How to Understand Your Target Groups with Digital Listening

Whether your organization vies to reach millennials scrolling “the gram” or aims to pique the interest of clinicians with a new medical device, marketers need to understand how their efforts impact their key target audiences, to develop and adjust branding or overall strategies.

Traditionally, marketers looked to surveys to poll the opinions of these people and analyze their perceptions. The problem with surveys, however, is that they don’t accurately depict the present. Rather, they capture feelings expressed during a moment in time — feelings that can be easily influenced and changed by new events and information in minutes.

Digital listening across platforms, such as social media, websites, and public forums, on the other hand, provides advanced insights into stakeholder and industry perceptions. It allows marketers, in a more real-time manner, to better identify and characterize potential clients and their influencers, such as vendors in their supply chain, government figures, shareholders and investors, and to holistically understand how their brand is perceived. It can be used to determine things like:

  • How big a target audience is for a particular organization
  • What forums the audience uses to talk about key topics
  • How much impact a group of people may have on others

No matter your business model, digital listening can help organizations understand key groups of people. You may just need to adapt how, where, and what you listen to depending on each group. Learn how these six target groups can provide savvy digital “listeners” with actionable data.

1. Consumers

The most straightforward of all — and likely a disenchanting first group to discuss — consumers are almost always going to be an organization’s main target group. For this group, listeners should look to usual social media channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as product review sites like Amazon and Best Buy, to gauge their perceptions. A simple spot check of these sites, including their customer review score, number of stars, and general amount of consumer engagement, may quickly tell an organization how it’s perceived in the eyes of its consumer group. More reputation analysis combines this data with other publicly available information, such as demographics or environmental factors that can uncover specific perceptions across this target group.

2. Companies

To understand this group, listeners should monitor digital sources where companies talk about the vitality, outlook, social outreach, and the overall position of their business. Quarterly reports, annual reports, and press releases, for example, will give you an understanding of how a company is doing financially, what markets it is moving into, where it is investing resources, and so forth. Social media channels or industry community sites also may have discussions about how others are perceiving other companies. Beyond that, and unlike B2C organizations, which tend to have a larger pool of potential customers, B2B organizations must ensure that their brand’s perception remain positive in the eyes of other organizations. So for a B2B organization, you may want to mine your internal digital data, such as customer service call logs or sales notes, to understand what is positively or negatively impacting perceptions. One negative issue can quickly spread and cause the organization’s (already narrow) target market to think twice before engaging with them.

3. Specialty Groups

For this group, think doctors in healthcare or commodity buyers in energy. Interestingly, doctors and nurses tend to portray themselves as consumers, not professionals, on social media. So rather than relying on Facebook to get their clinical viewpoint on a topic, marketers need to search further to online forums like Reddit or industry-specific sites like SERMO, which is a global social network for doctors. For an outsider of these specialty groups, it can be hard to know what channels they use, much less their characteristics, so this market research is oftentimes best left to the professionals. For organizations that produce highly custom solutions, such as chemical compounds, and only have a handful of customers, they’ll want to seek information about a specialty groups’ values, pipeline, and supply chain to determine how their organization can fit in and effectively market to them.

4. Governments

Depending on your industry, there are many ways government can play a role. For the pharmaceutical or food and beverage industry, it may be the Food & Drug Administration that regulates your product or service, while for technology companies, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may be a key player in your world. Beyond industry regulators, politicians themselves can influence your brand’s industry perception based on their upcoming legislations and stances on issues that surround your space. Staying abreast of government policy and how individual politicians are reacting to it by tracking specific discussions in political publications and reports, such as Politico or The Hill, can help you understand this group better and prepare your brand for upcoming changes in your industry.

5. Shareholders

This group includes investors, hedge funds, brokerage firms, and other movers and shakers who have the ability to influence your organization’s activity or perception. To “listen” to this group, you’ll want to pay attention to the economy and financial media; consult CNBC, Financial Times, and other useful outlets. Portfolios of large hedge funds and financial firms can also help you understand how your brand might be perceived in their eyes. This type of information can be invaluable to your organization’s long-term plan and marketing strategy. The big thing with shareholder data, relative to the other target groups we discussed, is to be careful that you don’t confuse intelligence with reputation. You can learn more about the dynamics of reputation here. For example, normal sentiment of positive and negative may not apply, but they may opening-rate your company as a buy, sell or hold in their portfolio. Although the information gleaned from digital listening at the shareholder level can be quantitative, you want to interpret the data from this exercise for its perspective on perceptions, not direct buying habits.

6. Employees

Deemed the most important asset by organizations, employees are a critical target group as their perceptions and subsequent actions can impact culture, talent recruitment, productivity, attrition, and more. Traditionally, organizations looked to anonymous surveys to gauge feedback — and while that can work for a pulse check once in a while, it doesn’t get to the nitty gritty or the authentic feedback that real culture-makers need. Among the best digital listening tools for employee perception are sites like Glassdoor, Ladders, and Indeed, which all offer a platform for anonymous reviews and scores.

Digital media can even tell an organization a lot about employee engagement: Are employees proud to tout their position or the organization name in their personal profiles or on Glassdoor? Are employees actively liking, sharing, and commenting on your organization’s posts? These actions speak volumes about whether employees are proud of and engaged with the organization.

By understanding how target groups perceive your organization, you can make more informed decisions about your product pipeline, supply chain, co-marketing or partnership strategies, regulatory concerns, financial projections, and culture.

Digital listening, beyond surveys and euphemistic feedback, provides a holistic and authentic look at how your most important target groups and influencers perceive your organization and industry. From multiple dimensions, digital reputation plays a major role in an organization’s ability to thrive in today’s marketplace, and with digital listening tools readily available, there’s no excuse to not keep tabs on the most influential people in your network.

Look out for our next blog, where we’ll be discussing the elements of digital reputation (think: trust, awareness, and familiarity) and what they mean for you.   

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