In my last post I talked about a recent social media conference I attended and how it gave me the chance to step away from the chatter about this cool app, that up-and-coming Facebook challenger and the other social media strategy and take a broader view of a new marketing and branding frontier. Because it's such a huge frontier, I promised to break it into a series that addresses each aspect of social media, incorporating insights from the conference, and adding practical application and plain common sense. And I'm going to start by not talking about social media. Because I think it's essential to put the user first. Unless you understand this individual — what inspires and motivates her, how she sets priorities and makes choices, what she aspires to, values, fears and really, really hates — then no matter how many adorable pictures of kittens you post, your brand won't make a dent in her consciousness.
So let's take a look at some demographic info from Google Ad Planner:
1.Women dominate social media. They are the heaviest users of Stumbleupon, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace; men dominate as users of news aggregator Digg and the "what's new" site, Reddit. Men and women use LinkedIn equally. So ... men tend to use social media to acquire information while women use social media to share it. Who knew?
2. Social media users are older than you think. The largest user group is the 35–44 year-old cohort (in terms of sheer numbers, not percentages). This group uses the major outlets equally except for MySpace, which they are so over. After this group comes the 45–54 cohort. Again, it's about numbers; this group includes the tail end of the baby boom generation. They are most likely to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. After kids and teens, they are the heaviest users of MySpace.
Next come 25–34 year-olds, a smaller cohort. Their social media use is evenly spread among sites, with Reddit at the top and MySpace at the bottom. This reflects their preoccupation with cool new stuff and how they dismiss "not-cool old stuff." In short, the top three social media user groups are the ones deciding where to get dinner and how much to spend on it.
3. Social media users are well schooled. The vast majority have at least some college education. Those with college degrees are most likely to be on LinkedIn (duh). Those without diplomas are most likely to use Twitter.
4. Social media users are mostly middle income earners ($50–75K). Again, no surprise, since they make up the bulk of the population anyway. They are followed closely by the $25–49K earners, a group likely to include younger adults. So that's the statistical doo-dah. But it's a dry description of the distracted, busy, quirky individual receiving your brand message.
Stats are great for media planning, but less useful for defining your brand message. For that, you need to grasp the social media user's emotional milieu. It may not be what you expect:
1. The social media user does not want you to define your brand for them, thank you. Social media users will do this themselves in the process of sharing, counter-commenting, defending and debating your brand's merits. If you want to see how this works, find the July 12 Netflix wall post on Facebook announcing its price hike; 81,189 ticked-off comments explain how the company's brand perception plummeted from the top of the rankings to the bottom in two weeks.
I'm not saying you can't control your brand message.I am saying that because of social media, it's not about features and benefits anymore. They are what Alfred Hitchcock would call the McGuffin — what a story is built around but is not about (nobody says North by Northwest is about stolen microfilm). Because with social media ...
2. "It's the experience, stupid." Users discuss how they feel about things. None of the commenters on Culver's Facebook page knows or cares that they source their dairy products right there in Wisconsin. They care about how delicious their bacon burger was or how disappointed they were that the new Tucson location was so packed they couldn't get in, or how much fun Zyanya had there on her birthday.
3. Social media users are recessionistas. At the same time social media was blasting off, its heaviest users (middle Americans) were watching the economy bottom out. While social sites have been growing up, their consumer-users have been growing savvier, pickier, more value-oriented and more likely to use social media to tell their friends what's a great deal ... and what's not.
These are broad strokes, a larger view of how social media has changed the world your restaurant brand inhabits. To fill in the fine detail, you'll need frank, formal input from people who use (or don't use) your concept. You'll also need to know how they prefer to receive your brand message on social media sites and what devices they are most likely to receive it on.
It matters more than you might guess. Find out why in my next post.
Lori Walderich is chief creative officer at IdeaStudio, a chain restaurant marketing and promotions firm. Her company helps restaurant clients align their branding and implement strategic marketing plans to achieve consistent, sustainable growth.