Our conversations about social media marketing can be very one-sided. Frequently (and it’s something I’m guilty of myself) we focus almost exclusively on getting our content seen, and tracking likes and impressions to win at a virtual popularity contest.

It’s true that your social media presence is (rightly) an extension of your company’s brand, and therefore the impression that people get from it is key. However, spending so much time focusing on social networks as a way for your audience to get to know you means that we forget to consider them as a way for you to get to know more about your audience. 

So many of us treat social media as a mirror, by focusing on the image we’re projecting. If you use it to learn about the people you’d like to reach, and to grow your brand voice and marketing based on real-time real-life audience insights, it becomes a window. 

Here are a few ways to think about getting more value out of your social media.

Social media isn’t just an opportunity for your audience to get to know you: it’s also your chance to get to know them.

Your personas are in there.

Social media is a gold mine when it comes to building personas. Whether it’s your buyer personas, your influencers or your anti-personas, your followers are a ready-made source of information and inspiration. 

A lot of work goes into establishing your social media strategy, with the goal of posting and promoting the right thing at the right time. Measuring the success of your posts by the numbers, and striving to increase them is incredibly important, but it’s not the only thing that you should focus on.

Once you’ve worked out how best to play the algorithms for organic reach or have established your paid strategy, the factor that will have the largest impact on engagement is the content itself. It’s not just a case of a successful post vs. an unsuccessful post—it’s a real-time opinion poll of your target audience. 

The insights that you can gain from your posts stretch beyond their value as a tool for getting more reach and engagement next time. Digging into the qualitative insights that the quantitative data provides can provide a wealth of detail about what it is that makes your target tick. 

Pre-segmented insights 

Your social media audience is, to some extent, self-segmenting. 

Around the globe, interaction with each social network varies according to age, gender, location, income level etc. Your Facebook audience, for example, may be an older segment of your target audience than your Instagram or TikTok followers. This means that if a particular piece of content plays better on one network over another, you can extrapolate to learn about the preferences of the segments present on each.

This is even more true for brands that separate, localized social media accounts for each of their geographical or language markets. When your followers are interacting with content that’s designed specifically for them, their engagement goes up. As followers interact with you more on their own terms, you’ll gain more and more actionable insights.

An extension of social listening

Social listening has been a buzzword for a while, and it’s a hugely important tool for most brands. But let’s take it a step further. Rather than just looking for mentions of your product or service, and using social media as a way of monitoring brand perception, extend your social listening to listening to what’s happening on social media in general. 

Follow your followers: who else are they following? How are they interacting with people? What do they really care about? 

On a basic level, this is very helpful for finding out who your competitors are, and as we saw above, you can find out who they are for each of your segments. This is another key advantage of localising social media. If you know that a large proportion of your German-speaking audience also follows a local competitor, you gain an insight you might not have had from simply looking at the breakdown of your overall following. 

Taking it up a notch, read the comments and the shares and the retweets: particularly pay attention to them if they have nothing to do with the content that you shared. If someone has taken your post about new opening hours to ask about disability access then you gain an insight into what they really care about—far beyond a reaction to your content.

At an advanced level, realize that your social media followers are the future of your business and your industry. Learn all that you can from them. 

Keep on top of the trends as they develop

Social media is a reflection of the zeitgeist, and it’s an immediate reflection rather than an echo from a report on descriptive analytics. Digital trends and insights are all well and good, but if you’re active on social media you probably noticed them or even formed part of them long before that report was published.

The immediacy and accessibility of social networks make them the first port of call for any new movement. Everyone knows that twitter trends can help you identify the hashtags and conversations generating the most buzz in a particular, and allow you to join in on a pertinent issue. But what about the more subtle trends and the early adopters? 

When did your followers start saying they stan things, and when did they stop talking about shipping? What emoji is being used to represent the way your followers are feeling?

Social media trends can be very nuanced, and if you’re not looking out for them you can’t choose to capitalize on them when the going’s good (or not: not every trend will be appropriate for your voice).

If you’re in the consistent habit of paying attention to what your followers are doing, you’ll be able to identify trends that resonate with your target audience and take action accordingly. 

We all know that social media is a powerful tool. But you can use it one of two ways: as a mirror or as a window to your audience. The more you put in the more you get out… and the potential return is invaluable.

This article was written by Jessie Brechin, a marketing strategist and founder of The Bloop, helping small businesses and solopreneurs claim their space in a crowded marketplace. She is passionate about making marketing accessible and teaches as an adjunct professor at Instituto de Empresa and Geneva Business School. Jessie was previously Director of Marketing at VeraContent and regularly contributes to The Content Mix.