Content Marketing Blog

How to use data to define your social media audience

Data. If you’re not sick of that word yet, then you’re not reading enough about marketing. Good data drives good campaigns and that goes double for marketing on social media.

So in this blog post we’d like to look specifically at how you can define your social media audience using data. Because knowing about who you’re speaking to is crucial. It allows you to engage with them better, grow your following, and (most importantly) better leverage your relationship to advance your business goals. As Maria Raybould at SEMrush puts it: “your content needs to be relevant for your existing (and not what-you-thought-it-would-be) audience.”

In this post:

  • How to define your social media personas.
  • Tools for analysing your social media audience.
  • How to grow your social media following.
  • Tips for leveraging your social audience.

Let’s get cracking then.

Wait, we’re talking about user personas right?

Absolutely. That’s something we should get straight from the start: the best thing you can do with what you learn about your social media audience is build user personas – aka customer or buyer personas. By defining your audience and recording that info in handy documents – complete with a name, mock profile picture and demographic info – you’re capturing highly useful IP. Persona docs will keep everyone involved in your campaigns on track and thinking about the right people in the right ways.

There are dozens of methods for building personas – you’ve likely done it yourself before – so we’ll keep our advice on creating social media persona docs brief. Basically, besides all the usual demographic details, we think you should work out:

  • What problems your personas have that you can solve.
  • What questions they have that you can answer.
  • How much they know about your company and its products or services.
  • What they’re looking for from your social media profile.
  • What platforms they use.
  • What action you want them to take, especially if this varies between your different personas.

How do you gather data for social media personas?

Your first port of call should be the native analytics provided by the social media platforms you use. LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – they all offer highly useful insights of different kinds. We won’t go into details here – the internet is crammed with posts explaining exactly how to use each one (largely just for SEO purposes, IMHO) and frankly the world doesn’t need another post like that. Sensible people like yourself will get what they need by exploring the tools without any particular guidance, so the more relevant issue is knowing what to look for.

Your aim should be winkling out any trends, spikes or anomalies in the numbers. Some of these will be demographic, while others might be around a particular kind of problem or interest.

Example: You run a recipe website and notice that your Facebook audience has a lot of 18-24 year old followers, plus another demographic spike in the 55-64 age range. This probably represents two separate personas each with a different relevance to your business. One might be all about easy smoothie recipes delivered over mobile, for instance, while the other wants dinner party suggestions on their desktop. Meanwhile you notice that you also have lots of followers who like a page about Coeliacs disease. This user group is unlikely to cluster around a particular age range, but are all engaging with you for a very specific kind of content (namely, gluten-free recipes).

All of the these data-defined groups are a great starting point for personas. Create a file for “Coeliac Sally”, “Millennial Max” and “Baby-boomer Beth” and see if further research bears out your instinct that they each represent a distinct user type with specific needs.

View this post on Instagram

#glutenfreechallenge #20yearchallenge The first time I ate gluten-free bread, after my Coeliac Disease diagnosis, I thought I would never enjoy the taste of bread again. The only gluten-free “bread” available was rice cake. Can you imagine eating a cheese and ham sandwich with this “bread”? Yes, twenty years ago a #coeliac did not have too many options. It is amazing how the #glutenfree market has increased, giving many more gluten-free products to choose from. Twenty years ago, gluten-free foods were only sold in local bakeries, natural channels and speciality food shops. The products are now marketed and sold in mainstream retail stores. Restaurants have refreshed their menus to attract gluten-free customers; food manufacturers have created new products and retailers have increased shelve space, dedicated to gluten-free products. But we need to continue the progression, continue the education and awareness. I think we seemed to have mastered breads, cakes, pastas and pizzas. All very yummy, in their own right, but there is more staple foods and niche categories that need our gluten-free presence and better nutritional quality. So, hear my cry (or just read my words). Let’s make 2019 the year where we can end the confusion between coeliac and shellac. Yes friends, true story! A waiter thought I was asking to get my nails done in a pizza establishment. Let’s make 2019 the year we can go into any major supermarket and find gluten-free products that is not just limited to bread and little cake treats. And lastly, let’s make 2019 the year where asking for a gluten-free option is not seen as, being fussy or being on some new Hollywood diet and is respected as a serious, life treating, auto-immune disease.

A post shared by Maika Jiménez Blanco (@maikaenmicoche) on

A side note about Twitter…

Having said that there’s no real need to explain the details of each of the different analytics tools, it is worth briefly pointing out the impressiveness of Twitter’s offering. By enabling Audience Insights you can get very granular detail on the particularities of your following – and even compare them against pre-made personas that Twitter pulls from its own data.

For example it turns out my personal Twitter is 60 per cent women from Auckland who like dogs and science, and they engage with book content 65 per cent more than the average millennial. That’s the kind of insight that’s immeasurably helpful in crafting content (maybe a review of a science-y book about dogs would be a good post?) so it’s just a shame that Twitter use in Australia and New Zealand is so modest.

Get data insights from your ad platforms

Another source of data on your social audience that you shouldn’t overlook are the various social advertising platforms. These each provide insights into how your campaigns performed – and the information can be valuable in different ways. So for example if you use Facebook Pages Manager, and navigate to Insights and then People, you’ll get good demographic data on the people who currently follow you. But if you run an ad campaign, then check the results in Facebook Ads Manager, you’ll get insights on how people who don’t follow you interact with your content.

How to use data to define your social media audience

Similarly, if you’ve targeted an ad at a particular audience, then you’ll start to get deep insights from the results. Thinking back to our recipe website example, if you targeted ads at the “Coeliac Sallys” you might learn that they don’t engage with special offers on Facebook, but they do like to read about gluten-free product reviews. Make sure you capture that kind of information in your persona files.

Use 3rd party tools to analyse social media audiences

By giving access to their APIs social media platforms let third party companies crunch their data and repackage it into products for marketers. This has given rise to what’s known as ‘social listening’ or ‘social monitoring’, which often involves specialist tools. The best of these can combine data from multiple platforms and schedule your posts over different accounts while also allowing you to monitor the social media activity of your competitors, spot the most successful hashtags, and see who is likely to be paying for amplification and who is going it organic.

Tools that are worth checking out include:

  • RivalIQ, which also creates handy live benchmarking for different industries. So for instance you can see that the airline sector posts to social on average 14.6 times per week across all channels, compared to the environmental sector which averages 83.5 posts per week!
  • SEMrush, which will also break down the most successful content by type, be it video, photo or link.
  • SocialBakers, which claims to be an AI-powered tool that will create social persona for you – and can find the influencers that your personas engage with.
  • SproutSocial, another all-in-one tool. Its pricing starts at $100 per month.
  • HootSuite, which boasts access to 35 social media platforms, and an ecosystem of more than 250 partner apps.
  • BuzzSumo, another best-in-breed tool. We love the simple interface that lets you plug in any URL, domain name or topic to instantly see what content gets shared, how much, where, and by whom.

How to reach new audiences using social media data

With your social media personas created you’ll now be in a far better position to create content over time that resonates with both your current audience and those you’re yet to reach. But we ought to also mention the possibility of reaching whole new audiences en masse using remarketing tags and/or lookalike audiences.

In marketing parlance pixels are pieces of code – also known as remarketing tags – that track people who have visited your site so that they can be targeted later, on a different platform. So in our recipe website example, if you had the (free) Facebook Pixel installed on your site, you could create a custom audience of every person with a Facebook account who had visited, say, the Smoothies section of your site. You would then be able to serve an ad to exactly those people, which would be much more likely to get high conversion – especially if the creative was informed by what you know about this type of person from your social personas.

More intriguingly, if that custom audience has enough people in it to extract meaningful data, Facebook can also create a lookalike audience of the same kind of people – people who haven’t visited your site, but are a match for those who have. Armed with this kind of data-designed custom lookalike audience you have the potential to reach a huge number of the right kind of people for your business.

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Greg Roughan
Greg Roughan About the author

Castleford’s Editor, Greg has a passion for popular science writing and is an occasional contributor to Radio New Zealand, where he writes on sustainability. He works on high subject matter expertise accounts at Castleford, is an occasional contributor to the blog, and writes for the artificial intelligence conversational marketing client Stackchat.

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