There is a surplus of content and media in the market today. If you are small business or entrepreneur, it can be extremely difficult breaking through the noise to reach your distracted customers online. Not only are you competing with your direct competitors, but you also have to think about every company with a Facebook page and a budget.

Your customers can only ingest a finite amount of information at a given time. It’s the same psychology behind Twitter’s 140-character limit or why the average Facebook user only has a few hundred friends. Most humans cannot manage their lives effectively with an excess of media sources competing for their attention. The abundance of content vying for their attention often outweighs what they can actually comprehend or believe.

And because your customers have tunnel vision and only want to consume content that is relevant to their specific interests at a given moment in time, it’s critical that your stories are laser-focused.

Audience intelligence is the key to storytelling.

The way to break through the clutter of content madness and tell a better story than your competitors is to get a firm understanding of your audience. This will ensure that you take out as much guesswork as possible while also being more calculated when telling your story.

But how should you go about collecting audience intelligence in this digital era? Many companies begin and end with Facebook Audience Insights due to its massive user base; however, there are additional tactics for you to consider.

While Facebook’s Audience Insights can help you build a stronger understanding of how to target specific audiences based on demographics, page likes, location and language, usage and purchase activity, the problem with relying too heavily on Facebook is that you’re limiting your analysis to one audience and platform.

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The typical buyer journey expands much further than Facebook and your audience analysis should as well.

For example, imagine that you work for a startup that sells API software directly to the IT community. Facebook may not be the place where the IT audience is having API-related conversations, and if they were, you wouldn’t necessary have access to all of the insights that would help you tell stories that they would actually care about.

Audience intelligence is an approach that starts and ends with the customers that matter to your business.

In this case, it would be the people who work in IT.

The key to gathering as much intelligence about your audience as possible is to use a very specific set of criteria when building your panel: self-identified IT professionals, people who follow companies in the IT space, people who share IT-related content or people who use certain trigger words when having discussions online (i.e. app development, programmable web, routines, protocols, software applications, etc.).

Technology platforms like People Pattern can help build, mine and provide insights into your specific audiences across multiple platforms and data sources. Here’s an example of keywords and phrases taken directly from the platform:

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This is a small sample of verbatim keywords, used by a chosen audience around four specific categories - business, marketing, small business and travel. If this was the audience you wanted to reach, you would now understand the context of the conversation when they are talking about specific issues, like small business. This level of intelligence helps you prioritize the stories you want to put into the market, the words you'll want to use when writing headlines, post copy and blog posts. It can also help determine the targeting parameters you want to include when building your paid media strategy.

But imagine that you had additional intelligence to answer the following questions?

  • What type of media publications is my audience sharing?
  • What kind of language and vernacular are my customers using when talking about my products?
  • What keywords do my customers use in context with my brand, products or services?
  • What hashtags do my customers use the most—and why?
  • What are their interests and characteristics that make my customers unique from my competitors and everyone else?
  • What channel(s) is my audience spending their time the most?
  • What times are my customers frequently publishing content online?
  • Other than my content, what are the other interests or passions of my customers? How do they vary by geography? How does that vary by lifecycle stage?

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Answering these questions is critical to your business. You can begin to differentiate your brand from others and also collect insights into the patterns that define your customer’s interests and behaviors online.

Lastly, you can take these learnings, and apply it directly to a content program that matches and addresses what your customers are also talking about. It will allow you to tell stories that will resonate with them and be relevant to your brand at the same time.