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Imagine you’re given the option to buy a gift for one of two strangers using only the following information:

Person A

  • Male
  • Single
  • Between the ages of 24 – 53
  • Lives in Massachusetts
  • Makes $75K per year

Person B

  • Male
  • Travel enthusiast
  • Manager at a major corporation
  • Early tech adopter
  • Interested in athletics, particularly tennis and golf

Who do you think you could buy a better gift for?

The obvious answer is Person B. Gender, location and age are important, but they don’t really reveal what makes someone tick. On the other hand, likes, hobbies, and habits provide a much more complete picture of who someone is, and what motivates them.

Although greatly simplified, the above example demonstrates how demographic info stacks up against more detailed user personas to help you tap into a consumer’s mindset.

Traditionally, marketers have used personas to dictate messaging—after all, who you are talking to has a great deal to do with what you should say. While this is an important step in the advertising process, what good is a perfectly tailored message if it’s not seen by the intended audience?

Instead of letting personas go by the wayside once content is created, advertisers can also use definitions to pinpoint the most applicable audience for their ads.

Until recently, serving ads with this level of specificity was near impossible. For example, with tv, advertisers can buy commercial spots during a primetime drama with the hopes of engaging middle-aged women, but there’s no guarantee that it will work. Along the same lines, buying an ad in Cosmopolitan holds implications about the target audience you will be reaching, but without concrete proof.

Thanks to social advertising, we can now do much better. 

Persona Targeting on Social

While specific tactics vary by platform, across any social network there are several constants to keep in mind when creating persona-based targeting segments.

Focus on “Qualitative” Categories 

In addition to more traditional demographic information, such as age, location, and gender, dig deeper into the other targeting specs offered by each individual platform. On Facebook, behavioral targeting is ideal for creating audiences based on their digital activities, what devices they use, past or intended purchases, and travel. Similarly, interest targeting provides context around what users share on their Timelines, which apps they use, Pages they liked and other activities on and off of Facebook.

Additionally, Facebook offers education, relationship status, generation, household composition, employers, and a number of other targeting specs that can be used to round out personas.

While there are slightly fewer options for advertisers on Twitter, both interest and keyword targeting are effective strategies to build audiences that go beyond the basic.

On LinkedIn, personas revolve around your audience’s professional, rather than personal, identity. Advertisers can select from job title, role, and company size to hone in on the professional persona that best meets their messaging.

Use Your Own Information

Though social networks provide a vast array of targeting specs for advertisers to select from, sometimes the most valuable audiences are created using internal data. Using internal CRM systems, both Facebook and Twitter allow for custom audience creation in the form of Custom Audiences and Tailored Audiences, respectively.

While the personas culled from internal data may not be as exact as those created using social data, they can help brands hone in on known categories of customers or users. For example, a brand could create an audience composed of high-value customers as well as one containing engaged users who have yet to make a purchase.


Moral of the story? Demographic targeting can be effective, but it hardly allows advertisers to take advantage of the full breadth of user data available to them. Messaging is created with a specific audience in mind—and with social media, you have the tools at your disposal to reach those exact people.

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