The better you understand your target market, the more you’ll be able to focus your ads and reach the audience most likely to convert into customers.
Developing a clear understanding of your social media target audience may be the most important thing you do as a social media marketer. Your target audience informs all elements of your social media strategy.
Here’s a hint before we dig in: Your target audience is not “everyone” (unless you’re Google). Your task in defining your social media audience is to identify and understand your niche so you can dominate it.
Audience research will help you craft relevant content, messaging, and ads. All of this can lead to higher conversion rates and better social media ROI. Of course, these are key metrics for all social marketers (and marketing bosses).
Bonus: Get the free template to easily craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer and/or target audience.
Target audience definition
A social media target audience is the specific group of people you want to reach with your social channels. They are the people who are most likely to be interested in your content, products, or services. They are likely united by some common characteristics, like demographics and behaviors.
As you develop your target audience definition, don’t be afraid to get highly specific. You can start with broad categories like millennials or single dads. But good social media audience research will allow you to get into much finer detail.
Remember: You can sell to everyone, but you can’t target everyone with all of your social content. You can’t speak directly to your best potential customers if you’re trying to speak to their kids and parents and spouses and colleagues at the same time.
How to find your social media target audience
Social media audience research isn’t complicated. It’s mainly about narrowing your focus while expanding your reach.
We’ve created a free social media audience research template to help you keep track of all the information you learn as you conduct your research.
Bonus: Get the free template to easily craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer and/or target audience.
1. Compile data on your existing customers and social media audience
Who most wants to engage with you on social media? Start with the people already buying from you, following you, and interacting with your posts. Some data points you might want to consider are:
- Age: You don’t need to get too specific here. Focus on learning which decade of life your social media target audience is in, or their generation.
- Location (and time zone): Where in the world does your social media audience live? This helps you understand which geographic areas to target. You’ll also learn what hours are most important for your customer service and sales reps to be online. And when you should schedule your social ads and posts to ensure best visibility.
- Language: What language does your target audience speak? Don’t assume it’s your language. And don’t assume they speak the dominant language of their current physical location.
- Spending power and patterns: How much money does your target audience for social media sites have to spend? How do they approach purchases in your price category? Do they have specific financial concerns or preferences you need to address?
- Interests: What does your target audience like to do? What TV shows do they watch? What other businesses do they interact with?
- Challenges: What pain points is your social media audience dealing with?
- Stage of life: Does your social media target audience include college students? New parents? Parents of teens? Retirees?
B2B companies should also consider:
- Size of business: What kinds of businesses buy from and engage with you? Are they start-ups or enterprise-level brands?
- Who tends to make the buying decisions: Are you targeting the CEO? The CTO? The social marketing manager?
Your own customer database can also provide a wealth of information. You can’t assume that your overall customer demographics will match your target audience for social media sites. But understanding who’s already buying from you can help you understand who’s most likely to be interested in your social channels.
If you’re not already, now would be a great time to incorporate UTM codes into social posts, either manually or using a social media management platform like Hootsuite. This will allow you to gather information about who clicks on your content using Google Analytics.
Once you have UTM codes in place, open Google Analytics. Audience Insights provides valuable demographic information about your most engaged social media audience.
2. Use social listening to find conversations about your brand
Social listening is a key way to uncover conversations about your business, your industry, and your products. Monitoring relevant keywords and hashtags reveals what people are saying about you and your competitors online, even when you’re not tagged.
Reaching out in response to these social posts is a great way to find your target audience on social media, even if they’re not yet following you.
You can also use social listening for deeper social media audience research. As you monitor keywords and hashtags, you may uncover other relevant hashtags your audience uses. You can then test adding these hashtags to your social posts to extend your reach to more relevant users.
3. Research which social channels your audience uses
Now you have a sense of who your audience might be and what they’re talking about online. So it’s time to find out where they already spend their time on social media. There are a couple of tools you can use to find this information.
Hootsuite Insights Powered by Brandwatch
Enter a combination of relevant terms for your business in the search bar. Using Boolean logic, you can get quite detailed here. Then scroll down to see which are the top sites, hashtags, and authors for your search.
Start a free trial or log into your account at Keyhole.co to access this powerful research tool.
- Enter a relevant hashtag you uncovered in the previous step. A hashtag that worked well for a competitor’s campaign would be a great choice.
- Scroll down to Top Sites to see which social networks are among the most popular referring domains.
Check Google Analytics to see which social networks appear in your referral traffic report.
If you’re using UTM parameters, you can also see which social posts are driving the most traffic to your site. If you notice your Twitter posts drive way more traffic than your Facebook posts, this is likely a clue that your audience is more active on Twitter.
4. Check out the competition
Odds are, your social media audience overlaps with that of your competitors. So it’s worth checking out what they’re doing so you can benefit from the lessons they’ve already learned. Are they reaching segments you hadn’t thought to consider? How are they positioning themselves?
Here are a couple of helpful tools:
In the Buzzsumo.com search bar, enter a relevant keyword for your industry. (Note: You can enter a couple of searches for free, but beyond that you’ll need to start a free trial or sign up for a paid Buzzsumo account.)
You’ll see a list of the top shared content across social networks, including engagement data. Look for patterns. What formats and channels have worked well for your competitors?
If you’ve started a free trial or have a Buzzsumo account, go to the Content Analysis tab. You’ll find a breakdown of the most popular social media networks in your niche.
We talked about search streams for monitoring keywords and hashtags above, but they’re also a great way to keep an eye on what your competition is up to.
In your social media management dashboard, set up streams to monitor your competition’s social posts and look for patterns in hashtags, post type, and content strategy.
To dig deeper, check out our step-by-step guide on how to do competitor research on social media. It walks you through the best ways to use social tools to gather competitor insights.
5. Understand what your target audience wants from your social channels
First, you need to make sure you have a rock-solid understanding of how your product or service makes your audience’s life:
- or just more interesting.
Does it solve their challenges? Address specific pain points? Help them meet their goals?
If you don’t already have a clear list of the benefits of your product, it’s time to start brainstorming now. Creating benefit statements automatically involves stating some basic information about your target demographic.
For example, in this IKEA post, features of the advertised furniture might be that it is small, inexpensive, and functional. But the benefit is that it can help you make a comfortable workspace in even a small home:
Next, start to think about how you can create value for your audience through your social channels. Some key questions to consider:
- What are your audience’s main purchasing barriers, and how can you help overcome them?
- Where are your followers at in their buying journey? Are they researching or ready to buy? Looking for reviews?
- What kind of content does your audience tend to engage with?
If you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what your social audience wants to see on your social channels, you could always ask them.
SurveyMonkey has a free template for a social media audience research survey. Use this template to find out which social networks your audience prefers and their content preferences. You can link to your survey directly from a social post, like Amsterdam Marketing did here:
Hello to our amazing followers. We're currently working to make our Facebook page even better and we would like your…
4 target audience examples from real brands
1. The Limited
The general principles for defining your target audience go back to the earliest days of marketing. Here’s how fashion retailer The Limited defined their target audience way back in their 1979 annual report (as cited in the textbook Retail Marketing Management):
“The Limited’s target market is the 16- to 35-year old female. She is educated, affluent, gregarious, fashion-oriented, and more often than not, she is a working woman who lives in or near a major metropolitan area.”
The principles for creating a target audience definition have not changed much since that statement was created 40 years ago. (Although the brand would probably phrase it slightly differently today.) Parent company Belk still clearly targets the audience The Limited defined back in the ‘70s.
Meet Ashley, Syeria & Anna, #WomenWhoGlow at the Belk home office on #InternationalWomensDay and every day! ✨They're proudly wearing our #YouGlowGirl charitable graphic tee by The Limited. 100% of proceeds will be donated to Girls Inc. Shop now. https://t.co/RKBhpXmwE3 pic.twitter.com/qpadlOtNGH
— Belk (@belk) March 8, 2020
What has changed is that you now have so many tools to help you conduct social media audience research.
Bonus: Get the free template to easily craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer and/or target audience.Get the free template now!
Let’s jump ahead a few decades. Here’s Zipcar’s brand positioning statement, as cited in the classic marketing text Kellogg on Marketing. The first part of the statement defines the target audience:
“To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment that future generations will inherit, Zipcar is the car-sharing service that lets you save money and reduce your carbon footprint, making you feel you’ve made a smart, responsible choice that demonstrates your commitment to protecting the environment.”
Notice that Zipcar is not targeting all residents of a particular city. They’re not even targeting all the people in a given city who don’t own a car. They’re specifically targeting people who:
- live in an urban area
- have a certain degree of education
- are comfortable will technology
- are concerned about the environment
These are all interests and behaviors that Zipcar can specifically target using social ads. They also help to guide the company’s overall approach to its social media marketing strategy. That’s clear in this thread about sustainable habits for World Environment Day.
We’re challenging you to adopt just one sustainable habit that can have a big impact on our environment. Here you’ll find some ideas that you can quickly and easily fold into your current lifestyle. 🍃🌱 #WorldEnviornmentDay
— ZipcarUK (@ZipcarUK) June 5, 2020
3. Tourism Australia
You might not need to include all the demographic characteristics (like age and gender) in your target audience definition. In some cases, especially for social ad targeting, it can be more important to focus on the behaviors and motivations of your target audience.
Tourism Australia defined its target audience as:
“High value travelers who are motivated by what [Australia has] to offer and are most likely to choose Australia for their next holiday or business event.”
This target audience statement may seem a little broad, but Tourism Australia dug deep into the data to further define their audience. For example they know that their target audience:
- regularly travels long-haul
- is driven by food and wine, aquatic and coastal, and nature and wildlife experiences
- plans longer trips exploring more of the country
Now that’s one impressive ceiling of stars 🤩Ari Rex captured this stunning sky show at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve…
They also explored the reasons their target audience travels. These include:
- seeking local experiences
- learning about the world
- visiting “fashionable and cool” destinations
Then they took it one step further. They analyzed the data to craft definitions of the target audience in each of their top geographic markets. They even learned how far in advance of a trip visitors are likely to book.
The lifestyle and sportswear brand GANT defined a specific target audience of “25-45 year old male and females with university degrees, cosmopolitan lifestyles, and a hunger to explore and grow.”
With this audience in mind, they created a digital marketing strategy based around a YouTube series. Called “Couple Thinkers,” it features celebrities and inspirational figures.
They promoted the show on their social channels and partnered with Esquire UK to extend the content to an even wider audience.
How to reach your target audience on social media
Once you’ve found and defined your social media target audience, use these tips to connect with more of them.
1. Lookalike audiences and ad targeting
GANT expanded the audience for its YouTube series using lookalike audiences. They based those audiences on both customers and subscribers.
Lookalike audience targeting is one of the most straightforward ways to reach more of your target audience on social media. Lookalike audiences share characteristics and behaviours with people who already interact with your brand.
Don’t have a customer or subscriber list yet? You can still use precise targeting options to target social ads. You’ll then reach exactly the audience you defined during your research.
If you’re targeting more than one audience, you can target your ads so that each audience sees the content most relevant to them. For example, the NHL uses geographically targeted ads for team memorabilia.
Source: NHL via Facebook Ads Library
Make sure you structure the content of the ads to appeal to exactly the audience you’re targeting as well. Ask yourself: Does the language speak exactly to the market you have defined in an appropriate voice? Do the visuals make sense in the context of your target market?
2. A/B test paid and organic content to maximize reach
As you focus on reaching your target audience for social media sites, you may need to adjust your organic and paid social content strategy .
Use the information gained during your social media target audience research to begin to tweak your:
Using A/B testing, you can refine your content over time as you learn exactly what works best.
3. Revisit your audience research as needed
The results of your A/B testing may provide additional insight you didn’t have when you first created your target market statement. Be sure to incorporate any lessons you learn.
Revisit your target audience definition regularly. Make sure it still accurately describes the people you most want to reach on social media. While The Limited’s target audience definition has remained effective for 40 years, that won’t be true for all companies.
Your target market could change over time. For example, back in the 1980s, Atari marketed its gaming console to kids.
Today, Atari targets the same people who played its games back in the 1980s. But those people are now adults who view the Atari brand not as a cutting-edge gaming system, but as a nostalgic part of their childhood.
A heavy dose of nostalgia Did your set up look similar back in the day?
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