It's easy in 2018 to believe that the only way to achieve fame and fortune is to get on Snapchat and start your own reality show, but if your target audience isn't there, you'll be speaking to an empty room (or to your mom and three of your cousins).
Several years ago when I was working for a domain name registry that owned the domain extension ".catering" our partnerships team decided to buy a speaking engagement at a catering trade show.
Being in charge of our public relations, I attended the show to network, meet local media and engage social influencers at the show.
The only problem is that there were no social influencers at the show.
Maybe there was one.
But it was not where our target audience was hanging out.
Although I'm sure there are catering businesses that are flourishing online, the catering industry was not ripe for innovation -- many of the business owners in attendance were second or third generation owners of the family business, and not in the market for digital change.
I know there is a case to be made here for stagnation and how important it is to evolve with the times before you think you need to, but some of these businesses barely had a website let alone active social networks.
They didn't know that new domain name extensions were even available, let alone a ".catering" extension. They were at the show to look for new culinary vendors and foodservice technology, and not seeking new marketing tools.
Because the conference attendees were not our target audience, the speaking engagement at this trade show only served to confuse people and quite honestly, wasted $11,000.
Instead of going where you think you should be, poll your current customers and clients.
Where do they go for professional development, to learn new tactics, find new vendors or have their questions answered? If they're spending time on social media, then get tweeting!
Attend events...the right ones
Even though a catering industry conference isn't the best place to sell domain names, there are plenty of trade shows where brand and business owners can go to reach a target audience.
I think there are two ways to go about this: attending industry events and attending events outside of your industry.
Because I currently lead communications in-house for a real estate brokerage, I'll use the real estate industry an example.
If you're a real estate broker, of course you'll want to attend the annual NAR (National Association of REALTORS) conference and expo to network, to learn new industry trends and for professional development. Industry events are very important for all of these reasons.
Of course, as a broker, you're always focused on meeting new clients, business partners and potential referral sources and while you may accomplish that as an industry conference, the competition is much steeper.
Attending events outside of your industry is also a great way to reach important new audiences. I know a real estate broker who is building a brand around providing services for first time home buyers. Her audience is young professionals, graduate students, newly engaged or married couples and even first-time parents. By plugging into events that these groups attend, she can meet the kind of clients and referral sources she is looking to reach.
Go to the events where your prospective clients are. As a PR pro, I joined the Professional Women's Club several years ago because I wanted to pick up new business leads. I knew that I would be more likely to find those leads in a room full of women who worked in different industries than in a room full of people exactly like me competing for that very same business.
Pro Tip: If you're considering sponsoring an event or conference inside or outside your industry, do your due diligence and attend that event before you sign a contract. You'll get a much better sense as to whether or not the audience is engaged and interested in what you have to say before you make the investment.
Use social listening.
I worked with a PR colleague a few years ago who was huge on social listening. She actually wrote a book about it and sold it to clients as if it were a proprietary tool that her agency had access to do.
The truth is, if you have an Internet connection and an hour or two a day, you can get a lot of value out of social listening. Social listening is, quite simply, reading what people are saying on their social networks.
There are a few different ways to use social listening. By monitoring the hash tags on all of the major social networks, you can see what people are talking about in relation to your industry.
Let's use real estate as an example again: if I search locally for #RealEstate on Twitter, I'll find that most of the people using the hash tag are real estate agents, not homeowners looking to buy or sell.
If your target audience is home buyers or sellers, you might gravitate instead toward closed social networks like Nextdoor, Neighborhood Parents Network or even Facebook groups where people are soliciting and providing recommendations and referrals.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Twitter doesn't have a purpose, but it isn't where you'll find your home buyers and sellers searching for a real estate agent.
Another layer of this is a brand new feature on Instagram - you can now follow a hash tag the way you would a person, which is great for brands and business owners who want to keep track of what people are posting about in a specific city or town or about a specific topic.
The other way to use social listening is to use Twitter's list feature. This has been around for a long time and might sound like yesterday's news, but I love it. You can make your lists public or private and create lists of Twitter users in different categories.
Do some informal market research.
When I started blogging years ago, I was 24 and had visions of becoming the go-to recipe resource for young professionals navigating the kitchen in their first apartments or as they were newly married/cohabiting.
What happened was that instead, I developed an interest in bread baking and connected with a community of bloggers devoted to cooking with whole foods, scratch ingredients and recipes that were honestly not uncomplicated enough for the average 22-year old graduating from microwavable macaroni and cheese.
I branded myself as one thing and then I did the complete opposite. Not great.
If you're looking to build a brand and you have a target audience in mind, you need to talk to that audience not only so that you can learn what problems your audience is seeking solutions to, but so you can ask them where they spend time and what influences their marketing decisions.
If you have an online product, e-commerce business or an online product or service like a blog, then it might make sense for you to pursue a digital advertising strategy or invest in social media.
If you're in an industry dominated by word of mouth referrals, than a strong client appreciation strategy -- sending gifts, handwritten notes and hosting small intimate events for key clients and referral sources might be more warranted.
The bottom line is that before you invest time, talent or capital into any marketing or public relations plan, you'll want to define who your audience is and figure out where to find them in order to tailor your plan accordingly.
Thoughts on new and traditional media, current events, life in Chicago and the occasional small Chihuahua photo.