Finding Customers Through Social Data

Book Excerpt: Social media analytics isn't a shiny object to focus on short term; it's a necessity for understanding customers and effectively addressing their needs and desires.

"We are entering a world where technology and marketing converge," writes Marshall Sponder in his book Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics. According to Sponder, social media analytics has become the medium through which relevant data and insights are being conveyed to marketing decision makers and stakeholders. He highlights the importance of identifying a target customer group before embarking on a marketing campaign, and cites social as a vital resource in the process. "It is possible to gather insight from even a partial understanding of where your visitors come from, how they react to a site, and where they go after they leave," Sponder says.

In this excerpt from Social Media Analytics, Sponder explains how organizations can use data to find customers where they already are.

Targeting Your Customers: Using Data to Find Your Customer

Before the launch of an ad campaign, or any kind of marketing outreach, it is critical to identify the targeted group. Add to that the desired knowledge outcome and the underlying strategic or tactical factors of the campaign. To collect that information would seem to be a commonsense and fairly straightforward activity, but it's actually hard to accomplish.

Planning and project insight well in advance of launching a campaign are vital for collecting useful data. Data generated with information goals and project expectations in mind can add insight to the business issues behind the reports or results that will be generated. The most important point in this chapter is that research tools are all but useless unless they're used in context with the information needed for the project. Achieving this is part craft, part art, and part experimentation; it helps to determine beforehand whether all the information required is actually useful for the analysis.

It is first necessary to define the vocabulary needed to identify and track audience behavior, and then to determine how to acquire the information and research required for spreading the word.

Determining Audience

Demographic research allows business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketers to divvy up markets by size, age, income, education, ethnicity, zip code, and so forth. Services such as DemographicsNow offer a rich set of tools to find target audiences by attributes that are meaningful for marketing or advertising campaigns (depending on the pre-defined business goals). Knowledge of generational characteristics helps uncover the motivations and underlying values of the audiences and how those motivations drive behavior.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a trove of interesting data that are of potential use for audience research. is a source for some of the latest research and surveys that might provide data of impact on marketing campaigns. Nielsen's Claritas PRIZM platform provides consumer behavior life-stage segmentation derived from highly processed U.S. census data. Experian offers geosegmentation data, as do HitWise and ComScore Media Metrix.

Two providers of such mashups are WeePlaces and Twitter Demographics. These are among a variety of Internet research tools rapidly being created that were nearly impossible to envision even a few years ago, and they can provide very powerful insights, often for free, as is the case with Twitter Demographics.

DoubleClick Ad Planner, Google Insights for Search, and Google Analytics can be used for audience research. The data from these tools come in handy: people self-identify their interests and motivations online, so the study of their click stream yields valuable insights. Offline behavior can be tracked using FourSquare and Facebook Places check-ins along with other geolocational data.

Microsoft provides free audience research tools such as Profile Matcher, which generates a list of Microsoft Web sites sorted by demographics. Quantcast provides information about audience demographics, but it is entirely Web site-based, and does not capture all the other social media information of interest to readers of this book.

Learning How to Reach People Where They Are

Determining your audience is only part of the game, however. There are several ways to effectively reach people where they are, and many of them are surprisingly inexpensive if accuracy is not critical.

  • Google Webmaster Tools shows how often impressions of site pages and keywords are displayed, as well as what position they are in once they are clicked.
  • Brandwatch, Radian6, and Sysomos sort online messages about a brand or a target subject via social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.
  • Facebook Ads can be set up to target individuals who haven't filled out their profiles but have friends who have done so; Facebook learns what their friends like and serves a similar ad by algorithmic reasoning based on what the individual's friends like. Facebook Ads were also used to target gay Facebook members using a similar approach.
  • Using Facebook to identify members of a group or around a context (known as "profile targeting") can supply enough information to make a "neuro-targeted" ad in Facebook that will appear only to the individuals when they log in to Facebook.
  • Targeting audience by location is performed by using FourSquare, Facebook, and other geolocation platforms and augmented reality browsers that serve ads and messages to those who use those services and track the results.
  • Life-stage targeting is based on the idea of understanding what services people might need based on where they are in life, and placing information in their path that they may find valuable.
  • Twitter Interest lists are based on whom users are following; Google AdSense targets users based on interest information passed from Web browsers to AdSense-enabled sites. No doubt Facebook targets by interest, and most other ad networks do as well.

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Excerpted by permission of the publisher McGraw-Hill. Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics by Marshall Sponder. 2012, Marshall Sponder.