Monday, August 16, 2010

New Frontiers!

You've heard it before, "If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world."  This is really just another way of saying, "There are a LOT of people using Facebook these days."  As a small business owner or non-profit, it's natural that you see the potential of social media and your heart beats a little faster, your eyes get a little wider, you salivate at the thought of so many potential customers. 

With so many users on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and every other social media platform, reaching new audiences seems like it should be an easy task.  But as many of you know, it's not as simple as it sounds.  To use an old business cliche; reaching new audiences requires you to think "outside of the box," particularly when using social media to do so. 

Identify, Target, Pursue:

When you initially enter the social media fray, your first instince will be to simply post your messages randomly to your existing audience.  This is fine.  It will help you establish a base from which to grow.  This is true for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  You have friends, family, existing customers, staffers that will sign up and gladly read your posts.  And this is a great way to establish a solid base. The more you post, and the more interesting and entertaining your posts are, the more your links will be forwarded and retweeted and sent out to thousands of new sets of eyes who may not know you yet. 

The issue comes when you're ready to take the next step and stop talking to those who are already familiar with your organization and want to branch out to new audiences.

Many clients I work with already have a solid group of followers and friends on their social media sites.  In many cases these number in the hundreds, maybe even over a thousand.  The problem is, these are existing customers or fans.  You're preaching to the choir when you simply maintain the status quo.  In order to truly make an impact on your bottom line through social media, you have to reach out to new audiences, speak to those who might not otherwise be interested in your product or service.  You have to shout from the hilltop so everyone can hear you, not just the select few that already follow you or are interested in what you do.

In many cases, this means not only revamping your message a little, but also venturing into areas a little out of your comfort level.  When making this kind of move, you have to do three things:
1.  Target - There are a million different audiences you can target.  Do you want to reach a specific demographic, like, say, women 30 to 50?  Are you trying to reach a competitor's audience?  Are you trying to reach out to an audience that traditionally hasn't used your product or service?  You have to figure out exactly who, or what kind of new audience, you want to go after.

2.  Identify - Once you have targeted your new audiences, you have to figure out how they differ from your current audience.  In some cases the wants, needs, desires of the new audience may overlap your current audience.  In this case, you have to figure out why this new audience isn't already using your product or service.  Maybe your organization seems too old or stuffy, maybe you come across as too expensive.  Maybe you're not viewed as an essential product or service and your new audience can't justify spending money on you during these difficult economic times.  Whatever the reason, you have to identify what their needs and desires are and then tweak your message to appeal to the needs and desires of this new audience.

3.  Pursue - Like any good hunter, or salesman, you have to go where the quarry is.  If you want to reach a primarily female audience, but your friends and followers are mostly men, you have a problem.  You have to go where the women are.  This means joining groups that cater to women or have a strong female following.  This requires a little legwork on your part.  Take a Saturday and browse groups that have a large following of the audience you're trying to reach.  Sign up for as many groups as you feel comfortable with and then begin posting your message in these groups on a regular basis.
A Brand New Brand:

Another mistake many small businesses make when pursuing a new audience is that they feel the need to completely overhaul their message and image.  Again, this is a mistake.  Unless you really feel that a massive change is needed, you're better off simply tweaking your message and image to appeal to the new audience.  A major change could result in losing some of the loyal customers who are comfortable with your organization right now.  A big change could send the message that you're not happy with them as customers and might send them looking for a new organization to do business with. 

You have to stay true to your base message.  You can tweak your image to appeal to a new audience, but if you have built your image on being dependable, traditional and businesslike, then a change to a newer, flashier, more extreme image might bring in a few new customers, but scare off more older ones in the process.  There's no need to completely rebrand yourself when, most of the time, a simple tweak will do the job.

Some Examples:

Here are three examples of organizations trying to reach out to new audiences and how social media has been, or could be, an effective tool.

Non-Traditional Theater:

I spend a lot of my free time performing improv.  I love it, it has become more than just a hobby, it's a way of life now.  I belong to a handful of groups that perform in the Denver area fairly regularly.  Like most big cities, Denver offers a multitude of recreational activities for people to spend their money on.  There are movies, plays, outdoor concerts, amusement parks, four pro sports teams, three major college programs (I'm including Air Force, four if you include DU hockey) and, of course the mountains are a big draw in both summer and winter.

Improv groups face a major challenge to draw an audience.  Unlike traditional theater or stand-up, the vast majority of people don't really understand improv.  It's simply not on the radar for a lot of folks.  Like Burlesque, or rollerderby, it appeals to a specific audience.  Thus, many of the shows are attended by fellow improvisers.  This is great on one level, as it shows community support.  But in order to truly grow the improv "scene", non-improvisers need to attend shows on a regular basis.

But how to reach the new audience?  That is a question that has dogged every improv theater in town for as long as I can remember.  There are really only two improv theaters in town, The Bovine Metropolis Theater, and Impulse Theater.  For the purposes of this example, I will focus on the Bovine, since Impulse, while offering improv, is very limited in its scope, providing only short form which people understand a bit better thanks in large part to the show, "Who's Line Is It Anyway?"

Recently, owner Eric Farone took a look at what was popular among the masses and decided to tweak his usual weekend lineup.  Instead of the normal sketch comedy or double short form improv shows, he created an improv version of American Idol.  It was an improv competition that would crown Denver's Next Improv Star.  Week to week, several improvisers would be put the paces of long form, short form, musical improv, etc.  And each week a panel of judges would vote one performer off the cast.  It was a daring concept and one met with some skepticism in many corners of the improv community. 

The show didn't change the ultimate message or image of the Bovine.  It is still a theater dedicated to all things improv.  But it DID create a format that was readily understandable by the masses.  It also brought in guest judges, as well as their followers, to the theater every Saturday night.  But the show change alone wouldn't be enough to bring in a whole new audience.  That's where social media came in.

One of the first orders of business for the contestants in the show was to create a video about themselves and why they wanted to be "Denver's Next Improv Star."  Each contestant posted their video, as did the Bovine and sent it off to friends and family. The videos allowed non-improv followers to get to know the contestants, get a bit of understanding of what the contest was about and showed some of the characters involved with the show.  Many of the videos were funny. For those not familiar with improv, they got to see someone who made them laugh, received some information and, in my opinion, the videos sparked interest among those who otherwise might not have attended an improv show.

The campaign worked, along with a weekly blog, written by one of the contestants, numerous messages on Facebook and Twitter and a bevy of quality guest judges, the theater was packed for every show.  The best part was that many of those in attendance were first-timers to the theater.  Those folks left after the show having seem some great performances, with a little more knowledge and respect for local improv and now the Bovine is on their radar when considering what to do on a  Friday or Saturday night.

Even with the success of this weekend show, the theater still struggles at times to draw for the long-form shows during the week.  One of these shows includes a Thursday night show that showcases the best improv groups the theater has to offer.  The show draws other improvisers, but not so much outside of the community.

Let's think about the potential audience for The Bovine on a Thursday night.  

1.  Downtown Residents
2.  Downtown workers

The theater is smack dab in the heart of downtown Denver, easy to get to for those who live and work downtown.  It's unlikely a family living in Arvada is going to venture downtown, find and pay for parking to watc a 90-minute improv show.  Many downtown residents are older and most likely are drawn to more traditional theater.  The younger ones who live downtown are likely at more traditional bars or working on a Thursday night.

That leaves the downtown workers who are all ages and have a myriad of interests.  Why not join forces with a local bar and encourage the workers who go out on a Thursday night to make a night of it.  Offer a "Happy Hour" show that starts a little earlier than most of the other shows and offer anyone who buys a ticket gets a free drink at a local bar.  Since the theater doesn't serve alcohol, many downtown workers shy away from The Bovine since they want to drink and party.  By tying in a traditional happy hour with the show, you might appeal to those who are looking for something different, but still allows them to enjoy a few adult beverages.

The challenge comes in getting the word out once a decision has been made.  In this case, targeting a platform like LinkedIn, which caters to a more professional user, might be successful.  Or joining business groups, young professional groups and Tweeting the special show at every opportunity will do a good job of getting the word out.  It's a simple process, but it requires the theater to expand its reach into an area that they normally don't reach out to.

The Denver Press Club:

As a former journalist, I have spent many, many nights drinking, telling stories and playing poker at the Denver Press Club.  For years, though, the club has been a haven for long retired newspaper reporters and old-timers who can still remember when The Rocky Mountain news was an afternoon paper.

Not only was I one of the youngest regulars at the bar, but I was also one of the few broadcasters that imbibed at the club.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, the club was, and has always been viewed as a newspaper club.  Local broadcasters never felt like they fit in.  Worse yet, local PR pro's who are also allowed in, simply felt it was too old and stuffy.  And while the new President of the club came in and made it financially viable again, outside of specific events, the club is still frequented by primarily older, retired newspaper men. 

I was talking to a local TV personality last Friday and the subject of the club came up.  He complained that the club simply wasn't the kind of place he wanted to spend time in, specifically because it still seemed too old, not enough fun, even though he's been asked to guest bartend on a regular basis. 

Here's what we know about journalists and PR folks.  They like to have fun, they work hard and they play hard.  They like to drink.  They like to see and be seen.  Outside of being able to drink, the club doesn't provide the kind of atmosphere that will attract most broadcasters and PR pro's, most of whom are below the age of 35. 

If the club offered a special night specifically for broadcasters, or for PR pro's, complete with drink specials or an extended happy hour, they might begin to make some headway into growing their customer base.  But it can't be just one night.  It needs to be an every week thing.  So, say, every Wednesday is a special for broadcasters (show your TV/Radio press pass or credentials and get dollar beers) they'll start to grow that audience.  If every Thursday were set aside for PR pro's, offering a simliar deal, they'd start to attract more young public relations folks as well. 

The club already has a communications pipeline to local newsrooms and PR agencies, but they don't have a large social media presence.  It would simply take a strong Facebook page and Twitter account, join the TV, Radio and PR groups in town and start messaging the specials regularly.  In no time, this new audience, who is already somewhat familiar with the club, will make it a point to check out the club at least once.  In this case, the club needs to tweak its image a bit and then use social media to get the word out.  Just by using the existing social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter, they could begin to draw customers that have traditionally avoided the club.

Spay and Neuter:

One of my clients is the Animal Assistance Foundation and we're in the process of creating a new campaign designed to reach a new audience for spaying and neutering issues.  Up to this point, much of the conversation about spay and neuter has taken place either between others in the animal care field or among Bob Barker fans.

This is troublesome since the conversation actually NEEDS to be among anyone who has a pet or cares about animals.  On social media, though, the message has been sent to others who are already aware of seriousness of the homeless pet issue.  As the campaign started, we knew who we wanted to reach.  We were going after people aged 21-35, primarily females, as a recent PetSmart study showed they were the least likely to get their pets spayed or neutered. 

The first order of business was to tweak the image of spaying and neutering.  The message remained the same, at it's core level, "Get your pets spayed or neutered."  But we had to dress up that message to make it appealing to that particular demographic. 

Let's face it, spaying and neutering isn't a flashy or particularly fun topic.  Our challenge was to create an interesting, fun image without losing the overall message.  We had to identify what the desires and needs of this audience was.  These are people who are working to establish a career, they are looking to establish their own adult relationships, they are looking to grow personally and professionally.  Money is probably tight and they like to play hard. 

We created a campaign that this demographic could relate to on a very personal level.  This is a demograhpic that has been inundated with numerous and often conflicting messages about sex and promiscuity.  We created a character that was instantly recognizeable and put it into a format that everyone is already familiar with, a sex ed. video.

But as you've notice, creating the campaign is only half the battle.  We have created several different platforms to reach a variety of differnt audiences.  This includes InkedIn, a blog, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Youtube.  Once the campaign rolls out, these different platforms will hit groups that are populated by those that fit into the demographic.  This means hitting profesional groups, social living groups, theater and educational groups, any group that focuses on hitting this demo.

It may sound wierd to post messages about spaying and neutering pets in a group that caters more to the club life or nightlife in Denver, but that is exactly the kind of group that will receive the videos and photos created for the campaign.

In this way, the campaign will reach a group of people that ordinarily would never hear about spaying and neutering their pets.

So take a risk and reach out to new audiences.  You don't have to do a complete overhaul to do so.  You can bring in more viewers, followers and fans and ultimately more customers by making small tweaks to your message and image.  More importantly, it means expanding your scope of friends and followers into areas that you might not have thought of previously.  Any audience can work for you if you think about their desires and needs and tweak your social media efforts to let them know that you can meet those needs and desires.

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