July 29, 2010

You Know Your Advocates and You Know Your Public. Do You Know Your Messengers?

A key question when developing social media strategy or a website is “Who do we target?”. “Who will be the most effective individuals to reach with our message?” Often these target audiences break down into two groups. Advocates for your organization, people who are invested in you and your offering, and the public, customers or end users – the ultimate recipients of your offering. A typical website design or social media strategy will try to reach these two groups in varying proportions.

But there is a third group, a group as important as either and one that can have a disproportionate effect on reaching end users. We call this group “Messengers.” Unlike your advocates, messengers are an audience that you don’t have direct contact with on a regular basis. They don’t follow your every word but they do share an affinity for your ideas, your topics and your issues. They might already be talking about your issues without mentioning your organization. Sometimes messengers talk about your topic on a regular basis, sometimes more sporadically as events or seasonality dictates.

Market segmentation is one of the primary ways to identify end user audiences for products and messages, but identifying messengers requires different tactics. Segmentation gives us average demographics across wide swaths of population. With messengers we want to identify the small percentage of individuals talking about our topic, especially those that are having a disproportionate influence on the conversation.

We identify these individuals by looking at trends in online conversation. Social media analytics makes it possible to track these trends through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. We look for people talking about our topics (via keyword analysis) and then track down their influence by looking for how often they are followed, cited and linked to over time.

For example, working with a non-profit trying to increase usable green space in urban areas, we might look for bloggers and tweeters that are not only talking about gardening and CSAs, but also have a large following and are linked to and retweeted by their audiences.

Tools like Radian 6 and Morningside Analytics can help us achieve this through keyword analysis and social media monitoring.

Once we identify our messengers, how do we know what they want? User personas are one of the best tools we can use to understand the mindset and goals of this important audience. User personas are profiles of archetypal users based on qualitative research: interviews and focus groups. The personas themselves not only capture the demographics and mindset of an individual messenger, but also explicitly lay out goals that this person wants to achieve in relation to our content and message.

User personas give us a basis on which to design a social media strategy and a website presence that will serve messenger goals while moving our content into their channels.

Most often we find messengers are looking for three things:

  • RELEVANCY – Messengers want content and information that matches their own needs and interest.
  • EXCLUSIVITY – Messengers want to be the first and only one on their block with fresh content.
  • RECOGNITION – Messengers want to know that they are being heard. Giving them a shoutout on your social media channels or on your website can boost your message beyond a simple broadcast.

Sometimes user research can yield surprising results. In a recent project we found that a client’s archive of older content had even more relevance to it’s key messengers than the new content that it was producing weekly. Indexing this archive of older content and developing an easy-to-use search UX then became one of the priorities of our work.

Tools like user personas, market segmentation and social media analytics are essential tools that we use at Corey to ensure that we are achieving the most for our clients. Understanding your audiences, be they advocate, messenger or the public, holds the key to ensuring the success of your online messaging efforts across a wide range of groups.

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