Social Media Strategy: Go Where Your Audience Is
by Jeremy Goldman
When you go to a buffet, do you put a little bit of everything on your plate? Then, after your fourth trip to the buffet table to gorge yourself, do you realize that you might have been better off having had more of one specific dish rather than trying everything? It’s the same way with social marketing platforms. There are so many social networks and apps to investigate, you run the risk of trying to do a little bit with everything, rather than engaging in fewer places more effectively.
I’ve seen some brands get into a firefight trying to prove how Web 2.0 they are. One brand in particular has icons for Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress, Vimeo, and Bebo (a platform that’s fallen completely off the map) on their Web site’s footer. Apparently not everyone gets the old less-is-more adage.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to engage on multiple platforms—in fact, it’s a bit odd to engage on only one—but don’t spread yourself too thin as a brand either. If you think only 5 percent of your customers ever go to a particular social media site, such as Vimeo, don’t spend time there. Focus is a good thing. Spend your time where your customers are.
Different demographic groups tend to spend more time on one social platform versus another. For example, baby boomers make up a bigger percentage of Twitter’s users than of Facebook’s: About 15 percent of Twitter’s users are 55 or older, whereas Facebook’s 55-and-older population is only 10 percent of its total.
Although Pinterest is still maturing, its users tend to be well off, with nearly 30 percent having annual household incomes of more than $100,000. They’re also more likely to be female, with roughly 6.5 women for every 3.5 men on the site; the most common age range is 25–34, clocking in at nearly 28 percent of the total.
If you’re interested in running a social campaign with a significant Foursquare component, bear in mind that the platform appeals to men more than to women. Although the company doesn’t release much demographic data, it’s possible to look at the high volume of social activity that takes place on Foursquare Day (4sq Day for short), the annual April 16 holiday celebrating the check-in platform and observed by many brands and social media junkies.
This past year, more than 62 percent of mentions of 4sq Day were made by males. The 25–34 demographic is very strong on Foursquare, accounting for 48.1 percent of 4sq Day mentions. That’s nearly twice as much as the next-closest age group, 35–44-year-olds, with 24.2 percent.
Because many of the social platforms you’ll be engaging on are just a few years old, there’s a good chance their demographics will shift over time, so be sure to do some research before jumping in.
Geography affects participation as well. In Brazil, it took until the very end of 2011 for Facebook to overcome Orkut as the most popular social platform. Orkut has 60 percent of its users living in Brazil. After Brazil’s defection to Facebook, there are only six countries where Facebook is not the dominant social platform: Poland, Russia, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and China.
If you’re operating in these markets, it’s absolutely essential you focus on where your audience is spending its time. Direct your efforts to where your customers and prospects are, so you don’t spend time talking to yourself.
“Channel is very important,” agrees Maria Ogneva of Yammer, which creates private social networks for enterprise use. “If your customers are expecting you to be on Pinterest because that’s where they are, you should go there. If not, then don’t get on Pinterest just because it’s a ‘shiny new object.’”
Likewise, even if a site is more niche than mainstream, and even if it’s declining in market share, you shouldn’t automatically exclude it from your social marketing efforts. For instance, Flickr, the Yahoo-managed photo-sharing site, has been declining moderately in the last few years.
However, while visually driven platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have risen in popularity, Flickr remains somewhat popular with people in more visual niches, such as photographers and makeup artists. A platform that isn’t a priority for most people can be an opportunity for you.
Tools for Targeting
Not sure where your audience is? Not a problem. It isn’t expensive to run searches and see how much of your prospective audience is on a particular social channel.
For example, when first wading into the waters of engagement, environmental technology startup Ecycler looked to Twitter. “We were looking for tweets like ‘I just recycled’ or ‘I just got this much money for cans,’” cofounder Craig Robertson explains. “Then we would just enter into a conversation with those people, and maybe tweet to try to get them to come to our site.” With solid results from its initial foray into Twitter, Ecycler recognized that Twitter would be a channel it should focus on.
When researching where your audience is, it’s a pretty safe assumption that, in some way or another, they are on Facebook. After all, Facebook is the premier social platform in terms of time spent, and as such is a place where much of online engagement occurs. That said, both the Facebook and LinkedIn Ads tools are invaluable for understanding how many people are in any specific group.
If your brand operates only in the United States, Canada, and Brazil, and your audience consists of senior managers who are 35 and older, you can use LinkedIn’s Ad tools to find out in just a minute or two that you have an estimated target audience of more than 7 million LinkedIn members.
Look at Word Balloon for a case in point. Message boards and forums have been a major factor in the success of Word Balloon, the comic book interview podcast developed and managed by John Siuntres.
John regularly appears on Jinxworld, the message board of the prolific comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, where he solicits questions from his audience in The Bendis Tapes. In 2005, before Facebook’s dominance and Twitter’s arrival, it occurred to John to go to message board communities where he knew people were talking about comic books and let them know that he had interviewed a comic creator.
At this early stage, comic creators such as Bendis and Colleen Doran (one of John’s first interviewees) were online, developing followings on MySpace, and had already started developing independent communities. Pretty soon, even though he didn’t know it at the time, John was becoming a social marketer, appearing online wherever his potential audience might be.
“You go to the creator’s site and let them know, because they are already built-in fans of the subject of your interview, so I would say, ‘Hey, I know you guys like Colleen. I do this interview show.’ I would explain my background in radio and say, ‘Hey, I did this interview; you may want to listen to it.’” John continued to tap into creators’ communities, letting comic fans know about his product. The result? A devoted, captivated audience.
If you’re going to build a house, buying the supplies is well and good, but wouldn’t you make sure you had land to build on? The same principle applies to social marketing. Once you have identified the social channels you think you’ll be most active on, make sure to park, or reserve, your brand name across them.
Since platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube let you create accounts for free, you ought to take advantage of that and reserve the land you’ll be building on eventually. Besides focusing on major social networks, you should also focus on emerging platforms that you think might become big, and on niche platforms that aren’t that big but that are significant for your audience.
Keep in mind that many of these sites tend to rank very highly in Google, so if you can park your names across multiple networks and platforms, you will likely have more control over your Google rankings.
If your company is named something relatively generic—say, Cats, Inc.—you might have a difficult time parking the same account name across multiple channels. I could tell you that consistency isn’t so important, but I don’t want to lie: I strongly recommend getting an account name that can be consistent across as many channels as possible. If you’re in the process of starting your business, I even recommend checking to see whether your potential brand name is available across all the social platforms you’re looking to engage on.
Parking your brand name whenever possible on emerging platforms is also a good way to save money on having to pry it away from someone else a few years down the line. After all, you never know which social channels will expand as time goes on.
When Twitter launched, I was quick to grab @jeremygoldman (and later gave it up in a moment of silliness). I applied the same principle to the microblogging service Posterous: When it launched, I grabbed thejeremygoldman.posterous.com URL as soon as I could. I didn’t wind up using the service for anything for some time, but, considering that parking a name on new services typically costs nothing and takes all of five minutes, it’s a great habit to get into.
Speaking of things that are easy to do: Make sure your Facebook URL is formatted in a reader-friendly way. As of press time, by default, your Facebook page URL could very well be given an automatic URL such as http://www.Facebook.com/pages/not-so-user-friendly/5758787367. Facebook lets you set this URL to something much more user-friendly, such as Facebook.com/BrandName.
While you’re standardizing your username across all channels, make sure your visual identity is consistent across all social channels as well. Having a few standard touches will help your brand look like a serious business venture that your audience can trust.
Coca-Cola is a brand that standardizes its social channels particularly well. You can find its Facebook presence at https://facebook.com/cocacola and its Pinterest page atpinterest.com/cocacola. If you’re looking for the company on Twitter, simply go to twitter.com/cocacola. See a pattern?
What’s more, you’ll see the same identity elements, such as the iconic bottle silhouette, across all channels. Although it’s great for a well-established brand like Coca-Cola to standardize its social channels in order to establish trust, bear in mind that the smaller you are, the more important this step becomes.