We talk a fair amount on this blog about social tools, the role of PR and marketing in lead generation and the changing landscape of analytics. One thing that can get lost in the rush to the latest tool or trend conversation is a fundamental tenant: the value of truly knowing your audience. By that I don’t mean knowing how many Twitter followers you have or how many initial clicks you had to your latest new website; I mean knowing who they are in detail, what their preferences are and what will continue to engage them short and long term.

Many clients and prospects initially ask about audience growth, e.g. social channel growth in a vacuum as a success metric. Sure, growing audience is a great goal – as long as that audience is the right one for you. Knowing who that audience is means engaging on a variety of tactical and strategic journeys.

  • First, ask yourself: Do we attract the influencers that matter to us? Check out SocMetrics and Klout scores, build a list through FollowerWonk in Moz and directly engage via Twitter. This is a great first step to defining the audience, but that’s exactly what it is: a first step.
  • Next, build a content calendar that mixes the right percentage of sharing and promotion, making sure to cross-pollinate across your channels and actively engage in conversations. From there, how do we know that is working?
  • Analyze traffic patterns. How’s the traffic back to the site? Let’s say traffic is looking pretty good overall week to week, and we can see which blog posts are resonating the most. But wait – that data doesn’t tie to your latest offerings or what the CEO is pushing as the strategic initiative this quarter. Does that mean we need a whole new audience?
  • Measure success with Google Analytics. Are we gaining net new unique visitors? Great, we didn’t ignore the CEO or the new products. But what about the established products that fuel our R&D and innovation? For an established brand, recurring visitors can be a better indicator to show engagement with additional pieces of content and movement down the funnel. Now we’re risking being at odds with senior management’s vision or getting enraged sales VPs asking what the heck we’re doing in marketing.
  • To cover our bases, let’s set up a separate social presence and strategy for the emerging parts of our business! Great – who is going to manage that exactly? Do we need to go through this entire audience process again?  What about the audience that is already engaged with us for both product sets on established channels – do we “push” them one way or another?

We started this journey with a bias: audience growth meant success. Where we ended was well-intentioned and potentially either misdirected or damaging to the company’s overall revenue goals.

Data is informing more and more decisions – and this is good thing. What that data means can never live without context.  Test out your assumptions, gather your data via Google Analytics, FollowerWonk, HootSuite or whatever your tool of choice may be, and make sure to always cross-reference that data to ensure leading indicators support your strategy. Those findings, when tied to strategy, can drive content, engagement and revenue with your right audience.

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