Forget demographics. It’s all about the socialgraphics


By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Traditionally, marketers have researched their customers’ demographics to have a clear idea of their age, gender, income, location, and other traits.

Marketers added psychographics to the mix, allowing them to take into account customer’s interests, values, and attitudes. A step up from the very general information that demographics provide, psychographics enable marketers to speak to customers in a way that resonates with them. Now, in the age of social media and behavioral ad targeting, we have to add another type of data to our arsenal: socialgraphics.

Socialgraphics capture the attitudes, characteristics, behavior, and, most important, motivations of customers online. Understanding an audience’s socialgraphics allows marketers to design internet marketing strategies that attract and retain customers in different online venues.

Socialgraphics helps move your message

The new world of digital marketing requires the kind of research that user experience teams routinely do, but marketers have not always accessed.  Yet, it’s critical information for companies looking to deeply engage consumers and really motivate them to take the online actions crucial to the brand.

Demographics and pyschographics may have been enough when marketers were focused simply on online advertising — finding the right keywords to target an audience was enough.

But in the complex digital world of social media, content marketing, email, reviews, etc., marketers need to find ways to get online users to take specific actions, what I call social actions, such as sharing the organization’s content, recommending it to others, opening emails, writing reviews, etc. To motivate users to take action, you first have to understand what motivates them. That requires a much deeper level of knowledge about user’s psyches.

Levels of socialgraphics

To be most effective, marketers need to understand the socialgraphics of their audience at a minimum of two levels:

Audience segmentation.  If your demographic segment is “college-educated working mothers of elementary-aged children,” you need to understand the general socialgraphics of this segment, too.

Platform segmentation.  An audience segment may behave differently or have varying motivations in different online communities. For example, working mothers may look for emotional support and practical suggestions for balancing work and life in one forum, but be focused on career growth and networking with other professional mothers in another forum. It’s important to understand the user’s motivations within different communities in order to share the right content and engagement opportunities in each community.

The hunt for socialgraphic data

It is possible to find available data to leverage, but chances are, you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and dig deep and make your own observations through focus groups or simply immersing yourself in different groups and platforms to understand what is going on there.  Some of the socialgraphic data to focus on are:

  • Internet use data—Where do these users congregate online? What sites do they use? What online media do they consume? What times do they use different websites and media? How internet savvy are they?
  • Mobile use data—Similarly, what are this segment’s mobile usage traits? Smartphone or not? What activities do they do on their phones? What times are they active?
  • Goals and motivations—For different venues, what is the audience segment’s interest or goal in participating? What need does the community fill for this user? What does the user hope to gain?
  • Behavior—How does this audience behave online, particularly in different venues? Do they create content or just consume it? Are they frequent sharers or posters? How do their patterns of creating, commenting, or sharing differ and what triggers the differences?
  • Emotional and pyschological needs–What emotional needs does a given community fill? What emotional needs is the user filling by participating online? How does the user want to be perceived online or in different communities?

Socialgraphics as competitive advantage

At this point, it appears that few companies do the kind of research necessary to understand user’s socialgraphics. In fact, in a November 2011 McKinsey report surveying marketers, 38% of respondents said that their company had basic demographic data on each customer. But only 18% reported having psychographic data, such as interests or attitudes. It’s probably safe to conclude that even less had socialgraphic data.

In a noisy online world increasingly cluttered with content, understanding your customers this deeply may be the only way to create a point of differentiation for your brand in the long-term.

Does this make sense to you?  Are you starting to think about customer online behaviors in your strategies?

Neicole Crepeau a blogger at Coherent Social Media and the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. She works at Coherent Interactive on social media, website design, mobile apps, & marketing. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

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  • Anonymous

    This makes a lot of sense. As our society becomes more homogenized and interconnected, demographics are becoming more and more muddled. Now that we can quantify how people interact, social graphics definitely deserve some attention.

  • Thanks. Marketing’s job is certainly becoming harder, as they have to segment audiences more in order to identify the traits that they can leverage for better targeting. Hopefully business intelligence systems will improve to make it easier to do so.

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  • Great post Neicole!  Incorporating all three of those areas (demographics, psychographics, socialgraphics) into market research will certainly provide for a more complete analysis of a given audience.  It’s something I recommend to all of my consulting clients.

  • RRR

    Great Blog!

  • Anonymous

    Great article Neicole! I’ve written about customizing content for each platform, but I’d never heard the term socialgraphics. It’s a great way to sum up how to use social and share content best – as customized to the reader as possible. 

  • Thank you. The term is actually one I’m using as I’ve found no existing term for this kind of data.

  • Barry

    This is good stuff. Good timing for me too because I’m writing on the topic of knowing your site’s audience. So, I’ll introduce the socialgraphics idea. However, I definitely will not be advising anybody to “forget demographics.” I suppose your headline helps get attention, but I really hope you’re not telling any marketers to actually take that literally.

  • Great insights. This type of post is a veritible education for free. Thank You!

  • Since everything else has shifted to incorporate social media into the mix i definitely agree with this blog post! You can learn so much from your target audience through their social media sites. I hope this will soon be in all reports about potential target audiences.

  • Anonymous

    A excellent new term for pharmaceutical marketers to consider.  With the complex enviornment of influence in the social dialogue, it becomes key to understand the viral nature of how information moves, who is influential in the process – beyond Klout – influential on the specify topic of discussion.  
    Along with the new complexity comes new opportunities for the more creative marketer with the right tools.
    Jack J Florio, CBO – LiquidGrids 

  • Christopher Rollyson

    @twitter-29827578:disqus , thanks for drawing attention to the importance of understanding one’s audience more deeply. I think your reference to “experience teams” is particularly apt; it’s one I often use, but very few CxOs understand it. As you imply, it’s particularly relevant when understanding people in social venues because it provides tacit as well as explicit knowledge of the subject; you see people “in context.” At my firm, we believe in the importance of context so much that we focus on it. Social *is* contextual, and I really like how you draw this out by emphasizing that [the same] demographic or psychographic could act very differently in another venue. All you have to do is look at your own behavior; most of us will conduct ourselves quite differently at a PTA meeting, a soccer game or at Orchestra Hall. It’s the same online! One thing I’d like to add that’s even more important than the “quality” and breadth of audience research one conducts: the motivation behind it. 99% of firms’ behavior in social venues hasn’t changed since the 50s; it’s still seeing people as “consumers” and selling. In my experience, the key to unlocking the social business network effect is to really care. So use research to show that you care, and show this by responding and adding value in the audience’s terms, not yours. Firms that do this now are in the minority, but they increase trust and depth of relationship quickly. Caring is like pornography: few people can describe it, but they know it when they see it. Thanks again for a great post!

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  • We’re in the process of forming a 2-yr marketing strategy for a large entertainment promoter, and are centering the majority of our plan and efforts around social segmentation. This article hits the heart of our discussion with our clients. Well written Neicole. -makeitmindful

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