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Marketers are always seeking to better understand their target buyers.  Better data about customers would not only help companies refine their messaging, but it would also help them optimize marketing spend.  CMOs and their leadership team struggle to answer questions such as:  What are the best websites to advertise on?  What trade shows should I exhibit at?  What are my customers hobbies and personal interests?  For decades marketers have been guessing at the answers to these questions.  Through trial and error they have stumbled upon a spending mix that meets their lead generation targets, but never really know whether better results are possible.  What little data marketers could obtain was usually from vendors selling exhibit space at trade shows or display ads on media sites.

But social media is making it easier for marketers to gather their own data.  For example, consider your Twitter feed.  If your corporate handle has more than 5000 followers then you have a statistically significant sample that could be analyzed to uncover demographic data about your customers.  A percentage of your followers will be your own employees whom you should filter out of the analysis.  But the remaining followers are likely customers as well as business partners, analysts and journalists.

Want to know what websites you should run display or pay-per-click ads on?  Why not analyze the URLs that your followers are including in their Tweets?  These are the websites that your followers are reading and the ones shaping their opinions. Websites that repeat with a high frequency are the best ones to purchase ads on.  If your followers are tweeting articles from Information Week, Fast Company or Wired 500 times per month then those are all good candidates for investment. Of course, you could always run ads on Twitter itself where you know all the followers are sure to frequent.

Want to know what trade shows you should exhibit or sponsor?  Why not analyze the hashtags that your followers include in their Tweets (or LinkedIn Posts)?  Most trade shows have a hashtag that attendees use to post photos or memorable quotes from presentations.  If 700 of your 5000 followers were tweeting from the Dreamforce conference then that is a good candidate for next year’s budget.  The hashtags might also provide insights into the other products that your customers use.  For example, if customers are tweeting from Amazon Reinvent or SAP Sapphire then it is a good bet that they use AWS or SAP ERP in addition to your products.

Want to know what your customers do in their personal lives so that you can better target messaging towards them?  Once again Twitter (and Facebook) can tell you the answers.  People include clues about their hobbies, interests and personal lives in social media posts.  Are they checking in at certain airports?  Consider running ads at those terminals.  Are they many posts about skiing and snowboarding?  Consider a Winter Olympian as the guest speaker at your next conference.  Are they sports fans?  Consider box seats at NHL or NBA games as your next relationship building campaign.

We can derive insights not just from the text followers put in their posts, but the images as well.  They say a picture says 1000 words.  Marketers are already experimenting with technologies that can identify brand names and consumer products embedded in photos like Amazon’s Firefly service.  More sophisticated algorithms can detect the location in which the photo was taken.  Think Google Goggles.  Some can use facial recognition to identify the other people in the photos.

If 800 of your followers are identified drinking Pepsi products (versus Coke) in their Facebook photos then you should consider switching beverage choices at your next user conference.  If 100 of your followers share photos playing golf in the US Southwest versus only 40 in Florida then perhaps you should switch the location of your next Customer Advisory Board from Naples to Scottsdale.

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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