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Social Media Strategy is a Game of Niches

By now you may have seen a post or three about the latest batch of Pew data on social media users (If you haven’t, check it out. As usual, it’s a wealth of fascinating info). But out of all of it, for me, the most interesting thing was the big-picture story the data is telling.

Here’s the big takeaway: If you still think you have one big single audience on social media, you are doing social media like it’s 2010. (Remember that MySpace was founded in 2003, so that’s like an actual eon in social media time.)

Let’s look at some of the Pew data to support that statement:

First, there’s the number of options social media users have nowadays. Not to date myself, but I remember when the chart below only included Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. The proliferation of social media platforms has resulted in people having more options, which has resulted in more fragmentation of the audience base. Basically, the pie is now cut into many more slices.

Pew chart 1.png

The proliferation of platforms led to more clearly defined breaks along other demographic lines. See chart No. 2 below. Not surprisingly, Instagram and TikTok are more popular with young people while LinkedIn and Facebook are more popular with people who are older. These distinctions are becoming really clear, and the gaps are growing with each new set of data Pew releases and each new multimedia-heavy social media platform that bursts onto the scene.

Pew chart 2.png

I’ve been saying for years that the days of “doing social media” by creating one post and slapping it up identically across all your channels are over. Posting stuff on social media has never been more complicated.

First, there’s the technical side of things. Nowadays, posting a single item on social media requires you to have different versions of the image cropped to different sizes for each platform (don’t forget square for Instagram!). It requires you to use hashtags in some places and not use them in others, and the hashtags change depending on whether you’re posting on LinkedIn or Twitter. You have to think about stories and videos, captions, and translations. And a million other things to simply “post” on social media. Organically. Add about 6x other stuff to think about on the paid side of the house.

Second and more importantly, there’s the way the business of social media has changed over the last decade. Long explanation short: social media companies still need to make a profit just like all other companies. Most of them are publicly traded, which means they have the same pressure to produce profits for shareholders that other big companies face. They figured out that charging advertisers to reach their target audiences is a great way to generate revenue. And so they’ve juked their algorithms to reduce the number of people you reach without paying, which has forced advertisers to pony up to reach people they want to reach. This has resulted in a multitude of ever-more sophisticated advertising options, each of which requires you to target a specific audience.

And so, social media is not a “one and done” exercise anymore. Instead, it’s actually an exercise in targeting two to several niche audiences individually – with content that speaks specifically to them, hashtags that interest them, and links to things they want to see. Group A may be entirely different than Group B and so you have to basically create multiple strategies – one to reach each group.

Realistically, most of the social media strategies I create these days really have two components:

  1. A handful of key themes or connective “strings” that span across all your audience and stakeholder groups and act as your connective content (it also tends to be your higher-level brand content).
  2. And specific sub-strategies for each of your target audience groups.

The two have to work together to truly be successful on social in these days of hyper-targeted niche marketing.

If you’ve never done an exercise like this, the devil of figuring out your niches is in the details of your data. Just look at the sheer amount of data that can be known nowadays. Also from the Pew study, below is a handy chart showing users’ social media use by platform broken down by age, gender, race, education, etc. Once you dig into your own data from your own channels, you may even glean more insights to help you with your specific audience identification exercise.

Pew chart 3.png

For example, if you wanted to target moms, your best bets would be Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest (and YouTube if you have video). But if you wanted to target dads, an ad on Pinterest would be a total waste of money as the users of Pinterest are mainly female and only 16 percent of the male respondents said they use Pinterest.

So – if you need to take a quantum leap into 2021 with your social media strategy, the best place to start is to define your niches. Who are you trying to reach online and where do those people like to live online? Remember, on social media, if you build it, no one has to come. You have to find out where they are, and then you go to them.

Sue Serna

Sue Serna is a Consultants Collective member consultant and the founder and CEO of Serna Social, a social media consulting agency focused on social media governance, risk, security and strategy. Sue is one of the nation’s top experts on social media safety and spent nearly nine years leading the global social media program for Cargill, one of the largest private companies in the United States. Sue pioneered many industry best practices that the world’s largest companies use to keep their social media footprints safe. While in that role, Sue managed Cargill’s more than 50 partner relationships with social media agencies around the world. In addition, Sue is an accomplished social media trainer and an established communicator with a passion for creating compelling content. In 2022, she was named to the Advisory Committee of the National Institute for Social Media.

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