to use an audience matrix—that is, a 3 × 3 grid such as the one following in which you locate each segment using two measures: The first is always how much a segment’s members use social media—that is, how private or social they are. And the second can be any relevant measure, such as how big their budgets are or how influential they are (see Figure 1).
If we were to put librarians in Figure 1, we would note that librarians are often very active on social media, so they would be located in the right-hand column. But as we’ve seen, “librarians” is too broad to be a useful segment, so we need to think about specific types of librarians, and about how those smaller groups relate to our secondary measure, in this case budget. Corporate librarians are likely to have larger budgets than librarians in small rural libraries, so they would be in the top row of the matrix (Figure 2), while librarians of small rural libraries would have less money to spend, so they would be in the bottom row.
When you have completed the matrix (Figure 3), you will find the most important audience segments in the top right-hand cell (marked in blue). The groups there are the most active on social media and have the largest budgets. Groups in the top-middle cell and the middle right-hand cell (marked in red) are also of interest because they are either moderately social with relatively large budgets or very social with moderate budgets.
One you have identified your most important audience groups, you can start learning more about them and deciding which social networks they are likely to use and what sort of information and content they would respond well to.
To do this, you can use demographic and psychographic information.
Demographic data, such as information about age, gender, income, education, occupation, location, or household size, reveals observed and objective attributes describing a person’s outer life. They can help you answer the question, “Who will buy my product?” This kind of data is often available in a census.
Psychographic data deals with attributes that are felt and subjective and describe a person’s inner life. This data includes things such as beliefs and opinions, attitudes, needs and wants, likes and dislikes, identity, lifestyle, and culture. It can help answer the question, “Why would this person buy my product?”
You may already have some demographic and psychographic data from market research or surveys that you’ve done before. But in any event you can usually draw some useful conclusions from your own experience, look for third-party research reports that might include relevant data, and/or do research or more research. Tools such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms make it very easy to set up online surveys.
Pay particular attention to why and how people in your audience segments use social media:
- Are they using professional networks to expand their contacts and progress in their careers?
- Are they using social media mainly for social reasons, to chat with friends and family?
- Are they interested in keeping on top of current events, or do they click on whatever serendipitously lands in their social media feed?
- Are they checking their chosen network hourly? Daily? Weekly?
- Do they read more than they update?
Answering these sorts of questions will help you build a picture of your most important market segments and give you the information you need to choose which social media tools to use. Especially for small businesses, it is much easier to find your audience and go where they are than it is to get them to come to you.
To learn about different social networks’ demographics and psychographics, so you can match your audience profiles with the right ones, start by looking at broad trends in social network statistics. Pew Internet publishes research about Internet use in the United States, as do the social networks themselves and companies such as StatisticsBrain and SocialBakers. (Note that statistics can vary from country to country, so make sure that you know where your data comes from.)
We know, for example, that Twitter users are more likely to click on links than Facebook users, and that they show more brand loyalty. LinkedIn tends to drive less traffic to websites than other social networks, but people who do click LinkedIn links tend to stay longer on the sites they reach and to read more pages. Data from the United Kingdom, where I’m based, indicates that Twitter users are younger and slightly more likely to be male than Facebook users, while LinkedIn users skew heavily toward older males. So if you want to reach professional males in the United Kingdom, LinkedIn will be better than Facebook, but if you want to nurture loyalty and curiosity, then Twitter is your best choice.
You can test your conclusions by spending time on each site looking for your key audience groups. For example, if you want to reach librarians, look for relevant LinkedIn groups or Facebook pages. See whether there are influential librarians on Twitter and whether their followers are themselves librarians.
This information will help you build confidence in your choice of social networks, but remember that you don’t need to be active on every single one.
Building on New Knowledge
Having developed a thorough understanding of your key audience segments and used that information to choose social networks to focus on, you can then use what you’ve learned to shape your messaging and content plans.
A robust social media strategy is an essential part of business planning for companies of all sizes. But it’s important to remember that strategies are living documents that need to be regularly reviewed and refined because the social media landscape does not stand still.
New networks are created; old ones die off; audiences change; and demographics shift. When you understand how to create a strategy from the ground up, you can easily adapt to the rapidly changing publishing world that we all find ourselves in.
Suw Charman-Anderson is a social technologist with more than 10 years of experience in social media. She reports that she has helped clients worldwide use social tools for collaboration and communication internally and to build customer relationships externally. This article is based on Section 3 of her Write Your Own Social Media Strategy course, which explains how to create a strategy for a particular business and how to review and adapt that strategy as the business grows. To learn more: suw.charman-anderson.com/.