In developing the Twitter strategy for the government department I work for, I gave our target audience a lot of thought. We have a mountain of information, but want to roll out slowly in order to work through issues with our procedures. So, who would be our initial target market?
Though I believe this is a sound approach for a large organization, what about small and medium businesses? Or one-person shops, like consultants or authors? If you’re using Twitter, blogs or other social media tools, do you need to define your target audience? Or, should you discuss topics of interest and let your target audience find you?

Traditional Media: Define Your Target Market

In traditional media, defining your target market is vital. Know who your product is aimed at and shape messages that resonate with them. Find where they look for information and put your messages in those places.
What makes this necessary is the cost in time, effort and money needed to produce a TV spot, print ad and even a large corporate site. Expensive marketing tools need to increase sales and ultimately net a profit to justify their existence.
This reflects the “push” reality of traditional media.

Social Media is a Free, Pull Medium

Social media—blogs, Twitter, Facebook—is free, so the traditional measure of spending X dollars to reach a certain group in order to yield a Y increase in sales doesn’t apply. Further, social media is not a push, but a pull or put medium.
While a major advertising budget can use traditional media to drive traffic to your social media, it’s not the only way to be found.

Getting Found in Social Media

Rather than finding those you want to put a major advertisement in front of, social media has people finding you in one of three ways:

  • As a major brand name, be it Coca-Cola, NASCAR, Stephen King or Barack Obama
  • Participating in discussions and getting noticed
  • Being found via search

The first item will either happen by having a major advertising budget or building your brand via the last two items. Both of which are probably out of your control.
The second two items don’t require money, but time, effort and—most importantly—valuable information injected into the social media space. This can be accomplished by anyone, especially smaller organizations with more flexibility than larger organizations that are slower in adapting to changes in the business environment.

So What To Do?

A large organization, with a vast variety of stake holders and target audiences, should define its target audience—who is likely to be on Twitter and benefit from the release of bite-sized information. Going too broad, too fast can lead to confusing or cluttering your social media presence.
Everyone else—medium-sized operations to single-person efforts—is better off defining the content you will produce and let those who are interested in it find you. That is, your target audience becomes those who are interested in what you have to say.
Afterall, defining a target audience excludes a large number of prospective clients. A luxury car company might aim at an older, professional audience at the exclusion of wealthy young people or older people of modest income but might save up for a luxury car.
In social media, you do not need to exclude anyone. Furthermore, your Twitter feed can be found just as easily as a major international brand.
So contribute valuable information, become engaged in conversations and respect the evolving etiquette in the social media space.
Overtime, perhaps your followers and readers will develop an interest and appreciation for what you’ve said and contact you should they need your goods or services. Though a little longer to realize and harder to measure, it is still a return on investment on using social media without targeting a certain group at the exclusion of others.