OK, the word “exploit” may have a charged meaning to some people, especially in light of the recent CNET article by Chris Matyszczyk discussing a presention by Danah Boyd, of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, on how organic demographic separations appear in groups using technology.
Danah’s speech, given to the Personal Democracy Forum, was intended to deflate the somewhat rosy view that technology is a great demographic equalizer, and she used a comparison of Facebook and MySpace users as an example. According to Danah, Facebook users tend to be higher income, higher educated, and racially separated (white) from My Sapce users (lower income and education, non-white). She spends lots of time in her speech differentiating between the two groups. Chris asks, “Do we care?”
I think we do care and here’s why: From a marketing perspective, we need to reach our audience, so understanding the differences and exploiting those differences is important to our business operations. Rather than bemoan the fact that people search and choose their online community, or not caring that there are differences online, we should celebrate those differences and work to meet those differing audiences on their terms.
This is something that large corporations do in traditional media purchases and we can put this to good use for small business in new media. Rather than commiserate over the differences in audience, we can use the differences to more effectively market our products and services to different market segments.
If I want to reach a market segment that tends to have higher education and a suburban lifestyle, then Facebook may be a good choice for my marketing strategy. But if I focus my products and services on a more urban group, a group that spends more social time with new music, then MySpace might be the answer to reaching my core audience. I already notice this effect in pro-bono work I do for a small dance company, Facebook generates better response and greater interest than MySpace delivers. There are many communities outside of Facebook or MySpace, and other examples of this differentiation that we can also exploit.
Now for the caveats. There are many ways to slice this demographic inforation and none of them are perfect matches. There are no hard and fast rules, and no specific quantitative research. Also, things change swiftly in the online world and what is currently true may be completely false and ineffective in a mater of months. But the point is that by carefully considering our audience we can match our message to the environment and the audience to gain the greatest efficiency of effort.
The question of whether or not technology is the great equalizer is a valid discussion, but it is not a marketing question. Our only marketing question is “are we reaching the right audience with the right message?” Anything else is neglecting our business.