Defining Your Target Market Using Social Media Data

When you use social media data to define a target audience, market research can become fun again. Follow the six steps in our guide to see how.

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You are in the middle of your business plan for setting up an e-commerce business, and it suddenly says "market research." Don’t panic, this is not necessarily a long and dusty process, or an expensive project to outsource; you can do it from right where you are, with the tools you have at your disposal.

You might even be more advanced in your market research than you think, as you have probably collected early user feedback for your business. That is the case if, for example, you have performed a crowdfunding project for your business or run a beta-testing cycle for your product.

User insight — data feedback from your market and your end-users — is the key to defining a target audience. Let’s take a look at the practical ways in which you can define your target market by going through the six steps in our process.

Six steps for enriching your persona

The six steps in defining a target market can be considered a repeatable process for enriching your persona definition.

Here are our 6 steps to finding your target audience:

  • Client personas and product fit
  • Hashtags and keyword territories
  • Review mining
  • Audience insights
  • Similar audiences and conversion feedback
  • Persona enrichment and documentation

Overview: What is a target market?

A target market is the audience you aim to sell your product or service to. A target market example can be found in this classical segmentation process: You define a target market in terms of its geographic, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic characteristics.

But let’s take this down one level of complexity. One of the benefits of social media for small business, is the data-rich feedback loop between you and your clients.

Every interaction you have with your marketing audience generates data points, which you can analyze in order to continuously improve the definition of your target market.

How to define your target market right now

With social media, the notion of market research has changed from something static to something dynamic; you can continually acquire data to improve your understanding of the target market.

For this reason, the concept of the "persona" as the personification of your target market has won its way into the modern marketers’ way of working.

The starting point for the process is to define your basic set of personas from your product or service functionalities — the ideal end-user types. When that is done, you start the process of defining your target market. Let’s start with your initial personas.

Step 1: Client personas and product fit

Your product or service was built for a purpose, and will fit with certain personality types, age groups, or nationalities.

This basic segmentation is your first step in identifying your initial three or four personas, who represent your initial market segmentation.

Chances are you already have them defined from when you made an initial social media marketing plan or when you first described your product concept in the product development process.

Step 2: Hashtags and keyword territories

Some of the important vehicles for targeting in digital marketing are keywords and hashtags. In this step we will plug into the collective knowledge of the internet to define the keywords and hashtags that are associated with your personas and their needs.

We therefore need to think of your personas in the light of hashtags and keyword territories. A little bit of SEO (search engine optimization) knowledge and a little bit of social media auditing will come in handy at this stage.

A good way to start is to think about the stages in the user journey for each persona: In the Awareness phase, where users first become conscious of a need they have, what would this persona search for on Google?

Move on to the Consideration phase, where buyers start to investigate what options are out there, to identify common interrogations and queries. Add these as keywords to each persona.

To understand what keywords users are looking for, you can use tools like Google Trends, the Google Ads keyword tool or one of the many commercial keyword tools you will find for SEO, Paid Search, or Amazon marketing, such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, and SearchMetrics.

Let's move on to social media: What hashtags would qualify the needs of your persona and thus enable you to target him or her? You can search directly within your social media accounts, or use external tools like

Add these to each persona as well. The picture of your target personas is beginning to take form. To push this even further, you could start using social listening, which is one of the functionalities you will find in some of the best social media management tools.

Step 3: Review mining

The next step in our process is to dig deeper into the opinions and views that users express about your product or service. It is a somewhat exotic and time-consuming process, but it is rich in insight and user feedback.

User reviews are publicly available on all the major internet platforms, and you can browse through individual reviews for your own products or services as well as those of your competitors.

Log in to Amazon, Google, or Facebook, put your miners hat on, and start digging for golden insights. You should be looking for user criteria for selecting a product, for user wording when describing it, and for strengths and weaknesses they express for both your own and your competitors’ end users.

Be aware that there can be fake reviews, but even those can sometimes be useful to define the key characteristics of your offering.

You should also remember that you should differentiate your brands from your competitors and not necessarily adopt all the characteristics you identify from researching reviews on their products.

Beyond building your personas, this rich experience can also fuel your entire social media strategy, as you will be able to formulate the arguments and use the words that resonate with your target.

Step 4: Audience insights

Through steps 1, 2, and 3, you have now built an initial segmentation of your market based on qualitative traits. You can take those insights into the social media platforms to quantify what they represent and thereby get a feeling for audience sizes.

If you have a business page on Facebook, you have access to Facebook's analytics, called Facebook Insights, where you can estimate the market size for the persona you identify via basic demographic and geographic settings coupled with a definition of interests that correspond to your persona keywords.

As your aim is to define the target market on social media and a large majority of the population has a Facebook account, it is a fair approximation to use the market sizes from Facebook as a general measure for the market size.

Screenshot of Facebook Audience Insights

In this view from Facebook insights, we see the market size for persons interested in "Entrepreneurship" and "Family" between the ages of 25 and 60 based in Paris, France.

This data has two weaknesses that you need to be aware of. Firstly, it is exploratory data based on estimations and therefore less reliable than social media analytics data from real media activity.

Secondly, the data is based on data sets like users' ad preferences and are good approximations but not fully reliable, as you will realize if you scroll through your own preferences.

Step 5: Similar audiences and conversion feedback

At this stage, you should have a good description of a number of personas representing a market segment as well as an estimated market size for each. This may be enough for you to define which market should be your target, so this next step is optional.

In step 5, you'll need to run a marketing campaign to get real-life data and discover broader segments. If you have used a CRM database to segment your audience, you can use this same segment to find similar audiences via social media platforms.

This requires the platform to use your database to find similar users. In practice, you will upload an encrypted list of your client segment’s individual email addresses, allowing the social media to match this against its own database, and thereby gain access to the online characteristics of your target audience.

This process of using first-party data for online marketing is subject to privacy regulations, and should be done with the utmost respect for and confidentiality of the user data.

Via the custom audience generated from matching your user segment with its own data, the social network can then generate a new and bigger audience, which holds characteristics in common with your initial segment.

This process allows you to expand your audience and discover broader segments of users who could be integrated into your target audience. Measuring the level of engagement and conversion from campaigns addressing the new audience will validate the usefulness of the new audience.

Step 6: Persona enrichment and documentation

You now have done the necessary research for defining your target market. You know the characteristics of its members and the size of the market. Comparing your personas, you may need to estimate the buying frequency and order values they represent before choosing your main target market.

At this point, you should store your learnings in a work file with a format that allows you to reuse and improve it over time, and that interacts with your marketing analytics.

The process should be thought of as a repeating cycle, allowing you to constantly improve your insights and understanding of user behavior and needs.

Target market frequently asked questions

What is a persona?

A persona is a visual representation of a market segment described as if it were a real person. Personas have names and mottos. Their jobs and life routines are described, as well as their motivations and interests.

Special care is given to understanding pain points and challenges. There is a mix of geographic, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic elements added to the description.

What is first-party data?

We distinguish three types of data: First-party data typically refers to the client and user data you have. This could be the information that resides in your CRM system.

This is opposed to second-party data, which will be the information a social network holds about your users. Finally, third-party data would be data you acquire from a third party that enriches the data you can access via a social network.

How do you respect private data?

There is a movement toward a higher respect of users’ data. The European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), provide rules and recommendations for the respect of privacy.

One should avoid storing nominative personal data and always ask for consent for the usage. The use of first-party data as outlined in this process requires user consent at the time of data capture.

What is differentiation?

When you are reviewing user feedback on your competitor’s products or services, it is important to remember that your own brand positioning shouldn’t directly copy that of your competitors.

That would not make your brand stand out as something special, and would force you to compete on price only. Differentiation is the process of emphasizing your uniqueness and special positioning as opposed to your direct competitors.

Target the persona who represents the market

You have defined your target market via a persona, hashtags, and keywords, and estimated the market size for your target audience.

Your marketing meetings will become much more fun, as you discuss how to persuade "Franklin, the urban hipster" into a trial of your new product, rather than looking at segment 23B and its demographic characteristics.

Social media has empowered person-to-person communication, and personifying a target market makes your social media marketing much easier; you also know exactly what keywords and hashtags will trigger their interests. And in the process, we have made creating a target market a fun exercise.

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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Amazon, and Facebook and recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.