Is your brand concerned with everybody or the right somebodies on social media?

Several good posts have been written about how much time brands should spend minding their social media storeJeff Esposito related the time question to business objectives when he wrote a post evaluating these four areas as ready matches for social media:

  • Customer support
  • Brand awareness
  • Sales
  • Thought leadership

His post touches on two important, individualized factors influencing the time equation: company size (resource availability) and level of target customers’ social savvy (profile).

You think you know but you (probably) don’t

Assuming you’re not still trying to sell your boss on the concept of social media for business, you’ve either developed (and institutionalized) profiles for your brand’s primary and secondary targets, or you currently face the task. If your business has a web site (doh!), it’s quite possible the design process included persona development (highly recommended, or turn right back around and redesign); use those as a starting point forillustrating who your social consumers are. Because really, you need to know thatbefore you wonder about how often you can join their them and their friends on the playground.

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

Take care not to blindly assume personas that serve to represent web site users wholly match the social consumers your brand wishes to target. Diff’rent strokes, possibly diff’rent folks. Expect similaritiescustomer personas photogirl7.1 between persona groups, but the mental state of social consumers following a digital path to your site’s door may very well:

  • have different sets of tasks they wish to accomplish than the typical site-only visitor
  • hold different perceptions about the brand image (so the information scent trail should presume a certain level of familiarity and follow a definite route)
  • hold expectations of external validation in the forms of testimonials, customer reviews of products, Get Satisfaction, Yelp!, or other independent rating & resource properties
  • Other variables, based off entering from a different node/outpost

In other words, social consumers – regardless of the platform used – who visit your web site may be of a different frame of mind than less socially active consumers visiting your web site. (We already suspect social consumers tend to spend more; the question you need to explore at what cost can that be achieved, and with what tradeoffs ((there are always tradeoffs)).

If you’re not conscious about this possibility and deliberately planning for it, then you risk message homogenization and loose opportunities to enable sales.

Brands should spend some time fleshing out the social personas to include data points like:

  • Amount of annual online spend, by top categories
  • Number of social networks currently active in
  • Amount of time spent each day on those networks (via computer and handheld device)
  • Ratio of personal to business use on those networks
  • Participation in online reviews and ratings programs and social commerce sites
  • Frequency with which they recommend or refer brands to friends, family, and peers

Remember the other half (three-fourths!)

You may also find Forrester’s Social Technographic’s Ladder helpful in segmenting customer types and building out personas. Just today a friend of mine – also a marketer, with a career that extends back into the “traditional media” days, commented “Social remains a take it/leave it entertainment and curiosity  layer for vast numbers of consumers – the very consumers that buy products and services every single day. Businesses looking to sell stuff will do well to remember the reality outside the bubble of pioneers and early adopters, and weigh their social media initiatives appropriately as part of a larger marketing and communications plan.”

Let’s get personal

Depending on your industry and how finely you wish to characterize customers, the data points that should be addressed by your personas could go on. There are probably other, more specialized criteria applicable to some niche or B2B categories that could be added. The point is to wade through the due diligence to deeply, intimately know your customers. The process probably involves also diving into sales histories or CRM systems, old-fashioned customer files, web session data like recordings and heat maps, focus groups, surveys, and (gasp!) having conversations with the sales staff, customer service folks, and anyone else who may have an opportunity to see a side of the customer. Only then will you be able to understand their values, lifestyle, and other unique drivers.

Only then does the question of “How much time should I spend?” become relevant.

Authors note:  I first published this post, titled “Were you talking to me? Creating social media personas,” on the Oneforty blog July 22, 2011 as a contributing author. I’m cross-posting here so that Insights & Ingenuity readers might also learn and enjoy.

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