Social Media: Vanity vs. Effectiveness
Are your followers actually potential customers?
Whether you love social media or hate it, it’s definitely a very effective way to connect with paying customers. Learning how to use a customer persona will help you create a simple measurable benchmark to help guide all of your social media decisions while allowing you to see if your efforts are effective or not.
Knowing who your target customer is for a small business or startup is more important than ever these days—it’s way too expensive to try and market to everyone.
Unfortunately, I speak from experience when I tell you it’s easy to invest an enormous amount of time and money with little, or nothing, to show for it in return.
When we started Virtual Collective eight years ago, we learned a lot about creating content for the wrong customer.
At that time, we had no idea how to find and target customers, or how to collect and analyze data. We jumped right into writing blogs and posting content on social media channels without having a plan in place for who we thought was our ideal customer. We were obviously missing something because our followers were not turning into customers, and our customers weren’t even our followers. There was a big disconnect.
Followers vs. Customers
Who doesn’t like having a bunch of followers on Instagram and likes on Facebook? But think about it: if those people following and liking aren’t buying what you’re selling, they’re nothing but vanity metrics. You need to evaluate how much time you spend on creating content for followers vs. customers.
At Virtual Collective, we spent a year creating tons of content without a real plan in place to measure or track our efforts. Although I had heard of “customer personas” before, I thought that “small business owner in need of digital services” checked that box, so that’s who we were aiming for.
It wasn’t until I discovered that there was a whole lot more to customer personas that I realized the magnitude of our honest mistake.
Identify your customer, not your market
We created some really great content, but it was for the wrong customer—because if you think about it, what small business owner doesn’t need digital services? It’s important to target your ideal customer, not your ideal market. “Small business owner” is a market, not a customer.
We had been inadvertently trying to reach the small business owner who didn’t necessarily know what they needed. They also required a lot of education and hand-holding, only to discover that they really didn’t have the budget for us to manage and execute what they actually needed.
Theo and Susan were totally different
I knew for a fact that the few “Theo” clients we did have were not looking for blog posts online about “How to Set Up Your Facebook Business Page”, and they definitely didn’t care about our Instagram posts showing me at home with my sick kid working on my laptop.
And while we loved working with “Susan”, our services were too much of a stretch for their budgets. We couldn’t afford to keep working for free and expect to stay in business. So we decided to embrace Theo and Susan’s unique characteristics and started focusing on defining our services to match their specific needs better.
Now, Virtual Collective targets the “Theo” persona for our marketing services—and for the “Susan” customers, we built a course and coaching program designed to help “Susan” succeed even though she might not be ready for a full virtual team yet.
Lots of followers, but not enough customers?
Let’s talk about another common problem: lots of followers, but not enough customers. Which might sound like a great problem that you wish you had, but If you were to really look at your followers, what would you find?
Did you go to high school with them? Are they in your mom’s bunco group? These are the people you can depend on for shares, likes, and reposts—not for sales.
Those are your FFFs
What’s an “FFF”? A friend, family member, or follower. These are your loyal fans, not necessarily loyal fans of your product, and they are often different than customers. They might not even quite understand exactly what you do, but they might refer one of their friends to use your services, and you can be damn sure that they will “like” every one of your posts!
Don’t get me wrong, in no way are lots of followers a bad thing, but it’s important to recognize that these people are not really helping your bottom line. It’s your customers that are the people who do help your bottom line. They’re the ones buying what you are selling. They will engage with the content on your social channels, and they’re willing to click through to your website and buy your stuff, show up to your event, or sign up for your newsletter.
These are the people who don’t necessarily have a personal connection with you but they share your aesthetic, they speak your language, and they have the money and interest to follow through help you make a sale.
The goal is to find that sweet spot where the two groups overlap. This is that magical area where your followers have a better chance of becoming an active customer.
The good news is, it’s not magic—it’s methodical. You can actually move more followers into that circle by intentionally creating a measurable customer persona. The whole point of social media is to connect and build strong relationships with your customer. It also gives you the ability to reach them where they are and bring them back to your website.
You have a lot of people at your fingertips that you can learn more about, so why not create a detailed persona to help target your ideal customer and spark engagement?
As a side note, we strongly urge you to not even think about investing in paid ads until you do this step!
Your ideal customer might be different than you think
Don’t forget to leave room for the possibility that who you THINK your target customer is might not actually be the case.
Don’t be tempted to take any of this personally. In our case, we had two completely different personas and it actually hurt us to try and cater to both audiences with the same content. Discovering that we needed to adjust and re-focus our efforts was a game-changer. I just wanted to warn you that the outcome of this exercise might be different than your assumptions, so stay open to new possibilities!
Some of you might also be thinking that, like us, you had already defined your customer persona already. We thought we had a pretty clear idea of who Susan was, but we eventually learned our assumptions were based on opinions and impossible to measure!
To help you avoid the same kind of mistakes we’ve made I thought I’d share the process that helped us demystify how to create a customer persona.
Once we learned that there are three main types of factors to consider when defining your customer persona it suddenly made a lot of sense. In our course, Know Your Data Know Your Customer, we have assembled questions for each factor designed to help you identify three different types of basic measurable information. I’ve included several examples of each type of question to help you get started.
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Factor No. 1: Demographics
Start by gathering some basic facts about your customer.
Demographics are measurable facts. Think about statistics. This is how we sort and organize populations. These are black and white truths, don’t make any assumptions here. To find your customers demographics you can ask questions like:
Are they a male or female?
Do they have children?
Where do they live?
How much is their annual household income?
Factor No. 2: Psychographics
Now, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about how they make decisions.
The next factor is psychographics. You’ve probably been hearing this word lately in the news. This is the kind of information that can get companies into trouble if used incorrectly. It gets sketchy when this information is used without your customers’ knowledge. However, it is important to identify these factors when defining your ideal customer, because you have to step into their mind. Psychographics are still measurable, but they do require some assumptions.
Hint: It’s helpful to have a real-life customer example. For us, we looked at our favorite client and made assumptions about him and how he made decisions.
What do they believe?
How frustrated are they by their problem?
What do they fear?
Why will this customer trust you?
Factor No. 3: Behavioral
Your customer’s actions speak louder than words.
Behavioral factors are determined by your customer’s actions. In this step, you will get to think more like a detective.
What does a typical day in the life of your customer look like?
What are their buying habits?
Test and Refine Your Assumptions
Once you have your persona defined, what should you do next?
This is where you test and refine— and patience is 100% required. In order to measure your persona, you’ll want to set a goal or “conversion”. This can be as technical (or non-technical) as you want. Honestly, the easier the better. Ask yourself: what is it that you want people to do? Do you want them to show up to an event? Buy a product? Sign up for your email list? This is your goal.
Once you set your initial goal, STOP. Give your hard work time to perform. Give your targeted customers time to find and engage with your content. I have found that three months is a good amount of time to monitor and track your efforts before drastically changing anything.
Remember, All Data is Good Data
If you were spot on with your customer persona, great! Keep up the good work. And if you were right but still aren’t seeing any increase in sales, no new followers, and no new signups for your email list, this can still be good news. That’s the beauty of data collection: you can see where you were wrong, and you can see where you need to make adjustments. Maybe you need to tweak their age or their occupation—or maybe they don’t have a pet. Point is, now you know who not to target. You already know your product is fantastic, you just need to find the people who agree with you.
Marketing to everyone is expensive, so evaluate how much time you spend on creating content for your followers vs. customers.
Follow the 3 Main Factors when defining your customer persona.
Test and refine your assumptions by setting goals.