This article is part of a series about our social media strategy framework.
Most of the industry’s approaches to social media in the last few years have been led by technology or platform hypes. From corporate blogs to communities to social networks to YouTube to Twitter to Social Media Newsrooms to Facebook to Quora/Pinterest/etc. Whatever was the talk of town when someone at a company discovered social media become the “strategy.” And not much has changed. “Do we need to be on Pinterest?” is asked by companies all around and shows how little is still understood about the underlying principles of social media. It’s still perceived as mainly new technologies, a new communication channel, new tools or a mixture of that.
We think that all of these are symptoms of a much more fundamental behavior change in how we humans communicate and interact. This shift is much slower than the emergence of new platforms and tools but also much deeper in the fabric of our society. That’s why we think that each social media strategy that only plans for tools and not for behaviors will ultimately fail. Thankfully, we’re seeing a lot more right answers to the question about the relevance of Pinterest in the form of another question: “Depends. Whom are you catering to?” This shifts the focus to the right viewpoint: people.
We have to put the people we want to communicate with at the very start of every social media strategy. Everything else evolves from that.
So, after we have defined the business objectives for the social media strategy with the client, we go into an intense workshop and research phase in which we try to make ourselves and the client as familiar as possible with the people we want to reach.
Defining a set of target groups1
There are a ton of ways to approach this, and which way is the right one depends heavily on the client’s preexisting knowledge and materials. If the client already has a pretty clear picture of its target groups, we can go ahead and focus on the target groups’ digital behavior and preferences in communication etc.
If the client is not sure about whom to talk with on the social web, we take a step back and work through some questions like:
- What are your usual target groups?
- What target groups do you want to tap into in the future?
- Who likes you, and who not so much?
- Whom have you been struggling with?
- If you were to have all the resources in the world, whom would you go for?
These questions will help to get the mind open about what might be possible and also gives the client a better idea of what social media might help with.
It’s good to keep in mind that there are a lot of different types of target groups. They can be based on socio-demographic data, on people with similar behaviors, on individuals or groups of people/networks. It’s always interesting to explore if a different approach to a target group might open up a new and helpful approach.
Getting to know a target group
When a set of target groups is roughly defined, it’s time to dive deep into everything there is to know about each target group. We usually pull data from three types of sources:
- Client data. Everything the client already knows about the target group like internal market studies, focus groups, and personas. But also material that the client might not even be fully aware of, like insights from web analytics and statistics from existing social media activities.
- Desk research. We try to get our hands on every study available out there that is remotely connected to the target group and/or the market of the client2. From market research by the likes of Forrester, eMarketer and many, many more to media data released by the big publishing and media companies.
- Listening. We believe that it’s crucial for a viable strategy to be based on insights about the target group extracted not only from talking about them but talking with them. It’s one of the big downfalls of our industry that we usually only talk to our target groups when we want to create vox pops to convince the client of our strategy. We need to listen with a much more open mind to what they are saying (explicitly or implicitly). We should do this by asking them questions directly as well as looking at what they say online (social media monitoring/analytics). A good approach is to find the most interesting voices of the target group online and then invite them for an interview.
After we’ve gathered all the material we can get, we condense it into the most important characteristics and insights about the target group to paint a detailed picture of them. Everything we come up with afterwards has to be in line with this picture. It informs the kind of conversation (content) the client will have on the social web and where it will happen (platforms). Like the question of whether Pinterest is a good fit for a client.
We’re not very fond of the term “target group.” It seems to reduce people to “buckets of consumers.” Nevertheless, it’s an established industry term. We’re trying to counter that connotation with keeping descriptions of people in target groups as human as possible. We want our clients to understand the complexity of the people they want to talk to and embrace that in the strategy. ↩
It’s one of the great joys for us in our job that with every new client, we can dig deep into another industry or industry branch and learn as much as possible. ↩