Affinities: The Secret to Understanding Your Audience with Social Media Analytics

Your customers’ interests and passions hold the key to engaging them

In his legendary book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie lays out a simple framework for winning people over — become genuinely interested in others, listen thoughtfully to what they say, and engage with them about their interests.

This is sound advice for winning friends — and for engaging a business audience. For decades, brands have understood that cultivating a loyal audience requires appealing to its interests and sense of uniqueness.

But Carnegie’s advice becomes more complicated and difficult to follow when brands don’t have a single audience but dozens. Audiences often separated by demographics, geography and interests.

How can global brands understand the interests of their audiences? The answer is affinities — a method of comparing the interests of a target audience (uncovered by analyzing the interest members explicitly call out in their profiles as well as those inferred based on the accounts they follow and content they share) to the larger social media audience. Affinities form the basis of sophisticated audience analysis.

For example, if Netflix wanted to better understand the audience of people who talk about stand-up comedy specials, it could compare the interests of that group to the standard Twitter audience. From there, it would be easy to see which comics resonate the most with that audience and how the interests of fans for a particular comic correspond with, or differ from, the general comedy special audience.

This type of information is vital for marketers. So, in this post, we’ll explain how they can use affinities to:

  • Launch campaigns
  • Create targeted content
  • Identify influencers

Launching successful campaigns

As executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s from 1980 to 1995, Andy Dolich increased season ticket sales from 326 to 16,000 and annual attendance from 850,000 to 2.9 million. He was (and still is) a very smart marketer. Once asked who his target audience was he replied, “Anyone who can fit in a seat.”

From that comment, you might think Dolich didn’t bother with audience analysis. But you’d be wrong. He was a master at carving that very large potential audience into easier-to-understand segments and developing fan outreach that spoke to each one individually. Dolich didn’t use social media to identify and understand them, but affinities drove those outreach efforts. 

Affinities help marketers understand who is talking about their products and what type of campaigns will most effectively reach them.

How Fender targeted a new audience with affinities

For a business, letting gender stereotypes guide marketing programs is guaranteed to leave money on the table. A good case in point: Fender guitars.

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation is the world’s foremost manufacturer of guitars, basses, amplifiers and related equipment. Fender has transformed music worldwide and in nearly every genre. Everyone from beginners to the world’s best artists have used Fender equipment.

Fender’s marketing approach for electric guitars was simple: create a new guitar, ship it to stores and wait for them to sell. This model functioned well enough for years. Yet, Fender had no understanding of why campaigns worked or didn’t. It had no consumer data to guide strategic planning, develop accurate personas, or refine campaign tactics.

A couple years ago, Fender decided to take a more data-driven approach to its marketing. Instead of spending millions on consumer research from third parties, Fender turned to social media analysis to uncover audience affinities that might open new markets and fine-tune campaigns.

And it learned a lot, including that a big part of the social media conversation among female guitar players was about electric guitars — not just acoustic as it had assumed. It was an audience and a market just waiting to be found.

These insights from social media presented a lucrative opportunity for Fender. To capitalize on it, the company put paid promotion behind a video of talented female bassist and vocalist Nik West playing a Fender bass.

The paid boost was a huge success, strongly resonating with this new audience. Or as BJ Carretta, former VP of Digital Brand Media, Partnerships and Communications at Fender describes the response, “Crazy numbers. Through the roof.”

Using affinities, audience analysis can help uncover a new market — and point a way to the right approach. (For more about audience affinities and Fender, download the full case study.)

Create relevant and engaging content

“Affinity content” is content that speaks to the interests of a target audience. Marketers use affinity content to deepen consumers’ relationships with their brand. It can also offer a platform from which to launch campaigns.

A good example: Nespresso. Europe’s leading brand in single-serve coffee makers used affinity content to grow its global brand, especially in America, where Keurig dominates the market. Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day! Of course, not all that comes from single-serve coffee makers. Nevertheless, the American appetite for coffee makes it a very attractive market.

As anyone who drinks coffee knows, coffee drinkers’ tastes vary widely. Just walk into any Starbucks or Peets and check out the menu. Nespresso turned that variety of preferences to its advantage.

Are you an adventurous or a social coffee drinker?

Using online conversations to tap into the world’s largest focus group of coffee drinkers, Nespresso uncovered two promising audience segments — social coffee drinkers and the adventurous who like to try new flavors. Audience affinities also revealed that Nespresso attracted a more affluent customer, with a fondness for luxury, than Keurig. These affinities presented marketing opportunities for Nespresso.

Insights inform content strategy and tactics

For the luxury-minded coffee drinker, Nespresso released a set of commercials featuring Penelope Cruz and the music of Lana Del Rey that emphasized class and luxury. We see conversations and topics surrounding these ads resonating on social.

Identify influencers

Rather than marketing directly to a large, monolithic group of consumers, influencer marketing uses key thought leaders and opinion makers to drive the brand message to a larger market. Many companies turn to celebrity spokespersons to anchor their influencer marketing strategy, but that can be expensive. Plus, if the celebrity hits a PR bump in the road, her or his value as an influencer can plummet. (For an analysis of using social media influencers versus celebrities download the TRESemmé – Clear case study.)

Social media can make anyone an influencer

If you’ve been using affinities to fine- tune campaigns and create engaging content, you’ve already done much of the work required to use affinities for identifying and targeting influencers. Remember, it’s not about the number of followers influencers have but their ability to sway opinion. When selecting influencers, it’s important to make sure they’re influencing the right audience to take the action you want.

Social media influencers move the needle

In 2014, the Video Music Awards (VMAs) were held on August 24th. TRESemmé ran a promotion in conjunction with the VMAs in which influencers figured prominently. Between August 24 and 26, TRESemmé’s conversation spiked. Four influencers: @itisalovelylife, @MyThirtySpot, @heyabigailgals, and @mimigstyle engaged hundreds of social media users with a #TRESemme #AmpUpYourStyle party, where each of them selected 10 winners to receive a $40 Walmart gift card + 2 TRESemmé styling products.

The impact of these four influencers on the TRESemmé conversation was massive. The brand was mentioned in more than 960 posts and the #tresemme hashtag was used over 6,450 times. TRESemmé’s Twitter handle also received a four-percent increase in followers over those three days.

Crimson Hexagon ForSight Simplifies Influencer Marketing

With ForSight, marketers can easily identify their brand’s most powerful influencers. The Crimson Hexagon platform is integrated with Klout, a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rate its users according to online social influence. You can pinpoint your brand’s biggest influencers and find those who discuss your brand the most.

Affinities: The Sweet Spot of Audience Analysis

When applied to social media conversations, AI-powered affinity analysis reveals insights that deliver a deep understanding of consumers. Understanding that refines audience segmentation and personas in ways marketers can use to build more long lasting and profitable relationships with customers — and engage meaningfully with potential customers.


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