How to Speak With Customers on Social When You Aren’t the Target Audience

When trying to establish relationships with customers and grow engagement on social media channels, it’s imperative that you speak to your fans in their language. This is simple if you fit neatly into the brand’s target audience segment. But what if you don’t? What if you are a completely different demographic and have absolutely nothing in common with the audience? How do you get inside their head and learn their tongue?

Over the years, I’ve conversed with many audiences that were very different from me. I’ve created content and managed social media channels for an apparel brand whose audience is women older than 55 (they’ve got just a few years on me), for a firearms distributor brand (hate to label myself but it’s undeniable that I’m a liberal, urban, female vegetarian) and for an online steak and veal supplier (did I mention I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12?). These are the most extreme examples, but there were numerous others that didn’t fit my demographic or psychographic profile in the least. Yet, through research and analysis, I was able to find the right tone and voice to connect with customers and send the proper message. Following are a few tips to finding the right voice and tone to fit your audience:

Create Audience Personas

Think back to your college days and you may remember studying rhetoric in a public speaking or writing course. Rhetoric often has a negative connotation, but it’s really just the art of effective speaking or writing. And it is just important today on social media as it was in that college course (or Ancient Greece, if you really want to bring up some history). One of the main tenets of rhetoric is appealing to your audience. But to do that, you must first know who they are and what motivates them.

It’s helpful to have an audience persona, a single person that is an amalgamation of various audience characteristics, to continuously refer back to. Then you can ask, “Would Kristen repin this image?”, “Would Mark share this blog post?”, or “What adjectives would Meredith use to describe this product?” Ask yourself these questions when creating your content calendar, writing specific social media posts, or developing any type of content that customers will see.

Listen to and Learn From Conversations

Monitor the Web for conversations about your brand, product, and competitors. Listen to recorded customer service phone calls. Visit retail environments to overhear customer interactions. Conduct in-person studies allowing you to spend time with customers and their friends or families in environments familiar to them. Note the various words and phrases used most frequently, especially as they relate to emotional triggers such as life goals and challenges, frustrations with products or services and daily routines.

One of my clients conducted an extensive ethnographic study with their customers to learn more about their perspective of the brand, products, and their lives. They videotaped some of the conversations, and we noticed that several of the customers used the term “darling” to describe their products. This isn’t necessarily a term they want to use in advertising creative, but it’s perfect to pepper into conversations on Facebook or other social channels.

Don’t Be Afraid to Just Ask

When in doubt, ask! Create surveys or polls designed to get feedback on the terminology used most often by your customers. You don’t have to be blatant in your questioning. Instead, you could create an on-site survey that presents a few products and asks customers to describe each piece. Or run a photo caption contest on Facebook and pull out the words or phrases that appear more often than others. In fact, any type of user-generated content works great as a discrete way to evaluate customer language usage.

Immerse Yourself in Their Interests

What magazines or books does your audience read? What movies and TV shows do they watch? What type of music do they enjoy? Find out and then read, watch, listen, or otherwise engage with these interests. Immerse yourself in the things that appeal to your customers, and you’ll find language cues.

I always think of The Big Lebowski when The Dude hears “this aggression will not stand” on the TV, then starts to use that phrase throughout the movie. Everyone does this – they hear words or phrases and adopt them as their own. You can do the same for your audience by also engaging in the things they frequently engage in.

It can be a trial-and-error process to truly understand how to speak and engage with an audience that is different than you, but that’s the great thing about social media – you have limitless opportunities to test messages, evaluate performance, and learn from the entire process.

How do you find the right voice and tone for your audience?

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