If on the consumer side social media can now be understood as an never-ending fount of content, for brands it could be considered an inexhaustible source of data.
There’s so much data that it can be difficult to know what to do with it. Though it can help you market much more effectively, at the same time it shouldn’t dictate every move you make.
Knowing your customers, target, and communities well allows you to make use of social data without getting overwhelmed by it.
Use it or lose it
Social media can provide data about the demographics of your fans and followers (in a significant amount of detail), as well as their interests, again at a granular level. There’s information about their behaviour and how they interact with content you produce among other things.
You can learn a lot about what people are saying about you—on the macro level you know how much people are talking about you and on your brand’s social channels and you can track its tenor with sentiment tracking tools.
But all this data, no matter how prettily it might be presented, isn’t much good if you’re not able act on it in a way that has a positive impact on your business.
Take what you know about the interests of your social communities (their interest graphs, in the parlance). What do you do with the information that your Facebook fans also like Fleetwood Mac, Carl’s Jr. and Campari?
You can use this information to tailor your content and campaigns to your weird fans on and beyond social media. You can buy ad space on sites Mac fans are likely to visit, and propose a partnership with Campari for a product release party.
In terms of your social media monitoring, you can organize and analyze data you’ve gleaned from social sources and use it to inform decisions like the location of new stores to the priority of product developments.
But this data can only be used to increase the impact of your social media engagement strategy if it’s put into context—you have to know both what it can and cannot really tell you.
Essentially, you need to add a layer of analysis on top of your social data, to look at it critically before you act on it.
In a basic form, this means paying attention to not just the what but the why of social data. Say you are a luxury brand, and you start to hear complaints about products on your Facebook page. Check what you’re seeing on social about what you know about your IRL customers. If, say, the complainers seem to be mostly teens, it could be that they didn’t actually purchase the product and are just jumping on the complaint train. If it’s true, it’s still an issue you should deal with, but a different kind.
To the Venn diagrams! Most likely, there is a significant amount of overlap between your existing and target customers and your social media fans. But significant is not total.
You have fans who aren’t customers, who might never be, who are still going to be active on your social channels for any number of reasons. This can be a good thing—just because they aren’t customers doesn’t mean they can’t spread positive messages about your brand, either on or off social media.
Your brand also has current prospective customers who aren’t necessarily fans of yours on social, and you can’t forget about them entirely in hopes of pleasing your existing social fans.
Similarly, in terms of listening, know that some voices on social are much louder than others. Sometimes they are loud because they’re passionate about your brand, and sometimes it’s just because they’re loud.
What can be done?
The tricky thing is figuring out who’s who—which people should you be paying attention to, and how can you filter out the noise in order to figure out what social data to act on and how to act on it?
Unfortunately, there are no simple answers here.
To start, you should have customer personas that are firmly based on your target customer base, and not, necessarily, on the existing fans you have on social. You have to incorporate feedback and performance data from social channels into your content, but these personas should inform every piece of content you create.
You also need to know the networks on which you are present, and the differences between your communities on each. If you’re teasing content on Instagram and getting poor engagement, does that mean it won’t work anywhere else and should be killed? Or is it poorly suited to the channel and your community there?
As tools become more and more sophisticated, it will become more possible to actually map and track your social fans against your IRL clients in the aggregate, and base your marketing decisions on that. For now, the idea is to find the best data you can, do all you can to put it into context, and continuously evaluate how effective the actions based on it are.