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Segmenting Audiences for Social Media Engagement

To maximize an organization’s effectiveness in terms of marketing goal attainment, an overall audience (or “market” in the private sector) should always be segmented into groups of clients with common attributes (segments)  and then prioritized accordingly (target audience). Unfortunately, for most government organizations, a comprehensive market segmentation study is rarely a top priority. As a result, many public sector marketing initiatives are not optimized for maximum impact.

Target audiences can be separated into:

  • geographic segmentations, addresses (their location)
  • demographic/socio-economic segmentation (gender, age, income, occupation, education, household size, and stage in the family life cycle)
  • psychographic segmentation (similar attitudes, values, and lifestyles)
  • behavioral segmentation (occasions, degree of loyalty)
Many public servants would be quick to point out that they are mandated to serve all citizens, without exclusion. This is true, however at the end of the day, the most important thing is the outcome of the marketing initiative, not the process used to attain it (so long as it is ethical of course). As a taxpayer, I want to see my money spent well and optimized for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. If you’re trying to get Canadians to stop smoking, a broad effort aimed at everyone would be useless as people smoke for different reasons.
  • Example of what is not a target audience: The general Canadian population that smokes
  • Example of a target audience: Smokers 55+ who are trying to quit, live in urban areas, and tend to have otherwise active, healthy lifestyles
When it comes to digital / online audience targeting, there tends to be a lot of confusion these days. Is the same target audience to be used as for traditional efforts? do the same rules apply?

My general approach to this has been to use the same target audiences that you are already using, however to further sub-segment them with online behavior segments. A great resource for online behaviour segmentation is the Forrester Research Groudswell Tool (embedded below). Unfortunately, it is based on 2009 data, however I have heard that a new updated version is underway (please let me know if you have more info about this).

What I usually tend to do with this when choosing an audience for social media engagement initiatives, it to focus on the online creators and critics of the original target audience. As an example, if my target audience is:  “Smokers 55+ who are trying to quit, live in urban areas, and tend to have otherwise active, healthy lifestyles”, I would make the following estimate in the absence of primary research:

  • First, I would figure out what percentage of people 55+ belong to my target audience (let’s assume you already have that number from traditional efforts). We’ll go with 15%
  • I would then assume that roughly 13.5% ([9+18]/2)of that 15%  can be considered to be either online creators or critics by using the tool above and selecting “Canadians 55+”.
Why content creators and critics? Because they tend to:
  • Make the social content consumed by others (write blogs, upload video, music or text)
  • Actively voice their opinions
  • Have their content easily found by search engines and dominate overall web presence thus directly influencing the remaining internet user segments (collectors, joiners, spectators)

It should be noted that  content creators and critics can be further broken down into various sub-segments. A few self-explanatory segments are identified below (image courtesy of Kathryn Slater)

An organization wishing to engage with their target audience online should have an approach and response mechanism that factors in these different personalities. To tie this all back to a strategic level, consider the following:

  • An organization’s goal for social media engagement could be to correct false information circulating around quitting smoking (the desired outcome is of course more people quitting)
  • The target audience could be online content creators and critics that belong to “Smokers 55+ who are trying to quit, live in urban areas, and tend to have otherwise active, healthy lifestyles”
  • A specific objective could be to “increase the amount of links from blogs and twitter pointing back to your website’s “quitting smoking for seniors help tool” by 25% over benchmark within 3 months”
  • Then the specific strategy (e.g. corrective blogging, search optimization, employee empowerment )
  • Then the tactics (e.g. identify key influencers, create guidelines for employee engagement, tag consistently, ignore trolls, respond to ranters, thank helpers, create a Twitter profile, etc…)
This of course is just one example. There are plenty of online segments from other research firms that can be used. My point here is to illustrate just how niche you can go these days in the online space. Be sure to also watch my 60 second video on Deriving Psychographic Statistics from Facebook. I’d be curious to know how all of you approach the whole concept of target marketing when it comes to social media engagement. Don’t be shy, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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  1. Great post.

    I’d testify to the necessity of targeting key influencers. Knowing your target audience’s reach/potential impressions is important.

    The 80/20 concept coming into play there.

    Don’t expend more energy than you have to!

  2. Great read, Mike. It’s a constant challenge for publishers to profile high-value audience segments, target those audience segments with ads, and finally to measure the success of the campaigns in an intuitive user interface. Are there any you might recommend?

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