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Do You Know Where Your Audience Is?

Li Evans
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One key reason companies fail in social media is because they don't know where their audience is. Too many times, overexcited CEOs, CMOs, and business owners see the latest and greatest social media tools talked about on the cable news channels and think, "we have to be there."

That kind of thinking and knee-jerk reaction can be a detriment to a business of any size. Social media isn't about the latest bleeding edge tools or sites. It's about starting conversations that lead to building relationships, and eventually conversions.

To successfully start building those conversations, you actually have to know where your core audience is in social media. Just because Oprah joined Twitter doesn't mean that Twitter is where your audience will be spending time.

Take for example Pizza Hut and its recent announcement that it was looking for a "Twittern," an intern for the summer to man Pizza Hut's Twitter account. Ignoring that Pizza Hut wasn't even really conversing in Twitter and only following 14 accounts on Twitter when their PR agency let this press release loose, let's look at what else is said in this press release:

"The twintern role, initially pitched by the Zeno Group, will also be used to create an authentic voice, which college students can identify with, and to provide an outsider's perspective of how the company works."

If Pizza Hut truly wanted to succeed in social media, rather than having their PR Company get spin out of their foray into social media with this "Twittern" announcement, they would have done the research to see that reaching a college student audience wouldn't be accomplished utilizing Twitter. College age students have yet to truly appreciate Twitter.

What college age students do appreciate is Facebook and sharing photos and videos. Take a look at any college age student you know and you'll see their Facebook profile is fully connected with hundreds of friends, they share pictures from the parties and events they attend, and also love to share their short videos about their college adventures. If Pizza Hut wants to reach this group, a Twittern won't accomplish that, and their social media strategy will fail.

Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to know where your audience is, even in our automated world. Finding your audience takes a little bit of work. But if you know what demographics you're dealing with, Forrester has a tool that makes it a little easier to narrow down the focus.

The Forrester Groundswell Profile Tool (based on the book co-written by former Forrester analyst Charlene Li), helps business build a profile of their demographic to help them easily understand what kind of audience their demographic is in social media.

If you haven't read "Groundswell," it's a great place to start to get a good foothold on understanding the types of social media. In the book, Li identifies six distinct social media groups:

  1. Creators: These people create blogs, forums, Web sites, Wikipedia articles, etc.
  2. Critics: These people comment on blogs, do reviews on sites like Amazon, etc., are active in Twitter.
  3. Collectors: These people 'collect' things like bookmarking, and are active in sites like Digg and Delicious.
  4. Joiners: These folks like to join groups at sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, and are also active members of forums and message boards.
  5. Spectators: These people have RSS feeds, read reviews, and lurk in forums to get advice and tips. They love to read and watch.
  6. Inactives: People who are on the Internet, but haven't become involved with social media yet.

Taking the Pizza Hut example of trying to reach a college audience, and putting that into the Groundswell Profile Tool (using 2008 data), we see the audience they're trying to reach are primarily joiners and spectators. Twitter doesn't really effectively fall into those categories because people are actively "creating" and "criticizing" in Twitter. Pizza Hut would fare a much better chance of succeeding in social media by focusing their attention on a site like Facebook.

Groundswell Tool

Understanding your demographic and using a tool like Groundswell can help businesses figure out where their audience is. This can save a lot of time and resources when it comes to doing the research into what social media platform to look at to start your social media strategy.

So before you take that long dive off the social media cliff that Ashton Kutcher and Oprah might have led you to, take a step back and look to see if you're diving into the right waters. Make sure to do your due diligence and figure out where your audience is talking about you, rather than be lured in by the "shiny, bright objects" of social media.

Charlene Li will be a keynote speaker at Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 11-14, 2009. Save up to $600 on registration with Early Bird pricing through May 8.


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