The five dimensions of a social media persona

Taking a "persona" view toward social media channels can help marketers build campaigns and craft the right tone for their message.

As a sequel to my last column, now that we have presented some definitions and direction for how social media fits with CRM, let’s tackle one of the most common questions I get these days: How should we be using Facebook/Twitter/Communities/etc.?

To set the stage, keep in mind that I think of social models as an evolution rather than a revolution. So from a multi-channel CRM or marketing perspective, it’s really useful to think of social media sites and options as “channels,” in the same way those in the service and support space think of email or chat as a channel.

Second, if you buy this channel analogy, it’s important to recognize that the roles a company and its employees (and customers and other affiliates) play on various social channels can be quite different, just as the tone we use, and format, and even expectations are different when using the phone vs. self-service or email vs. SMS. As an aside, this is why my firm has been adamant about suggesting to our clients that while, yes, they should create one overall corporate social business strategy, they should also assign separate owners for each of their target social channels.

Whether you are in support or marketing, your programs need to target the audience and leverage the unique characteristics of each channel. No, this is not rocket science, but with all the excitement around social media these days, it seems that common sense sometimes takes a back seat! What is (kind of) rocket science is characterizing the top channels, future channels and their interactions, and looking at all the dimensions that are in play. Fortunately, taking a “persona” view is a way to simplify all of this; and in the process, it provides a helpful view of how the top channels compare so we can “tune in” to the right approach.

Social channel personas

In marketing, a user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a real group of users, and it may include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes and environment, and perhaps a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. For our purposes, I’ve taken a looser definition, although it’s fun to think of character traits that fit each channel.

For our social channel persona model, I’ve focused on five dimensions: Age, Relationships (the nature of connections), Activity, Tone and Persistence (of content). These are a mix of demographic and “usage” traits, but most importantly they cover two key characteristics of any successful community site, campaign or support effort: good content and good connections. With this framework, it’s interesting to look at some of the top social channels and see how they differ.

Facebook is perhaps the “hottest” channel today, and if you look at its profile using this model, it’s clear that marketers and members see a unique role -- which is good in terms of longevity and defining business value. Specifically using the dimensions of our framework, for Facebook, Age = young/adult, with 60% of members now over 35, and more females than males. Relationships = (highly) friends, Activity = fun, and Tone = casual. Finally, Persistence = days, with many members making daily updates, but not necessarily at the frequency of Twitter.

Compare this with LinkedIn -- where Age = mature, Relationships = friends/colleagues, Activity = work, Tone = business, and Persistence = months -- and we can see how these channels are distinct, require very different messaging and in fact can easily co-exist. We can do similar mappings for blogs, Twitter, private forums, video sharing, etc., not only to see how one channel may complement another but in some cases (think Facebook vs. MySpace) how one may be so similar that users can and do move from one community to the other!

Turn the channel

We can also use our persona model in planning social marketing campaigns or even online customer service strategies. One basic way is looking at demographics. Everyone with teens knows that they are all over Facebook. But so are a growing number of people over 35 and Moms, who are a fast growing user segment. Meanwhile, blogs (as a group) and LinkedIn remain older and more male-dominated, and Twitter is the youngest major social channel.

As a former CMO, aligning tone is also critical to me. And each social channel certainly has its own “style guide” that must be considered. Looking at the personas again, corporate messages play well “as-is” on LinkedIn, and that channel is emerging as a key information (e.g., white paper, presentations) portal via groups; but a much more casual, and even promotional tone may be needed for Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, the question of how often to post and monitor social channels, whether for marketing or customer service (think new product news, upgrades, patches, etc.), continues to be half art and half science. The “Persistence” dimension aims to provide some direction and can be used to help set and follow a publication schedule. For example, blogging once a week is a good goal for most corporate bloggers, but Facebook and Twitter content has a much shorter shelf life, requiring more frequent updates.

Of course, since I started to define our persona model, we have seen more focus on real-time search in the marketplace and Google’s announcement that they will feature live updates from Twitter, Facebook, et al. While this is still playing out, these developments certainly may change the game when it comes to the persistence -- and distribution -- of social content!

For this and other reasons, social media and how it relates to CRM is and will remain a moving target. That’s why a practical approach, a flexible plan and lots of market tests and user involvement are essential to make social media work for your customers and your business. The essential ingredients for creating such a social business strategy will be the topic of my next column. Stay tuned and Happy Holidays!

About Allen Bonde

Allen Bonde was recently CMO of eVergance and is a well-known analyst, entrepreneur and management consultant. He has 20 years of experience at McKinsey, Extraprise, the Yankee Group, and GTE (now Verizon); he has written for CIO.com and SearchCRM.com and has appeared on CNBC and Fox News. Bonde is the founder and currently managing director of Evoke CRM Partners (www.EvokeCRM.com), a consultancy focused on multi-channel customer strategies and the convergence of social media, self-service and CRM.

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