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Who we are…not what we are in social media

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If you grew up in a traditional marketing or pr or design field, you probably had the implications and research of demographics beat into your head. You probably studied trends and learned all about how to market to and and communicate with particular generations. Maybe you even sought to discover emerging trends.

Social media really messes all that up, doesn’t it?

Have you ever heard as I do, the sound of the wind blowing when you look at demographics for social networks? They are practically meaningless. Here’s why: it doesn’t matter the age, gender, race, marital status or income of users on social networks because your talking to each of them. Individually. I can tell you that my audience on Twitter is mostly male. I can tell you that they are generally over 35. But who cares? I also have 18 year old girls in that mix too. Relying to heavily on the demographics can be misleading. Besides, what do you really care how old the audience is, if the people are passionate about something relevant to your brand, isn’t that the more important piece of knowledge?

Not what we are. Who we are.

But there’s something more important at work here. For businesses to really communicate with their audience they have to touch on the passions of their audience. They have to remember that the audience is filled with people who have hopes, disappointments, families, busy lives.  The audience is more than a group of demographics; they have to listen for conversations to pull out potential clients and customers. The audience is back to being individual. The audience is more than the sum of their parts. Someone might follow your brand and a competing brand. They might be fans of your company and one that’s totally counter intuitive. That’s because your audience is filled up with HUMANS, not numbers and humans are imperfect and well, weird.

Get to know your audience, and they’ll get to know you.That’s what’s even more interesting about this: be true to your brand, its mission, its ideals and you’ll find your social niche. In this way, I think its easier for entrepreneurs and small business owners to really be successful in social media. But once in awhile, you see a founder or CEO of a major company out there, communicating in social media in the way he would at a cocktail party. Regardless, this is the argument for “humanizing” your brand..for giving it a conversational outlet. People prefer to talk to people, not on-message marketers.

But how do we scale that?

Fundamentally, I reject the idea that just because social media occupies the space between mass media and 1:1 communication that it has to be scaled. Sure, you’re processes should scale, your tools should scale, but the communication itself? Nope. I mean, how many meetings do you go to a week? Yep. If you spent as much time on social media as you do in meetings, you’d learn more about your audience and less about that creepy guy in accounting…and you’d be better of for it in so many ways. Business hasn’t demanded we scale meetings, in fact, I’ve heard some analysts argue for smaller meetings..not larger more scaleable meetings. But meetings are still important. The reason it works is because its isn’t about mass messaging; its about intimacy. In business, (some) meetings are valuable and so is (some) social media listening and conversations.  So stop worrying about what check boxes are checked and start listening to people and conversations. This has another perk: its much more satisfying and you’ll definitely learn something too.

What do you think? Does it throw you off that you don’t know the demographic profile of your audience? Or do you and it doesn’t effect how you communicate?


Great thoughts and responses here. When I meet someone in a coffee shop or around town, I'm not sizing up their demographic information as I reach for their handshake. Yes - demographics can provide a filter or lens to our messages. But I think, all too often, businesses obstruct their communication with these variables. I tweet like I talk - with confidence that my product and services are reaching the right individuals, my message is tailored to the needs of a broader audience, and that my brand, personally and professionally, is just as personable and humanistic as the person on the other end of the exchange.Can't wait to see you expand your thoughts on attracting the right business with your tone. Very interesting thoughts - and I've found to be incredibly relevant.


Hi Tara!

I have to say we do pay attention to our demographic in some of what we do with our social media efforts. The services @karenweikert and I provide at @wahinemedia are tailored for businesses that are for women (not necessarily owned by women), and business owners. WIth that in mind, we generally target what we share out to be tailored towards women businesses and business owners. And, of course mixed in there is a bunch of random humor and odd-ball stuff— gotta keep it light ; )

As a result, most of our audience is female and business owners. Facebook insights and Tweet Stats tell us that more of our audience is female, but we can only tell that most of our audience is business owners by who are talking to us.

But, you are absolutely right in that we don't rely on this demographic when we are conversing, nor do we care. Like you said, if someone is passionate about your brand, we're going to be there listening and joining the conversation! There are no barriers when it comes to talking on social media.

If only we could target our conversation to our perfect target demographic, but we all know that's just not how it is anymore. All for the better in my opinion. My guess is that that now that marketing has become more of a conversation, and less of a broadcast, people will soon forget the "good old days", adapt and move forward!