The great content marketer Ann Handley advocates for making your customer, rather than your company, the hero of your brand story. It can be difficult to create a compelling heroic arc, though, if you don’t understand who your customers are. Getting that part right is as critical to a good brand story as it is to your favorite novel or TV show.

To create an effective marketing, sales or social media strategy, you must first have a clear idea of who is consuming your content and why. In this guide, we’ll show you how to better understand your target audience by creating buyer personas built on social media data.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona (sometimes referred to as a customer persona, target persona, audience persona or marketing persona) is a fictionalized profile of your target customer. This internal document is used by marketing, sales and product teams to ensure their messages and activities are tailored to the people they want to reach. The information recorded for each buyer persona will vary depending on the brand but often include things like the channels they frequent, their motivations, their pain points, as well as demographic information like age, gender and location.

Most brands develop many personas to stand in for the various people who participate in the buying cycle for their particular product or service. The number you need will depend on the complexity of your brand’s offerings as well as the heterogeneity of your audience base.

Why are buyer personas important?

Buyer personas are important to brands and social media marketers because they act as a guide to understanding the voice of their customers. When built on diligent market research, they can be helpful in a variety of circumstances in and beyond marketing, offering critical audience insights. This information can then be used to shape everything from campaign creative to new product development.

More specifically, buyer personas help teams to:

  • Make quicker, more strategic decisions. With defined buyer personas, marketing teams have a foundational knowledge of who their customers are and what they want. They don’t have to scramble doing a bunch of just-in-time research or making guesses about how a marketing message or activity might be perceived by their target audience.
  • Create better content by delivering messages tailored to specific audiences. By proactively seeking to understand your customers’ pain points, your team will be better positioned to craft nuanced blog articles, investor decks, help center content and other resources that provide specific, relevant value to people at different stages of the customer journey. This stands in stark contrast to brands that forgo this step and write content that is too broad to be helpful to anyone.
  • Accelerate buyers through the sales cycle. When customers feel like you understand their pain points and are delivering relevant solutions, they will progress from knowing to liking to trusting your brand more quickly than if your marketing messages were scattershot or unstrategic.

How to create a buyer persona using data from social media

So, how do you actually create a buyer persona that will make your life easier? Glad you asked. There are five key steps you should take.

1. Evaluate your existing audience

The first step you should take is to get a handle on your existing audience by aggregating social media data across your active social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) With the right tool, you can easily determine the attributes of your most engaged followers. Characteristics like age, interests, professional title or industry can help you better understand how to reach them.

In Sprout, running a Profile Performance Report gives you a snapshot of your brand’s visibility across the major networks to quickly identify patterns in your engaged audience base.

Sprout Profile Performance Report Analytics

As a tenured brand, Starbucks knows enough about their audience to realize they love the release of seasonal concoctions. The moral of the story: keep your ear to the ground to learn what your engaged audience loves and then lean into it. Hard.

2. Analyze competitors’ audiences

Most marketers understand that it’s critical to have a firm grasp on your competition’s value proposition, strategy and positioning. But fewer recognize the opportunity to mine for this information (and more) via social channels. Social listening can be a great source of business intelligence that allows brands to harvest voice of customer data without doing the legwork involved in a full market research project.

Wendy’s and McDonald’s are both well-known fast food juggernauts. And their social media game is tight. So, when McDonald’s recently got a lot of social attention via high-profile celebrity partnerships, Wendy’s kept an eye out for a chance to enter the conversation.

With a tool like Sprout, you can easily analyze the competition’s data to see what tactics are working for them, who they are attracting and how that audience might intersect with your own. Sprout’s Competitive Analysis Topic Template (available in the Advanced Listening plan) allows you to see everything from engagement trends to message sentiment and audience demographics for up to 10 competitors.

3. Find customer pain points and goals

A good buyer persona delivers more than mere demographic information. At their best, these tools offer a glimpse into your customers’ psyches to uncover the social, emotional and logical reasons they behave the way they do. Marketers need to understand their customers’ pain points in order to clearly explain how their product or service can alleviate them.

In Sprout, you can search for positive and negative brand or product mentions across social to understand how your customers view your offering, and ultimately, what drives them to buy. @Mentions and hashtags are a good place to start, but Sprout’s Smart Inbox can help you go further to keep an eye on how people are using your branded keywords (e.g., brand and product names) on social.

Pro tip: You can even use this tool to monitor your competitors’ branded keywords to see how their public sentiment compares to your own.

keeping all of your messages in a single inbox makes for a speedier social media marketing strategy

For instance, Calm has recently expanded their kid-focused content (#CalmKids) in an effort to grow their audience. This means a good portion of their social content is now targeted toward parents and highlights the benefits of using their app with your children. With posts like this, they can (and should) monitor how people respond to track public sentiment about this new offering.

4. Get insights from customer support

As I’m sure you’re aware, social media has become a primary outlet for customers looking to voice frustration with a product or get a quick response from a brand (especially when other channels have failed). Thus, your customer support teams have a unique perspective to offer because they field questions and complaints constantly. This often overlooked group can provide key insights to help you speak with authority on your customers’ pain points.

Looking for a place to start? With Sprout’s Smart Inbox Views and Automated Rules, customer care teams can create an efficient tagging strategy to organize incoming messages. This sets you up to analyze inbound posts in a way that makes sense for your brand (e.g., by product line, sentiment, question type, etc.).

Sprout Social Smart Inbox Tag Support Monitoring Feature

In the following customer service Tweet, a ClassPass subscriber vents frustration about using trial credits. ClassPass has an opportunity here to mine their social data to see if this is an issue that other users often experience. And if so, create a plan to address it.

5. Build your buyer persona

The last step, unsurprisingly, is to take all the information you’ve gathered and put it together in a buyer persona (or multiple personas). This document can be used by your marketing and sales teams to support their efforts to engage prospects and customers.

An example buyer persona

The following example of a buyer persona does a good job of visually representing windchime’s ideal customer avatar, Jerome Carter, via demographic information, motivations, goals, frustrations and even personality traits. Your buyer persona doesn’t have to be this well designed, though, to be effective. Consistency, in whatever format you choose, is key.

example of a buyer persona

Don’t let your buyer personas collect dust

No matter your role or who you market to (B2B or B2C, Millennials or Boomers, etc.), a clear understanding of your audience’s goals and motivations can be a game changer. Once your buyer personas are built, the work really begins. The best marketers continually and intentionally integrate them into strategy conversations and make sure they are updated regularly. Public sentiment is a moving target. It’s important to stay current—building personas with social data helps you do just that.

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our buyer persona template with tips for accessing the data you need in a tool like Sprout.