The Shoe Company
It seems appropriate here to begin with a short story. It begins with a company that sells designer shoes to women with large feet. It ends with a series of failed communication attempts and the eventual (and ingenious) realization that the company’s shoes were actually being bought by men – men who interestingly, ordered the shoes in unmarked packages and lived well above the median income level. Conventional wisdom would conclude that these men were buying gifts for their wives, but in this case, conventional wisdom would be wrong. In fact, what the company ultimately realized was that their shoes were being purchased by a niche market of men who wore three button suits by day and gold sequined dresses by night. Through careful research and customer feedback, the company finally discovered that their product sold to fabulous male cross-dressers.
Your Audience, Your Friend
I’ve heard this story several times throughout the course of my undergraduate business program and I’d like to report that nobody ever reveals the name of the shoe company. As a matter of fact, the company might not even exist – which is ultimately beside the point. The most interesting take away from this story is in the necessity of audience insight in dictating the appropriate channels of communication. For many of us in the PR world, this is not groundbreaking news. But what is interesting to call out is the need to continuously listen and respond to our audiences. In the world of social media, we are constantly presented with new channels of communication that come at us faster than next month’s rent. If we don’t understand our audience’s interest in these new channels, it’s difficult for us to respond, or even consider making a play here.
We essentially have to start treating our audiences like our friends. As much as we know about our friends, new things come up all the time. And in order to properly engage, we need a constant stream of relevant information. We have to listen to our audiences and do our research in finding out their current whereabouts and interests, just like we do with our friends. Timeliness is key here. Once we find out where they are, we have to consider whether or not we meet up with them. With the meteoric rise of Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and others, we’re beginning to see a shift in how consumers distribute their time. Although Facebook and Twitter will continue their reign as beauty queens of the great channel selection show, we’re beginning to see a healthy crop of new faces. Recent use cases from both B2C and B2B companies have shown how a careful understanding of one’s audience leads to creative and effective campaigns.
Tumblr has been around for some time now but is still somewhat new in terms of being looked at as a go-to social media channel. The microblogging site hit 15 billion page views per month in January 2012 and recently announced plans to further monetize the platform through advertisements. Tumblr is a blogging platform more than anything else and it has to play nice with existing corporate blogs. Companies have to consider the viability of Tumblr as an additional blog channel and the possibility of pushing out complementary content. From Rolling Stone Magazine to Oscar de la Renta, we’ve seen how companies have been effective in using the Tumblr to hone in on a specific angle that complements their broader company story.
At the Text 100 San Francisco office, we largely use it to show how cute we all are (which just so happens to strategically complement the rigorous work that we do).
Despite recent news around laggard growth stats, Pinterest can still be described as hot. Its hotness was confirmed in December 2011 when data from Hitwise listed the photo sharing site as one of the 10 largest social networking services out there. We’ve already begun to see business clamoring to get a piece of this social media pie. What’s most interesting here is how some B2B players have made the case for Pinterest as a valuable channel. HubSpot (a company that sells marketing software and services) recently created a pinboard of marketing infographics that they collected from around the web. Through this campaign, they were able to showcase how Pinterest can be used beyond the promotion of fabulous vacations, delicious food and pretty shoes. This is not to downplay the pinboards of those who do in fact sell fabulous vacations, delicious food and pretty shoes (which are coincidentally some of my favorites), but just to show that the channel is valuable beyond B2C use cases. Text 100 is on Pinterest too!
Instagram is still a bit of an abyss when it comes to business applicability. Yes, it’s certainly useful in its ability to make all photos look post-worthy, but the lack of features around sharing and buying/selling leaves a lot of room for apprehension. Recent activities have revealed some general guidelines in how one should approach this space, but the most interesting take away here is the concept of generating relevant content. If businesses seek to have a healthy presence via Instagram, it’s about continuously stepping back and acting as content curators. We have to pull back the promotional veil a bit and realize that company products aren’t always the most worthy content. Whether we post non-promotional material of interest or crowdsource for content, it all goes back to audience insight. Recent momentum from both Pepsi and RedBull further points to the importance of content curation in navigating the world of Instagram.
Going back to my original point, audience insight is critical when deciding on which channels to focus your social efforts. But even more important is our persistence in understanding our audiences. Companies have to make an effort to systematically listen to what customers have to say and where they choose to spend their time. This is increasingly vital in our current landscape, where new communication channels pop up more frequently than Real Housewives franchises. It’s high time we get out there and craft deeper friendships with our audiences. Throw the net out there and if you’re fierce enough, they’ll happily be your friend too.
Photo credit: Flickr user oxfordian.