In Social Media Marketing, Your Market is Not Your Audience

Many digital marketers will tell you that the greatest benefit social media presents brands is that now you can communicate directly, one-to-one, with your customers. I’ve even said that in a few presentations. But thinking about it, I now say…hogwash! There is no way for you to communicate directly, one-to-one, with ALL of your customers. However, what you CAN do is define what I’m calling your “social market” and find the people who most influence it. Communicate directly with THOSE people and it will pay dividends.

Your Social Audience is Not Your Market

According to Marketing-Dictionary.com, a company’s “potential market” is:

- All the individuals and organizations in a particular market who have some level of interest in the product.

Excellent! That’s your target: just about anyone you can think of. It could be tens of thousands, even millions of people. Do you think you are going to speak directly to them all? Try it and you’ll look like Jim Carey’s character in this clip from “Bruce Almighty” in which Bruce, given the powers of God, tries to answer people’s prayers via e-mail:

Wait…before you burn out your keyboard, remember that your “market” is not your “audience” on social media. Traditional marketing has focused on a company’s potential market. Everything from billboards to radio ads to posters to TV spots, etc., has tried to reach as many people as possible, hoping to raise the ever-attractive “awareness” about which we marketers speak so highly. But when social media entered the picture, some breathed a sigh of relief for the potential this new “audience” had. All of your “followers” and their friends were now within the reach of your marketing efforts.

Your social audience, however, is still not your target. Consider who makes up this group. It’s ALL the people who have followed you, or added you to group, or are in a group in which your company is, or have a friend who follows you…and so on. Depending on the size of your company, this could be a huge group. There is no way you can communicate directly with each of these people. If you don’t’ think so, consider your own personal social following. How often do you communicate with each person? I have 702 Facebook “friends” and I’d be hard pressed to name more than about 30 of them off the top of my head. Your social audience still isn’t who you need to target with social messaging.

Your Social Market: The Sweet Spot

The sweet spot is where these two groups, your potential market and your social audience, come together. Within this collective group are the people who are A) most likely to buy your product because of their interest/passion for it and B) have already some connection to your brand through social channels.
Audience segmentation chart showing two circles

The news gets better about these people…they are vocal and love to share! Once they buy your product, they tell people about it. They tweet, they post, +1 and review. It is these people who can most influence the buying habit of the larger audience. Great…so how do we find them!

Micro-Audience Segmentation: Many Small Groups Make a Difference

In his book, Social Marketology, Ric Dragon lays out a process for finding the people most influential in your industry. And while, yes, we do mean members of the media and high-profile bloggers, we aren’t focusing on them exclusively, a mistake many brands make. No, we want to find people from that sweet spot who influence THEIR groups. We want to communicate with them so that, eventually, they become brand advocates. It is to these people that your social media marketing message should be tailored.

An exercise we use in our social media strategy workshops that never fails to get brains thinking, pens moving and results flowing is the Audience Segmentation brainstorm. We don’t ask people to tell us who their market is. And we don’t ask who is following them on social media. What we do ask is, “Who Cares About Your Industry/Product Segment?”

For example, if you were the Chief Marketing Officer of a retail toy company, we would start this exercise with a blank sheet of paper that simply has this on it:

heart with "People who love toys" written in it

There is an important distinction to point out here. We don’t say “People Who Buy Toys.” We are looking for people who CARE about toys. Why? Because they are the ones who have some kind of personal interest in the product who may regularly buy them or recommend them, or who are active users of the products.

And so begins the exercise, to find as many first-level groups who would care about, in this case, toys. Here is what the diagram would look like now:

A red heart with branches off of it showing audience segmentation for toys

Each of these groups can then be broken down further, like the parents group:

Red heart with many branches showing who cares about toys

Each of THESE groups can be broken down even further:

Heart with many branches showing specific areas of audience segmentation

And so on. The point is that while traditional marketing played in the realm of massive groups with broad common interests (“Men who like Cars”), micro-segmentation allows you to find many small groups who are much more likely to purchase what you are offering (“Parents of boys who like legos”).

Community Research Helps Find the “Gurus”

Once you have narrowed your market down to very specific groups, we then move to Community Research to discover the communities/groups who are most related to your products. In our example, we look for groups that are focused on Legos. Do they exist? Yes, they sure do. For example, we found the Forest Hills Lego group outside of New York City.

Great! A whole club that shares a common passion related to the toy business. Now, we need to find the one person who influences that club…the “guru” so to speak. Turns out, for the Forest Hills Lego group, that person is the founder, a woman with two children of her own, who has grown the club to more than 100 members. She is active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and G+, but not Twitter. And she owns a pair of Google Glass. Listen up, retail toy store owner…she is your target!

It takes some work to get this level of influencer and you are never done looking for them. But once you find some, you can then target your messaging in such a way that appeals to them, their interests and passions. Selling them a product isn’t your goal right off the bat. Imagine if you had a store in the Forest Hills region and could share with the Lego club’s members some really cool creations your customers have made with Legos, or suggest some new ways that science could be introduced into the club’s Lego projects. If you communicate YOUR passion for THEIR passion, you make a connection. Now there is opening for you to create brand advocates! That’s gold in the social media world as she could influence more than 100 households in the Forest Hills area and make them aware of your toy store! And all it cost you was time (well spent).

It’s not likely that you area retail toy store owner. However, this process works for most industries. Our social media marketing workshops are tailored to your company’s industry and goals. If we can help you fine tune your social messaging so that you are reaching the “sweet spot” and finding true influencers, let us know.

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4 comments on “In Social Media Marketing, Your Market is Not Your Audience

Etela Ivkovic

Working on the audience segmentation is one of the favorite hands-on parts of the social strategy workshops. This is often one of the “sticky points” where people get stuck; Who is really my audience? I have so many audiences, and they are so different from each other. How do I communicate/connect with each one?

It is great to see how people struggle with it at first and then slowly they start getting it and the next thing you know they are segmenting, sub-segmenting and sub-sub-segmenting.. and are so excited about it!

It is a great discovery process and it often helps people look at what they offer from a different perspective: “who cares about the passion behind my product or service?”


Abe Uchitelle

Paul, you make a good point about the initial impression that Social Media is an unlimited resource through which you can interact with every single user. I heard at a conference recently that Social media is like wind power, the wind may be free but you’ll need to invest resources into the generator if you want to do anything with that wind.

Audience segmentation is a great example of how to effectively manage the dilemma of limited resources while working towards a business goal (of getting more customers, of course).