Talking-To vs. Talking-At Your Social Media Audience

The concept that a message has to be tailored for the medium it’s delivered through isn’t new for marketers, yet somehow when the concept is applied to social media so many of us come up a little short.

It’s intuitive to most that a television ad should be different than a radio ad, a magazine ad should differ from digital display and so on because people use each channel differently. It’s the reason why video ads in digital are shorter than TV ads (lower audience captivity) and the best mobile ads take a persons location into account. Yet somehow, the same logic is not applied when applied to social.

Let me illustrate my point.

This morning I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed which is comprised of a smattering of friends, a few brands I’ve by chance ‘Liked’ in my 8 years of being a Facebook user, and of course Farmville requests.

For the most part the feed flows fairly well. People are sharing experiences, opinions, and ideas in the form of pictures, links (though that’s occurring less and less), and short status updates. The experience is nice. Until a brand update slithers it’s way into my feed and stand in stark contrast to the dialogue I’m having with my friends. Rather than adding value to my day and my news feed, the brands that I’ve complemented with a ‘Like’ are abusing their position by trying to get me to do something for them. You’ve seen the update: Try a demo of X, use a coupon for Y etc.

Don’t they know I haven’t had my morning coffee yet? The disruption feels a bit like sitting around the breakfast table with family and friends when a sales person doesn’t bother to knock and walks in the front door – it’s invasive. To make it worse, the language and content they’re sharing doesn’t jive with how my friends and I are engaging. Please spare us the endless links and banner ads re-purposed as a wall photo.

How to avoid the same mistake

Your goal should be to add value to your audience’s online experience. Understanding why they followed you in the first place and fitting within the dialogue of their network will allow you activate and grow a loyal following who will be primed to pay attention to your message. Here are a few questions you should be asking yourself when planning content for your social presence:

Marketers must balance their own objectives with the customer experience when engaging via social media.


  • Am I adding value to myself or my audience? If there isn’t an overlap between customer experience and your own objectives you should reassess your content strategy.


  • Is my audience communicating with each other this way? Is your audience heavily sharing memes to socialize around a topic or idea? Once you get a feel for how they are engaging online, you should conform accordingly.


  • Why did they follow in the first place? Some may follow hoping for deals, others for the inside track on your product or a channel for support, or perhaps they believe in the values or benefits your brand drives dialogue around, but have yet to purchase. Depending on what kind of strategy you decide to take on, realize that you will grow or shrink each of those segments depending on what you decide to post. If you’re Macy’s, social promotion might make a lot of sense if you can commit to offering deals. That same strategy probably won’t work for higher-risk (more expensive) products.

In a nutshell, just like with any other communication channel it’s important to understand the rules and norms that dictate how to craft your message. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling like you’re shouting into an empty room.

12 thoughts on “Talking-To vs. Talking-At Your Social Media Audience

  1. Reblogged this on Being Your Brand and commented:
    Have you ever wondered “Why did my followers like my Facebook page” or “Do I add value to my audience”? Well, even if you haven’t thought about either of those things before I recommend checking out Nick Martin’s post about how to Talk TO your audience instead of AT them. Social media is not meant to be used to shout your message to your audience, it is about talking to them to start a conversation.

  2. Excellent tips. I always try to mix up links to my products with a healthy dose of inspiration updates, advice, funny one-liners, and links to other interesting places on the internet, like cool blogs or news articles, etc.

  3. This is very good. It is also encouraging. Our personal mission statement for Social Media (both for ourselves and for our clients) is to engage as opposed to broadcast (even if it does mean fewer viewers..or “likes”). The fact of the matter is that Social Media is all about dialogue and communication with your targets. Engagement will add MASSIVE value to your efforts as customers who have been connected with have a far higher return rate. You cannot use Billboard tactics only, for Social Media – it simply does not work like that

    Consider yourself “pressed” :)

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