Know Your (Social Media) Audience

Michael Grimaldi

The chair of a volunteer committee on which I sit recently asked members to participate in a “show and tell” about the digital world.

“You might have come across the latest trending app, something cool on Mashable or a tech breakthrough that makes your life easier,” the chair wrote. “I’d like to ask each committee member to briefly share a recent tech story/product/service that got your attention.”

More interesting than the examples people brought was what the collective response reveals about the status of social media today.

One member told us about Pinterest, the hot-as-lava virtual scrapbook that The New York Times reports is “the fastest website in history to break the 10-million-visitors-a-month threshold.”

Another member, a bit sheepishly, disclosed that she had just discovered Google Alerts, the feature that constantly searches the Web for new occurrences of terms that you specify, and then sends you an email when it finds them.

Another member told us about QR codes, the smudge spots found everywhere from the sides of buildings to Sunday newspaper coupon inserts that your smartphone can scan to take you to a Web page.

Each thought these represented something new in the digital world. Not quite. Pinterest is new, having been beta-tested in late 2010 and quietly launched in 2011 before busting out big time this year. QR codes, however, were invented nearly two decades ago, and Google Alerts have been around for some time, as well.

The lesson from my committee is that everybody is engaging digital communications differently. That is an important lesson to remember when planning a social media communications plan, or any communications plan, for that matter.

Research is critical. It might tell you, for example, that outplacement counselors at hospitals and adult children of octogenarians are comfortable on Facebook and use it a lot. If that is true, then maybe Facebook is the right social media channel to promote a nursing home.

After research, here are the important communications steps to remember:

  • Write and follow a good plan. Remember all four channels – earned, owned, social and paid – and use your research to target your message.
  • Be careful, especially in social. Digital is so new that sometimes people forget that courtesy and other rules of human social behavior still apply. Even smart people like Oprah Winfrey, who apologized for a message she posted on Twitter during the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12:
  • Be flexible. Stay abreast of the latest digital trend, but don’t feel like you have to jump aboard the latest hot iPhone app or social media site. Use the communications channels that work to stay engaged with your audience. Adjust accordingly.

The digital realm – like all forms of communication – requires knowing your constituents and developing a smart plan to reach them. Use good judgment and be sensitive to your target audience’s comfort zone and needs for success.

—   Michael Grimaldi, Senior Communications Consultant

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