Making Sense of Geographical Targeting in Social Media
Social media has long been recognized as one of the best channels to reach masses with a limited budget; however, for smaller businesses or those wanting to tailor their messaging by location, it poses some challenges. If you're a café in a small town, how do you use social media to reach just those in your area without wasting time, money and effort on unintentionally marketing to people hundreds or thousands of miles away?
What about if you have stores across the country (or world for that matter) and need to be mindful of time zones, language and other locational differences? Writing a Facebook post about the beautiful weather may not be taken so well by your fans that are living in an entirely different state which is experiencing floods. Similarly, spending money on Facebook ads or Twitter promoted tweets to reach people in an entirely different city, state or country is not going to be the best use of your marketing budget if you're a small town plumbing business. So, how can you avoid these issues?
Enter geographical targeting through social media and the ability to connect with people based on their location (and yours). In some of the best cases, this means the ability to actively target and market to the people who actually have the ability to buy from you.
It's been a large aspect of social media and mobile for a few years now and it's only set to get bigger as more and more businesses realize the potential of geo-location apps and technology gets more advanced.
At this point, there are three major ways businesses can leverage geographical targeting within social media:
1. Smartphone Geo-Locational Devices & Apps
Social applications on your smartphone are probably the most commonly associated forms of geographical targeting within social media. They automatically pick up your location and allow you to interact with it – including features like check in, post a review, rate, comment, etc.
Some of the most popular (and well-known) smartphone apps that have geo-locational functionality are Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp.
Foursquare was undoubtedly one of the first applications to really tap into the opportunity that geo-locational functionality provides. It was a simple concept – the application allowed users to "check in" to locations and add "tips" that other users can read. Another hook for Foursquare is the social gaming element. Users collect points and badges as they continue checking in and can even become "Mayor" of a location if they check in more than anyone else within a certain time period.
The social networking side allows users to connect with other Foursquare users on the network thereby being able to see where they have checked-in. The application also allows integration with Twitter and Facebook, so the check-ins show up in other social networking feeds.
So, what does it mean for brands?
If your business has a physical address, you need to join the network, make sure it's a venue within the Foursquare application, and see what people have added in the "tips" section – there may be some valuable feedback in there. You can claim your venue (so you're in control of it) and provide special offers and updates to those who check-in, which are displayed on the application to those nearby. Also, it's wise to offer incentives or at least reminders for patrons to check in and perhaps even offer a special promotion or freebie for your Mayor.
According to Foursquare, there are now over 20 million users worldwide and nearly a million businesses using their Merchant Platform. It's definitely something to look into if you haven't already.
Though Facebook has yet to add any social gaming elements to their check-ins like Foursquare, they have recently released check-in deals so that businesses can offer specials to users who check in to their location.While Foursquare is purely a location-based social networking tool, we are all familiar with Facebook and the fact that its key purpose and functionality do not rely on geographical data. However, the social network does allow you to check in to places on your smartphone or standard web browser, as well as tag locations in photos.
If your business has a physical address that customers visit, you should make sure your Facebook Page is also a place page. Do a search to check if anyone has created a place page for your business in the past and if so, take control of it. By adding a photo and the right information, you can encourage people to not only check in to your venue, but to like your page in the process! Then you can look at providing a special offer that encourages them to not only spend money with you but also provide even more free marketing on your behalf.
In contrast to Foursquare and Facebook, Yelp focuses on providing reviews of businesses. It's an online community that combines social networking with local reviews, so that people can find restaurants, cafes and businesses nearby and see what others have written about them. Though reviews are the key focus of the network, it also allows users to connect with each other via Yelp Talk and Yelp Messaging. Users can also check in via the application.
Businesses can get involved on Yelp (you need to "unlock" your business account) by posting comments in response to reviews and even messaging users. Yelp also offers "deals" functionality; however, the user must purchase within the application and Yelp takes a 30% cut of your revenue.
It's another application based on geo-locational functionality that any store, restaurant or business with a physical address should be keeping an eye on.
2. Geographical Information Included in Social Networking Profiles
Using geo-locational functionality is a great way to accurately reach those nearby, but there are also a number of ways to target via location by leveraging the geographical information provided within social networking profiles. Facebook and Twitter provide some great opportunities to take advantage of the location information that users provide within their profiles (e.g. Facebook ads, targeted posts, promoted tweets and general geographical targeting through search). These options provide opportunities for businesses that are not necessarily brick and mortar stores (which the geo-locational functionality discussed previously lends itself to) but all businesses who want to either target specific regions or would like to offer tailored content based on location.
Want to grow your Facebook fan base, promote a special offer or get traffic to your website, but only want to reach people within your local area? Facebook ads targeted by location are your answer. Facebook takes the geographical information that users provide and uses this to provide accurate targeting options for your business. You can target by country, city, county and even postcode. It's one of the best channels available to reach just the people in your local region.
Targeting Facebook posts by location has been a feature Facebook has offered for as long as I can remember. It has always been one of those functions that few businesses seem to be aware of and/or take advantage of. If you haven't started targeting your posts by location, it may be time to give it a go. It's a great way to A/B test different messages at the same time and also tailor content based on your audience, whether it be to different countries, states or just cities. You can post special offers, provide region-specific updates, and provide much more relevant content by geographically targeting your posts.
This past July, Twitter introduced the ability to target Promoted Tweets by location – previously they could only send blanket messages out to users, which limited the viability for many smaller, location-specific businesses. This provides businesses with another geographic targeting opportunity – either by country or by US region.
The tweet below, for example, was promoted by @BritishAirways just to Twitter users within the UK.
Geographic Targeting on Twitter (Searches)
So, this one is not nearly as scientific as the previous examples but one I thought was worth mentioning anyway. If you are a business that is only looking to connect with people from your specific region, one way to do this is by conducting frequent Twitter searches (or setting up an automatic alert) on your region. For example, when I started out on Twitter all those years ago, I used to do a daily search for the term "Sydney" (my home town). I felt like I wanted to connect with people in my area and finding those who were talking about Sydney was the easiest way to do so. It's a little time consuming and not necessarily as accurate as other means, but it can get the job done.
3. Providing Your Own Geographical Information
The last way in which businesses can leverage geographic information in order to engage (or facilitate engagement) with those in their area is to provide as much of their own location information online as possible. Three key examples are Facebook, Twitter and Google Places.
If you're predominantly an online business or an organization where people don't physically visit you, then this one isn't relevant to you. But if you have a physical location, then it's super important. Make sure you provide your address information and convert your Facebook page to a place page. Not only does that make it easier for your customers to find you, it also allows them to check in and tag your location in photos – both of which are free advertising for you. See, for example, how I checked in to Facebook HQ recently because they had a place set up in Facebook.
By providing your business location information on your Twitter profile, you'll be more likely to attract followers in your area. I am probably not going to follow a tailor in Kentucky, but I might follow one who is based in Sydney (where I live). Similarly, if you make an effort to include your city or town in your actual tweets, you may find you pick up some local followers who are searching on those terms.
Google Places is arguably more to do with search engine optimization than social networking, but the two are becoming more intertwined as time goes on. It's extremely important to make sure you add your business onto Google Maps (for free) so that when people are searching on Google, your business will show up if they are in your area. You can add photos, opening hours, and also promote your business with ads. The social element comes in when users share, rate and recommend your business to their friends and other web users – you can then see what people are saying and respond to customer reviews. Note the screenshot below when I search for "Restaurant sydney." Google lists relevant places, their addresses and phone numbers, a "Score," and link to Google reviews.
Below is a quick comparison of the four main social networks discussed in this post in terms of what their geographical targeting capabilities currently entail. Each network has introduced new features in the past few months, so it will be interesting to see what else is launched over the next 6-12 months for each.
There's no doubt that geo-targeting has become a highly effective way to not only market to but engage with a target audience. It is contributing to a shift from mass marketing to personal marketing, and it's seeing some quality results. When partnered with social media measurement and other marketing strategies, geographical targeting can increase brand awareness, help reach niche audiences, and (depending on your business) bring customers (and their wallets) directly to you.
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