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Tailoring Social Media to Target Audiences

Madeline Coates Posted by Madeline Coates, Digital & Editorial Intern, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Madeline Coates is an English major at Westmont college and the former Digital and Editorial Intern at Berrett-Koehler.

Tailoring Social Media to Target Audiences

Damian Zaleski

Different Ages, Different Sites: What I Learned as a Social Media Intern

The rise of social media has made it easier than ever before to communicate with audiences around the world. It has also made it nearly impossible to connect with these audiences.

Why is this?

Social media users experience a daily onslaught of information, from news stories to commercial advertisements to brownie recipes to funny cat videos. While social media can be a powerful tool when wielded correctly, a poorly maintained and marketed social media account can easily be swallowed up by the cyber-tides. How do you learn to surf the wave, rather than allowing yourself to be sucked under? The answer, thankfully, has been with us all along.

Know Your Audience

When you are typing out your umpteenth Facebook status about the delicious meal you just ate or the struggles of the sports team in your geographic area, it may seem like you are flinging words into the void. Your audience, however, is one that exists outside of the realm of cyberspace. You are always writing to real people, just as I am writing to you right now. It may seem simple, but it’s easy to forget that our audience is a collection of actual human beings like ourselves.

In the real world, the way we talk to others is dependent on a number of factors: context, motive, our existing relationships, etc. The way we interact with our online audience shouldn’t be much different; there’s a context to our relationship, and if we write in light of this context, our message becomes much more effective.

This goes back to the marketing concept of customer personas. When selling products to real, living people, you have to know what strategy will be most useful to attract the types of real, living people who are most likely to want your product. The same applies to social media.

Go Where the Fish Are

When a skilled fisherman goes out to fish, he doesn’t typically drop his hook at a random spot and wait for the fish to come to him. He finds the area with the most fish, and drops his hook there. If you try to drop your social media hook on a platform without a huge reader presence, you naturally won’t get very much traffic. You have to go where your fish are.

This prime spot will be different depending on who your audience is. Imagine a sample person who will be interested in what you’re writing, then ask yourself a few questions about them:
  • How old are they?
  • What is their job?
  • How much free time do they have?
  • How do they prefer to receive information?

The answers to these questions and others like them will help you figure out where the members of your audience are most likely to look for you.

Personas at Work

Once you’ve created your hypothetical audience member, you can put them to work, using their habits and preferences to lead you to the proper social media platforms and strategies. Observe what other successful people writing in your field are doing, and what sets them apart.

These strategies work in a number of contexts, as I learned at a previous internship (me, the author of this article, a real human being!) working in youth ministry. I discovered the concept a bit accidentally; I was in charge of figuring out the best social media methods for reaching middle school students, high school students, and their parents. I learned quickly that all three groups had radically different styles of communication, and consequently, different ways of using social media. 

Screen Shot 2014 09 24 At 3.50.29 Pm

This is an example of one of Facebook's most practical uses: event planning. One of the advantages of this platform is that the events function is well-designed and user-friendly. There is also little maintenance required on the event creator's part; their only real responsibility is to input the initial information and invite guests. As you can see from this screenshot, invitations are important, or else no one will ever see that the event is happening. Even if they end up learning about it (more than five people actually showed up to this), they won't go out of their way to RSVP.

In my work, Facebook was mainly for parents, because no middle or high school students regularly check their notifications. As a college student who also does not regularly check Facebook, I understand completely. It's not where their audience (in this case, their peers) is.

Screen Shot 2014 09 24 At 3.39.43 Pm

Twitter currently provides the best outlet for conveying information in a way that people will see and respond to. It takes far more effort to be successful on Twitter, however, because its short message lengths - while great for 21st century attention spans - only allow you a few seconds to get readers interested in your message. If you don't want to get lost in the stream, quantity is just as important as quality. Using a specific hashtag for events is useful as well, as it allows others to get involved in hyping it up.

If you really want to attract attention, you might try posting things that are a little bit absurd.

Screen Shot 2014 09 24 At 3.38.59 Pm

(Absurdity might not actually help as much if your audience is not made up of high school students.)

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The most effective communication tool for connecting with middle schoolers turned out to be Instagram - while most high schoolers we worked with were on Twitter, their younger siblings were discovering the art of the selfie. While Instagram might not be very useful for a primary source of information, every post is eye-catching, and if you're good with photography or typography, you might find a solid platform there. Don't be afraid to get creative!

Hauling in the Catch

Millennials are quickly abandoning Facebook for Twitter and other mobile-friendly platforms, while other generations continue to use Facebook as their primary online communication tool. Platforms such as Google Plus, once expected to revolutionize the social media experience, are now used solely by tech workers and online Dungeons and Dragons groups. Knowing these trends, and being able to follow your audience through them, is crucial to knowing how to reach as many people as possible.

Ultimately, there is always an element of chance at work, no matter how much you prepare – you might be in the best area with the best bait, but the fish still refuse to bite. Even so, knowing your audience will put you in a better position for those who do come to spread the word.