Social Media and Market Segmentation
As social media continues to penetrate deeply into global cultures, traditional marketing practices such as market segmentation are necessarily being redefined. Facebook and other social media sites allow companies to specifically target many ambiguous and often transitory segments of a particular market and, most importantly, engage and interact with larger numbers of people on a more personal and reciprocative level.
In her “Social Implications Blog,” Jennifer Mattern argues that, “The niche is where it’s at. That’s where you’ll find the people who care about the same things you care about, who share your hobbies or interests or industries, and who are looking for exactly what you’re offering.”
By similarly targeting specific market segments through social media, marketers can learn the personal qualities, hobbies, likes, dislikes and attitudes of potential consumers, knowledge that can lead to stronger and more long-lasting consumer relationships.
Research conducted last April by Chadwick Martin Bailey, Inc. revealed that consumers who are actively engaged with a brand, especially through social media, are more likely to purchase or recommend the brand to others.
The research showed that 49 percent of people on social network sites became “fans” of particular brands because they already were consumers of that brand. Additionally, over half of those engaged with the brand reported they were more likely to buy or recommend that brand since becoming its fan on Facebook.
Ironically, this research indicates that by engaging consumers, a fundamentally social medium like Facebook helped to “cut through the online clutter.” This can be especially effective in market segmentation strategies. By segmenting the market, companies can, with minimal financial responsibility, engage and interact personally through individualized social media channels with a larger and more diverse consumer base. Nevertheless, questions remain as to how exactly to engage consumers on social networking sites and, more importantly, who exactly to engage.
Are all fans of a brand on Facebook created equally? Or, as in the “old” media, do a select few act as opinion leaders for the rest. Combining communicative theories such as network gatekeeping with such statistically robust methodologies as quantitative network analysis will allow social media marketers to more cheaply and efficiently target cluttered social network markets. Although the explanatory mechanisms of social network marketing and brand management are far from fully understood, companies have explored innovative avenues to take advantage of their, until recently, unpredictable benefits.
A recent Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation study showed how airlines are increasingly using social media channels to address and exploit key market segments, and with significant success. Several carriers, including AirTran, have taken advantage of college-aged consumers’ familiarity with social media by posting videos on collegehumor.com that allow 18 to 22 year-olds to view schedules and ticketing services on the airline’s Facebook page. Within the last two years, AirTran, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic have launched their own social networking sites allowing students to interact and participate in contests and drawings for heavily discounted tickets. Also, by establishing a social networking site specifically targeting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender/transsexual demographic which allows users to interact through virtual maps and recommend popular restaurants and events, Scandinavian Airlines has attempted to gain an advantage in this traditionally high-income niche.
Again, with a better understanding of communities on social networks, which preliminary analyses have shown to be more hierarchical than has been traditionally assumed, companies may be able to save money and maximize efficiency by targeting not only specific demographics, but also specific individuals, which could lead to further segmentation targeting even the smallest communities.