Audience Segmentation: Social Media Versus Traditional Media

One trait of social media that is often touted in books, blogs, and articles is that social media offers the ability to filter your audience down to increasingly small markets or even small groups of people. For example, if there is a very specific group of people you want to target who enjoy a certain kind of music, Social Media can deliver those people to you with a bit of searching and some know-how. It’s hard to argue with that logic. The odd thing, however, is that these points about the value of social media are often countered with a note about how traditional media does not offer any means of audience segmentation. Indeed, traditional media is described as more of a “spray and pray” ploy, whether the specific tactic is broadcast media or print.

Now, although our business-to-business emphasis does not have application in radio or TV, we have always offered print media research and placement services, and when you’ve been doing something as a company for over fifty years, you tend to get the ins and outs of the process. As such, we thought we’d drop a bit of a line regarding how audience segmentation works in the world of print media. While you might not be able to find the same exact results that social media yields, and while it might require a bit more elbow grease, we think this mode of audience segmentation is still extremely effective.

The publication audit

Publications either have controlled circulation or paid circulation or, in some rare cases, a combination. Controlled circulation is free to the recipient as long as they meet the qualifications for receiving the publication. The recipient must complete a short questionnaire or phone call confirming that they meet the requirements for receiving the publication. This is why the circulation is called “controlled.” Paid circulation is, per the definition, paid for by the recipient or subscriber. In the consumer environment, most publications are paid. In the business world, most publications have a controlled circulation.

There are also two primary auditing companies who are responsible for assuring that advertisers are actually reaching who the publications claim that they reach. In the business-to-business market, most publications are audited by BPA Worldwide. In the consumer field, ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) is the most widely used auditing company.

In either case, publishers pay to have their publications audited. Pricing can range from simply a print publication audit to a complete brand audit which would include the publisher’s website and all e-communication vehicles.

Audits not only help an advertiser and advertising agencies know that they are reaching their target audience. Audits also provide additional information including which industries the readers come from, their titles and from what part of the country they are from. All of this information can then be filtered for direct mail lists and other worthy marketing purposes.

Requalification is required on a regular basis to assure that recipients still wish to receive the publication. This is critical because requalification will determined if the recipient still works for the same company, assure that the company has not moved or gone out of business, etc.

When you consider the process of auditing, you are getting something that social media does NOT offer – a confirmation that people want to receive something that they know will include marketing messages. We feel this actually might give a leg up to traditional media over social media marketing. After all, as we discussed before, some social media experts feel that marketing is “mucking up” social media.

On a more detailed audit, you can actually learn a lot of details about your potential audience. Let’s take a look at a real audit statement to see some of the information that can be revealed.

What you are looking at here is a table that records how many recipients of the publication have been qualified over the last three years. Ideally, the 3-year column will have a 0, meaning that everyone has been qualified in the last 1-2 years. This publication is running a bit behind, and given the high amount of job cuts over the last few years that could be a particularly big problem.

Now we start to drill down into what a more detailed audit can offer. What this table breaks down is the geographical location of the publication’s subscribers. Not only is the circulation broken down by region, but it’s also broken down by state. This kind of audience segmentation can prove extremely valuable in a lot of scenarios, including cases where you are exhibiting at a regional trade show or where you are thinking of running different promotional campaigns by region

Now we get into the real meat of these audit reports – this is what separates a truly detailed audit from the more surface evaluations. The screen capture above shows what would appear on the  left side of the audit report – these are industry niches based on special codes called NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) or SIC (Standard Industrial Classification System) codes. NAICS codes were introduced in 1997 to offer a more enhanced coverage of industrial niches. The efforts to categorize these industries are shared with Mexico and Canada.

This screen capture shows what is visible across the top – job titles such as production/design engineers, R&D, Quality Control, etc. What you can do with this type of information is pinpoint the segment of the industry you want to target in addition to the specific people in that niche who would be most involved in purchasing your product. This information has many uses, not the least of which is helping companies determine whether the publication is a good match or not. If your desired job title or industrial niche is not a heavy focus of the publication, you can feel confident that your marketing message will not reach your target market.

This is in stark contrast to social media marketing. While you might find the exact group that you want, there is no guarantee that they will be open to receiving your marketing messages. Indeed, the smaller the group is, the more tightly knit they are likely to be and the less open they will be to seeing promotional messages from an “outsider.”

Audience segmentation is extremely important for marketers regardless of what channel(s) they are using. It’s important to realize that for all of the advantages social media can offer in this area, traditional media is certainly not something that requires haphazard throwing of spaghetti against the wall. In all cases, research, knowledge, patience, and some strategizing can help make sure that marketing messages will hit fertile ground.

If you have any questions about how to read or use media audits, please let us know!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/buck82/311620137/ via Creative Commons


7 comments on “Audience Segmentation: Social Media Versus Traditional Media

  1. I’m not about to bang down my beer stein (ok, it’s early… my coffee mug) in disagreement.

    Well, maybe a little.

    I do think that the type of segmentation we can do, even with publication audience audits in hand, is still rather broad in contrast to the micro-segmentation we can do with social.

    You’re spot-on that in social, once you’ve done some micro-segmentation and identified some small, even tiny, group – you can’t just march in and promote your goods. No way, it won’t work, and you’d be lucky to get out without a fresh coat of tar and feathers.

    HOW we use segmentation in social media marketing is fundamentally different than how we use(d) it in traditional marketing. In social, we’re using it in order to identify communities in which we can possibly become participants – so that we can better study how those communities communicate, and to discover what and who is influential in those communities.

    And you’re 100% right that traditional print can still have tremendous value – that with that segmentation and the willingness of the readers to receive your messages, in some sectors this might be the best tactic. While I’m glad my book inspired this post – I hope I wasn’t guilty of suggesting “traditional media does not offer any means of audience segmentation.” It did, and still does.

    I mention in my book that almost every statement could be prepended with “depending on your business” (I can feel Sam Fiorella hitting the buzzer). If you’re selling the little valves that go into oil pumps, we’re going to have very different segmentation needs than if we’re selling orange juice drink to suburban moms.

    • Great points, Ric! As I mentioned on Twitter, I definitely don’t think your book presents traditional media in a poor light, but it brought my attention to the fact that traditional media is often presented as the opposite of social media, and I’m not sure that’s ultimately productive. As you say, it all depends on what you need to do for your company.

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