No content marketing, public relations, or advertising effort goes very well without knowing who it is you’re talking to. Targeting some segment of the population is worth very little if you don’t tailor your efforts to actually match their tastes, interests, values, and so on. It’s not enough to know who they are, you must know what they care about.
Extensive audience research can yield great results, but comes with a hefty price tag. For the entrepreneur, small business, charity organization, or humble blogger with a budget, you’ll need to be more resourceful, and learn to squeeze every ounce of insight you can out of the tools available.
If you already have an audience, online surveys are a great resource. Tools like Google Forms (totally free) and SurveyMonkey (free and paid versions) are easy to use and deploy. Keep in mind, there are two important goals to meet when crafting a survey for your users: enticing them to take it, and asking the right questions. The first is a miniature marketing exercise in itself, and might be an opportunity for A/B testing in itself. The second is a delicate balance between asking the questions that will yield the answers most valuable to you without being too intrusive.
Without an audience, getting survey participants is a little more difficult, but not impossible. The incentive might have to be more direct: sweepstakes, gift cards. Another option is focus groups. Smaller groups can yield valuable results, since they can give more detailed responses in person. This can also be less expensive than blind surveys, since you will only need to compensate a smaller number of people.
An article on Search Engine Land from last August has a short list of resources for online audience insights– from focus groups to surveys to polling. There’s even a specialized service for testing possible article titles that I liked so much I wrote about it.
Finally, there’s the data. Between Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and a bunch more tools, there are free opportunities to get to know your audience across all of your different platforms. How you interpret the data, and how well you interpret the data, will be refined over time. Tracking how they come, interact with, and leave your site is just scratching the surface. The same rings true with social media metrics– a wealth of data is there, you just have to reach out and use it.