The key to driving engagement and growing a social media following is knowing what your audience wants to see. To be successful with social media marketing, you need to create and share content your target audience resonates with.

Trying to figure out what works for your audience can be a challenge. With so much competition, short attention spans and balancing multiple social media profiles, driving engagement is more difficult than ever. As a result, it’s hard to tell the difference between content that was overlooked and content that people just didn’t like.

Most businesses just resort to good old trial and error to find what content gets the most attention. They’ll publish a bunch of posts and just hope something gets shared. That might get you an occasional win, but being more strategic will help you better understand your audience and give you insight to improve your social media marketing efforts.

By creating a content strategy, checking your social media analytics and doing a little social listening, you’ll be able to get a solid understanding of what works for your audience. Here’s how to do it.

Develop a Real Content Strategy

If you’re starting from scratch, your first step needs to be collecting data. That means creating and sharing a variety of content to see what your audience likes the most. We need to test two different variables:

  • Type of content: List posts, infographics, how-to articles, videos and other types of content.
  • Topics: Different topics within your industry. For instance, at Sprout we cover topics ranging from Twitter, Facebook, social media analytics and more.

The content you share should be a mix of original and curated content from other websites. It would take you an extremely long time to produce the amount of content you need to share to test what your audience likes. Use an aggregator like Feedly to source content to share. Then schedule your social media posts using Sprout Social.

The key is to plan ahead so you know you’re sharing enough of each content type and topics. You can put together a simple spreadsheet to track the content you plan to share.

You want at least 30 days worth of data before you start looking at the results. Also make sure you’re sharing each post on multiple days and times, and on different social networks. A post that didn’t perform well on Twitter might do better on your Pinterest account.

Test as many variables as you can to get the most accurate picture of what works for your audience.

Analyze the Results

After at least 30 days of consistent social shares, you should have enough data to see some trends and patterns. You’ll need a social media analytics tool that’ll show you the performance of your shares. It’ll make it easier to quickly find your top performing posts on all your profiles.

There are a few different metrics to look at to tell you which posts were the most popular. While reach and impressions are nice, what matters the most is the amount of engagement you’re receiving. Here are some of the metrics you should look at:

  • Clicks
  • Likes
  • Replies
  • Retweets

The posts that receive the most engagement are the ones that resonate with your audience the most, so focus on those.

Practice Social Listening

Brands that already have an active social media following can typically get an idea of what their audience likes by looking at their engagement. But if you have a smaller audience and less reach, your shares might not be getting any engagement. It’s hard to tell what your audience likes if your Tweets are only getting a couple Likes here and there.

Social listening is the perfect solution because it’s about paying attention to what your ideal customers are talking about. You can do social listening whether you have 50 or 50,000 followers.

We’re huge supporters of social listening at Sprout Social. In fact, it’s one of the main features of our product.

Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific phrases, words or brands, and then leveraging them to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences.

The easiest way to get started is by searching your preferred social network for keywords related to your industry.

Then look at what people are sharing and talking about to look for frequently mentioned topics.

Since you’ll get a ton of results, make it easier on yourself by taking a small sample on each network you plan on using. For instance, if we looked at 50 recent Tweets about social media marketing, it would give us a decent idea of what type of content to share related to that topic.

Social listening is about more than just looking at what’s being said. It’s about analyzing and interpreting the conversations to spot opportunities. For example, if you see people Tweeting about what the differences are between Instagram Stories and Snapchat, it could be a good opportunity to create and share content about that topic.

You can save a search in Sprout to stay up to date on the latest Tweets about your specified topics.

Try a variety of keywords and topics to get more ideas.

Look at Your Traffic

Looking through your site’s traffic is another great way to see what’s working and what’s not. Use a tool like Google Analytics to check how much traffic your website is getting from social media and what pages they’re spending the most time on.

You can even see the exact social network people are coming from.

In addition to checking your social network report, you should also look at your most visited pages overall. You can see this under Behavior. This report shows the traffic to all of your pages, which you can sort by page views or visitors.

These pages are popular for a reason. Look through the list to figure out what topics and types of content are the most popular. In addition to looking at page views, also look at metrics like how much time people are spending on the pages and what percentage of users are leaving your site after reading the content.

Another cool thing you can do with this report is search for content about specific topics. For instance, if we do a search for “Twitter” the report will show any pages with the word Twitter in the URL.

This is helpful when you want to know what type of content works well for different topics. You may find that your top posts related to a certain topic are infographics or listicles. You can use that information to create and share more content along the same lines.

Just Ask

For a long time, learning about your audience mainly consisted of figuring out their demographics. You wanted to know how old they were, where they lived and other general information. Now that content has become such an important part of marketing, learning about the personal preferences of your audience is extremely important. This is true for even international social media audiences.

One of the best ways to find out what works for your audience is also the simplest. Just ask them.

You could send a survey to your customers asking what type of content they want to see. You could also ask the question in a Twitter Poll. If you have a sales or account management team, have them keep track of some of the pain points prospects and customers mention.

Your current customers are an extremely valuable resources for content ideas, don’t overlook them. The people who take the time to respond and voice their opinions are often your most loyal customers so their feedback holds weight. Plus, consumers appreciate it when brands listen to them and show they value their opinions.

The popular crowdsource graphic design site 99Designs was actually started because the company’s founder Matt Mickiewicz listened to his audience. Prior to launching 99Designs, Mickiewicz ran a forum for developers called SitePoint. After noticing a lot of members posting design requests and informal contests, he decided to create a new site based on that concept.

Mickiewicz continued to source feedback and get ideas from users by implementing a voting system that let the community decide which suggestions they’d like to see come to life. Dozens of new features have been added as a result.

The takeaway from this story is to keep your ears open and don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. You never know when your customers will give you your next great idea.

The Biggest Mistake Brands Make

One of the worst things your brand can do is make assumptions about what your audience wants. You may be an expert in your industry, but your audience determines what content is relevant to them. The content you create and share should be based on what your audience likes, not just your personal preference.

This even applies to the social networks you choose to focus on. Your brand might be huge Twitter lovers. But if 50% of your target audience uses Snapchat, are you just going to ignore that platform? We’re not saying to abandon your brand’s persona, but you should be aware of what your audience wants.

With all the tools and resources available today, there’s no reason to play the guessing game. You can use social media data to determine exactly what works for your audience.

Get to Know Your Audience

The recurring theme here is you should make a genuine effort to understand your audience. Social media has made the process much easier, but you need to be proactive about it. Use the tactics above to figure out what works for your audience and you’ll be able to create better content and a richer experience for your customers.