How Brands Can Improve Customer Targeting in Social Media (or How Circles Takes the Square)

If you’ve read this blog for a while (or just checked out its archives), you understand the importance that I put on segmentation, targeting, and positioning.  You can’t run a successful marketing campaign, online or offline, unless you know that you’re sending the right message to the right people.  While social media channels have allowed fans to engage and converse with their favorite brands, the ability of brands to send a message to the right segments of their audience has remained limited; either they can broadcast a message to everyone (not very targeted), or they can send out individual messages (an expensive proposition).

How it works on Facebook

Facebook is able to target the members of their audience who self-select themselves as brand followers through “fan-gating” or “like-gating”.  That is, brands can broadcast a message only to those who have clicked the Like button on their fan page.  However, people may click a Like button for many reasons (to enter a promotion, to support a friend who runs the brand’s page, etc.) that have nothing to do with a purchase decision.  How does a brand know how to position itself when it doesn’t know who the segment is that it’s targeting?

(I wondered at first why it was that the targeting ability of Facebook’s ad infrastructure was so precise while that of its fan pages’ was such a blunt instrument.  Then I realized that Facebook makes money off the former but not the latter.  I guess you get what you pay for.)

Brands have sought other ways to segment their Facebook page audience.  For example, Audi USA uses a Klout application to “influence-gate” its page. Depending on their Klout scores, visitors may be offered a free wallpaper or ringtone after they click the Like button.  However, there is no way to express why you are going to the page (you may just be there to test out the new Klout app you read about on Mashable like I was), and the brand’s ability to target the recipient of its page updates is unchanged.

How it could work on Google+

When Google+ launched a few weeks ago, the first features that caught my eye and got my imagination going was Circles.  For those who haven’t used them, Circles are a user-driven segmentation tool.  You can put the people you follow on Google+ into any number of Circles that you define, and then you can set the privacy of your updates so that only specific Circles can see them (on a per-update basis).  While Google+ is only allowing certain brand “test accounts” like Ford to create accounts while its product team finalizes how they want to implement business users, it doesn’t mean I can’t wonder how brands could use Circles.

If Ford, for example, wanted to send out a message to new owners of its vehicle’s on Facebook, it would have to post an update to all followers, including those who didn’t own a Ford vehicle and those who have owned their Ford vehicles for longer than the window Ford is targeting .  However, imagine if Ford dealers gave buyers an opt-in to have their e-mail added to a “New Buyers” Circle.  Now, on Google+, Ford could post updates and deals that only these new buyers could see while still posting general updates to the Public or to a wider range of Circles.

The opt-in, of course, would be essential, lest Google and the brand find itself embroiled in privacy issues.  Brands and Google+ would have to find ways of which users approve to collect or apply the necessary geographic and demographic data to properly segment its followers.  But if they could, imagine how much more appropriate and useful the brand’s messages could be to an individual.  Knowing about an opportunity for Ford customers is one thing, but knowing about a special deal for recent Fusion lessees in the Greater New York metropolitan area?  I, for one, could really benefit from the latter.

If you were a brand, how would you want to use Circles to target your communications to your brand followers?  If you’re a Google+ user, how do you want brands to leverage the tool in targeting you?  Will this make for better social media marketing or just new privacy scandals?

  • stephanie k

    I agree. For brands, Circles seems like a great tool to segment an audience. However, I worry about the work involved in segmenting the audience. I agree with you. Google needs to add functionality to let the individual decide, in a drop down of choices, how he or she would like to be categorized in that company’s Circle (with or without email opt-in). Obviously email opt-in is preferred. Companies aren’t going to be able to categorize each person — this is why few companies utilize Twitter lists. Just my two cents. Interesting post. Goo stuff.

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