How Customer Personas can help you develop deeper engagement with Social Media fans


It’s the plaintive call that I first hear from so many business owners.  How do we grab the attention of new customers on the sprawling terrain that is social media?  What exactly does it take to be a cut above the hoards of inane tweets, posts and boasts that litter social media newsfeed?  Is it possible to be engaging and develop real customer relationships in the midst of this ‘message-a-minute’ culture.

Let’s just rewind a few steps, before I address the above questions. When planning a business strategy, most companies will quickly seek to establish a niche market for their product or service. Following on, a list of categories will be drafted up stating the location, spend potential, age and gender of the ideal target customer.  No doubt, their ‘pain point’ or existing competitor brand preferences will be also be added to the list.   This is all well and good as a starting point but it still doesn’t really help us to see the world from our customer’s perspective.

In my previous life as a corporate website producer, I came across forward-thinking digital agencies who recommended writing a selection of customer personas at the start of each new web development project.  These "factional" stories came out of some deeper customer research.  Each persona has a name, an age, a career, family life and education history that is fleshed out further still with a description of his or her learning style, attitudes, expectations, motivations and experience goals.    The personas were then circulated to everyone involved with the project and these stories helped inform the decisions made about the website copy & design and the potential pathways created to respond to different types of customer behaviour.

This year, I’ve resurrected and reworked the idea of using customer personas and applied it to the development of social media content.  I find the process of writing fiction, based on real life scenarios, opens up a creative stream of ideas.  If I took the alternative route of looking for inspiration from a page of statistics, I am pretty sure the ideas would not flow so freely!

For example, earlier this summer I was working with one of my West End restaurant clients to brainstorm ideas for seasonal Facebook campaigns.  One of their key target customer groups is 20 something, female, aspirational and very sociable.  She enjoys meeting up with her female friends after work and she likes to chat about life and love over a few swish cocktails. When it came to the World Cup, we struggled to think how we could put a spin on the event for our purposes.  But as soon as we asked the question, “what would Lucy do?” it all became very clear.  Lucy will probably wave goodbye to her boyfriend for the next two weeks as he and his mates become completely engrossed in the soccer fest.  It’s likely that she’ll plan plenty of ‘girl-only’ evenings to help her get away from the beer cans, pizza and football in the living room.   In response, we devised a ‘No Ball Games’ series of posts that started with a photo of a  ‘No Ball Games’ park sign and an invitation to flee the World Cup coverage and come to our ‘No Ball Games Zone’ at the restaurant.  There ‘Lucy’ and her friends could join us for a ‘Complementary Cocktail’ with meals ordered during match times throughout the World Cup.  The first post created a real buzz with very high levels of engagement so we knew we had a hit a successful vein.  Later over the tournament, we posted reminder notes with photos of boyfriend types lounging on the sofa watching TV with beer and pizza, as a little reminder regarding our ‘escape plan’.

On-going customer benefits can also be identified with this process as you start to see the business product or services you offer through the eyes of your customer.  For example, I recently wrote a number of personas for an adult education college I consult for.  As I wrote, I started to think about how the students would arrive at the College.  I realised that some of our customers would value the fact that there are several “Boris Bike” docking stations in very close proximity to the College.  When you are a student, you are often looking to save costs, so accentuating the fact that there is a cheap way to travel to and from the College could be a clincher when getting students to sign up.   On Facebook, we can remind fans of the service and provide links to the local docking stations especially close to the sign up periods in late Summer and before the January term begins.

Finally, here are a few key points to consider when applying customer personas within your business.

1.    Firstly, make sure to ask the question, does this customer persona use social media?  It’s true that social media has developed a very large reach, but this process won’t work on Facebook, Twitter et al if your target isn’t hanging out there in the first place.

2.    Don’t create too many personas.  If you can keep it to three or four, it helps people within your business to recall the stories more readily.  Something that is easily remembered is more likely to be used.

3.    In your social media planning meetings, always ask ‘What’s important to XXX this week?’  Social media thrives on timely, current content so make sure to reflect that and you’ll inject added oomph to your posts.

Now I've reconnected with this powerful idea, I'm not going to drop it in a hurry!  If you’ve also got any stories about using customer personas for social media, I’d love to hear your experiences.  Or if you have any further questions about the process, why not drop me a note below.