A few years ago, I developed what I thought was the perfect monthly financial newsletter, aimed at my client's audience of active investors – i.e., people who trade in the markets day in and day out.
Figuring we had a pretty sophisticated group of readers, my team and I came out of the gate with deep dives into complex investing and "aspirational" trading strategies. The newsletter we created for our client delved into esoteric topics like futures, options and foreign exchange trading, along with a sprinkling of articles on investing, retirement and personal finance.
After we tracked engagement for a few issues, to my surprise, readers weren't giving their time and attention to those sophisticated strategy pieces we were most proud of, but instead to those that focused on retirement investment strategies and 101-type trading information, such as "How to Read a Stock Chart."
What were my choices? I could ignore the data and risk losing the audience, or I could alter the strategy by bumping up the retirement and personal finance articles and reducing the number of complex trading articles. Figuring it's not worth having a great newsletter that no one reads, I went with the second strategy. Not too hard a choice, in retrospect.
In time, the audience grew more sophisticated and began showing an appetite for articles on more complex subjects. We'd had the right idea, but we were too early. The audience was learning, and every month, my team and I listened. As we tracked engagement, we eventually returned to our original article mix.
The epiphany came after I read the room. Though we stumbled at first, I learned the importance of understanding my audience and using the right tools to engage them. It's not enough to simply know your audience. For niche topics like active investing, you need to be ready to scrap your best-laid plans to meet your audience on their turf. This requires effort. You have to find out where they are and listen closely for what they need.
Social media marketing allows you to find your audience, listen to them and respond in the right ways by taking the following steps.
1. Hang out on your audience's street.
There was a time when it was relatively straightforward to find customers. The corner-drugstore owner picked a neighborhood with foot traffic and a growing population and simply threw open the doors. Today, it's more complicated, with so much business done online. Your potential customers might be anywhere in the digital world. To narrow the search, it helps to use some common listening tools that automatically monitor posts and communications to track what customers are saying.
You can first try using Google's free Keyword Planner and Google Trends, or go straight to something more powerful like BuzzSumo or Moz. Other options to consider are social media tools like Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Talkwalker, all of which can identify trending topics, seek out specific mentions, and spot leaders and influencers in your industry.
2. Quiet down and listen.
Once you find where your audience gathers, it's time to listen. If you don't know how to listen to your customers, you'll have a hard time attracting and keeping them.
My newsletter would have ended up in subscribers' "round file" had I ignored what they were reading. Don't look to conversation marketing as a way to stroke your ego, nor to book immediate sales. Instead, think of it as a research process where you'll develop a better understanding of your potential customers so you can eventually join the conversation, engage and interact.
3. Consider enlisting outside help.
Once you have a good sense of your potential customers' areas of interest, one idea that often lets you jump into the conversation without tooting your own horn is to harness the energy of respected experts and engaged customers already taking part in the discussion to help tell your story.
Having a micro-influencer who's a "super fan" of your product is like having a built-in brand ambassador. In one case, a butcher-paper manufacturer found online evidence of a group of customers who were passionate about the product. The company then featured these customers' plaudits in a social media campaign that highlighted actual experience using the brand's distinctive pink butcher paper for barbecue. Hearing straight from users was far more influential than from a paid copywriter, and it helped draw trade media attention as well. Sales grew more than tenfold.
You may not run a newsletter. And you probably don't sell butcher paper. Whatever your business, however, the same rules apply about reading the room and using the right tools to connect to your audience. When you start a conversation, you need to be on the same page as your audience. In my case, I could only do this by shutting up and actively listening. Pivoting the editorial strategy ultimately led to improved audience affinity for our client's brand because we met their information needs progressively.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.