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  • Lindsay

Social Media – Know Your Audience

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

If you’re going to be successful in marketing then you need to understand people. We’re creatures of habit. We like things the way we like things, and getting someone to change their preferences can be extremely difficult.

Whilst sometimes this can be a bad thing, other times it’s really useful, as it means you can see trends in your audiences. And when you truly resonate with your audience – when you truly understand them – that’s when you’ll achieve marketing success.

If we take a look at some social media campaigns over the past decade then we can see quite clearly how knowing your audience is of prime importance.

When Things Go Wrong

There’s one thing that the internet has allowed us to be, and that’s anonymous. This has brought out the bad side in some people. We can now say whatever we think and there isn’t any comeback. We can literally let all our inhibitions go and be as nice or as nasty as we want. This is evident in a few campaigns.


In 2012, McDonalds asked people to tell their stories relating to the brand using the hashtag McDStories. They were hoping that their customers would say good things on their behalf. However, predictably, whilst there were some positive comments, it opened up a barrage of negativity. Comments such as “My brother finding a fake finger nail in his fries” and “Which has more chemicals: Marlboro cigarette or egg mcmuffin. Flip a coin.”

It’s one thing to give people a platform to discuss your brand, but to actively encourage them to tell their stories relating to that brand can be very dangerous. Even if people wouldn’t normally say anything bad, it’s too tempting to be negative, even if it’s just for the sake of humour. So before you decide to let your customers free with your brand reputation, think carefully.


In 2016, ALDI in Australia did something similar. They asked their audience to fill in the blank: I became an ALDI lover when I tasted ... for the first time. Again, there were a few positive responses, but ultimately this opened them up to attack. After all, it’s more fun to be funny.

Some of the responses said things like “defeat”, “cheap beer”, “unemployment” and “the bitter tears of a social media idea gone wrong.”

Whilst it’s great to have a laugh, this was damaging to ALDI and they quickly took down the posts. Having others speak positively about your brand is a wonderful thing, but maybe it’s better to find a way to allow people to do it of their own fruition than actively encouraging them. You encourage the good as well as the bad, then.


Walkers made the biggest mistake of all when it came to understanding their audience. Not only did they misjudge the actions of their followers, but they also failed to put in any management of it as well.

In 2017, Walkers asked people to send in their selfies. They were offering people the chance to win tickets to a UEFA Champions League Final, and for any selfies sent in Gary Lineker appeared on a video with the image of the person superimposed in a frame in his hands. However, Walkers didn’t vet the images and they were heavily trolled. People weren’t sending in their own images, they were sending in images of serial killers and disgraced celebrities. Gary Linker was smiling next to these people, spread all across social media.

Again, Walkers had to take swift action, but it was too late really. A few simple measures to intervene would have been far more beneficial. So whatever you do, make sure you think through every eventuality carefully.

When It Works

It’s not all bad, though. When a brand gets the timing, execution and message just right, it can be magic.

Taco Bell

In 2017, to help celebrate Cinco De Mayo, Taco Bell presented a limited time SnapChat filter that would put a taco over your face. It broke records as the most viewed SnapChat filter ever and was viewed more than 224 million times in one day. This simple idea captured the humour and imagination of its generally younger audience, and got everyone talking about Taco Bell. This just goes to show that you don’t have to be super clever. Sometimes something very simple that is aimed perfectly at your target audience is the right thing to do. It didn’t mention the quality of the food, the pricing, the taste or any of Taco Bell’s values. It did just what it needed to do.

Sometimes thinking a little differently can make all the difference; as long as you bring it back to your brand and people understand what it’s all about. Doing something too left field could be interesting, but if it doesn’t help your sales then it’s not worth it.


Also in 2017, Starbucks launched its Unicorn Frappuccino. It was an Instagram focused campaign that lasted for just one week. It showed a picture of a bright purple drink filled with sparkly cream on top, and it immediately spoke to its target audience.

In just one week, Starbucks’ post alone got 651,000 likes. Then there were a further 155,000 Instagram posts which related to it, as so many people wanted to talk about it.

It was aimed at a younger audience and it’s multi-layered approach worked brilliantly. Not only was it interesting to look at, it appealed to the taste buds of its millennial audience. It was also only available for a week, putting that “limited time only” fear into prospective drinkers, playing into the human nature of FOMO. It was perfectly planned and it was a huge success.

Lessons Learned

There are hundreds of examples of social media successes and failures, and for each one there’s a lesson to learn. Here are my top tips for how you can avoid the pitfalls and find true success online:

  1. Remember that people interpret things in different ways – be exceptionally clear whatever you say

  2. The anonymity of social media brings out some people’s bad side, so don’t allow yourself to fall into a trap

  3. Be interesting and informative – don’t broadcast sales messages. The biggest successes never mentioned product features, they captured the imagination of their target audience

  4. If you’re going to be controversial, do it as a Story, that way it’s gone after 24 hours. This could be a good way of trying out ideas if you’re not too sure

  5. Take some time to research your audience and truly get to know them

  6. Before you press the button, walk in your customers’ shoes for a bit and see what you’re about to do from their perspective. Could it be interpreted differently?

  7. Choose your channels carefully. There was a reason why Starbucks limited its Unicorn Frappuccino post to Instagram, and there’s a reason why it worked. It was a visual idea. Use the channels to your advantage as much as you can

If you’d like to explore how you could better use social media in your marketing, please get in touch.

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