Lee Odden

Developing Personas for Better Social Media Marketing

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

personasDemystifying better social media marketing often starts with doing a better job of connecting with customers. But how can you connect with customers if you don’t know who they are?

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they search for and talk about on social networks? What influences them to buy or to recommend things to others?

While I’m pretty sure an entire book or two could be written about the details behind the art and science of developing personas and profiles, here are a few quick tips you can implement right now to get started.

I first heard of personas from Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester at a MIMA Summit in 2005. She discussed methodology for persona development and it seemed a very smart way to better segment and personalize marketing communications to be more relevant and effective. At the time, there weren’t a lot of resources for small businesses to implement.

To start, here are some considerations:

  • What are your customers content preferences?
  • How do they discover, consume & share content?
  • What are they looking for on search engines and discussing on the social web?

The answers to questions like these can help marketers make important decisions about content marketing strategy, social media channels of focus and measurement via social monitoring and web analytics.

Developing a profile involves collecting data, aggregating and analyzing it into profiles and maintaining the personas based on ongoing measurement and analysis.

Starting point: Getting data to develop personas. Here are a few ideas on where to get the information from which you can aggregate profiles representing customer segments you’re trying to engage:

  • Survey existing customers aka “Ask them”
  • Web analytics & conversion data
  • Social media listening tools
  • Demographic info from Quantcast, Compete
  • Keyword info SEMRush, Google
  • Engagement info from PostRank
  • Aggregate social network information from Flowtown, Rapleaf (assuming you have an email list)

The data you collect can be compiled and analyzed to reveal common characteristics for persona development. Then that persona can guide everything from the kind of content planned on landing pages, blogs and social media. It can also guide engagement via social channels.

I’ll follow this post up with another giving a few examples of how persona’s can be put into action.

If you’ve tested or implemented personas with social media marketing, please share your experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What questions do you have?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.


  1. Using consumer personas are especially good when doing PPC Marketing. It is critical to understand the different types of messages that you need to convey to each different type of consumer

  2. I agree with you. Well, surely they are effective if you do it the right way. I guess the best way to achieve success here is to know your target market and everything follows for sure

  3. Thanks for the info on resources to track down consumer info. I was aware of many of them, but not all. Appreciate the suggestions.

    Like the idea of personas if the company already has the info you need or will provide you the budget necessary to do the research and analysis. Another approach I’ve seen some recent success with is an evolved way of looking at the sales or purchase funnel — tracking the consumer journey and finding out how the brand needs to engage with consumers at different touchpoints along the way. This works especially well with products that aren’t impulse purchases, e.g. a car, bed, TV, etc.

  4. Hi Lee, knowing your customers is key,get it wrong and you don’t have a fighting chance. Ok so I know where my existing traffic comes from analytics and Alexa can tell me that. When you are starting you don’t have traffic so you won’t know your exact customers are going to come from, how would you go about finding your customers persona, or would you just track for 6 months and see what the trend is.
    Pete the confused Blogger

    • Visit information sites to gain info on competitors. If bobsmotorcycleparts.com is a competitor, then visit compete.com, get reports from hitwise, quantcast, semrush, spyfu, Microsoft Ad Labs, Google Ad Planner and others for the preliminary info you need. Also check with sites that offer advertising who serve the audience you’re trying to reach – they will often have demographic & behavioral data to share to get you to buy ads from them.

  5. This is such a helpful post summarizing the key points in persona development. I started reading Marketing in the Age of Google by Vanessa Fox this week (where you provide a great quote praising her book). I specifically bought Vanessa’s book for Chapter 4: Building Search Personas. You’re absolutely right how Vanessa breaks everything down for an SEO novice like myself into easy-to-understand words/examples. Also, when I started my online research for the book, your post from 10 months ago, Marketing in the Age of Google – Vanessa Fox Interview, sealed the deal. I figured if this book has Lee Oden’s blessing, then it’s legit.

  6. This works quite well..I believe I used ask database a few years back and quite impressed with the useful stats you gain access to…

  7. This was a helpful post. I always find it hard to think like a customer, figuring out where they are, and how to reach them. I’ll have to try these tips.

  8. What this article says is relevant and it would be great to have this kind of insight. But the problem that small marketers face is – how do we collect this data? Do you have some thoughts on that?

  9. Hi Lee — I’d be remiss if I didn’t add a comment re: finding the right ‘influencers’ in the space to this post. Finding out who the people that matter most in any topic/market/conversation is another good starting place for developing an online personas. By understanding the people that matter most to the conversation, you can quickly understand not only what content might help you drive an audience, but also how to develope find a unique perspective to offer to the conversation. Just some thoughts from the @traackr perspective 😉

  10. UKDedicatedServers says:

    yes, Really helpful to gather required niche traffic for our services or product.

  11. I agree with Katie @ sm workshop. How do you do all of this? Lee, I hope that you break this down in your next post…

  12. Many years ago, I too was asking myself how do I find similar information and how do I do the research? While it’s a lot of leg work, doing some searches, reading some books and talking with others in social media will help a lot. I think if a person learns how to do something for him or herself, they gain a lot more from it then someone simply telling them how to do it or where to find the information.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think that the most challenging part of any social media marketing campaign is listening to what people say about your brand on the Web. This is why it’s helpful to have a social media policy in place before you even start posting your first tweet. What worked for me is to simply ask them, nicely ( and don’t forget to say thanks! ). Your advice makes perfect sense for me, so again, I will write: Thanks!

  14. It’s amazing how simple your first point is – knowing who your customers are – and yet how frequently that’s overlooked. I think in the service industry, especially, we try too hard to be all things to all people, which never seems to work right.

    • Knowing the customer better is like focusing on a goal. The better you understand what you’re after, the logic follows that the greater the chance you’ll get it.

  15. I’m just starting out with developing social media programs for my company and this is very helpful. Thanks so much for the great information. I had never thought of using personas before.

  16. I’d have to say that Twitter never made sense to me until I started to follow @greenwinpm. The twitterer has a persona and it makes following them exciting. To be able to converse and interact with one of our clients in such a public forum is both fun and addictive. Most people use twitter to just shout out marketing messages. I believe creating a persona can draw followers into your brand and engage them.

  17. I think that creating a persona on your social media sites is critical. When you have the information needed to create a persona I feel that you will be more capable of relating to your target market. With the increased ability to connect with your target market your marketing strategies will be more successful.

  18. Nicole Hale says:

    This is a great article with some very useful links as far as data marketing is involved. I specifically enjoyed PostRank.com as it is a great facet to find out what blogs are top in their industry right now. Blogging is a wonderful way to share information with our clients while keeping each other in the industry on top of the game at the same time. Love your posts, keep up the good work.