Audience Targeting in Social Media


The folks within Forrester Research’s Groundswell team have done an amazing job of describing the “social technographic” profiles of Internet users, slotting users into categories such as Joiners, Spectators, etc.  I frequently turn to their research as a reality check.

However, for my purposes in PR, even simpler definitions can often apply.  I tend to think of our clients’ “target audiences” in terms of Passionates, Influencers and Ad-Hocs.

Passionates are people who care deeply about topics that are too niche to impact the mainstream zeitgeist. But within those areas of interest, they are acknowledged, respected, and taken seriously — even if their audiences are relatively small.  These are often “the original bloggers.”  Folks who care enough to create.

Influencers are people who have large groups of followers, across different online strata.  They almost always started out as Passionates but have “crossed over” into a more mainstream role.  They are the tastemakers.  Sometimes they are part of the modern media but this is actually fairly rare.  The authority that an Influencer gained (while still a Passionate) has eclipsed traditional media’s credibility.

Ad-Hocs are everyday folks.  They deserve attention, too — though that is very hard to scale.  By being patient and proactive with as many folks as possible, a brand marketer gains grassroots respect that is eventually noticed by bigger fish.  (By contrast, when you only pay attention to a select group, that gets noticed, too.  In a bad way.)

If you try to cross-reference these three user types against Forrester’s definitions, you realize that most all are Creators, Critics and Joiners.  Some Ad-Hocs no doubt normally fall into the Spectator category but some event has caused them to make the leap into creation/criticism (otherwise, we’d never know about them).

It’s relatively simple, from a technological standpoint, to determine who is a Passionate, an Influencer or an Ad-Hoc.

First of all, 95% of the online population are Ad-Hocs.  Jane & Joe Mouseclick.  The Influencers, of course, are already well known.  The Passionates are a li’l trickier to track down, but tools ranging from Technorati to Radian6, etc., can simplify the process.  Just takes time and manpower.  A worthwhile endeavor.

From a PROCESS standpoint — well, every case is different but we typically counsel clients to:

a) Pay attention to the Ad-Hocs immediately, ubiquitously, forever;

b) Seek out and engage the Passionates; then, when you’re ready,

c) Approach the Influencers.

The Ad-Hocs should be buzzing about you in a nice way to give you the street cred to say hello to the Passionates — who are particularly wary of marketers.  Win them over and you’ll have staunch defenders online, as well as a better-defined path to the Influencer communities.

This greatly simplifies the approach, of course, but as a basic tenet of outreach it holds up well.

What do you think?  Too darned simple?  Got a better way to describe the approach?  Got a better graphic you’ve been using?  Lemme hear from you!

Posted on: May 13, 2009 at 9:15 am By Todd Defren
39 Responses to “Audience Targeting in Social Media”


  • anon says:

    For the sake of better defining the ad-hocs, keep in mind that there’s a 4th group: people who simply don’t create or share, or who don’t participate at all (non-users).

  • Thanks for your post and breaking it down. I appreciate it. I am looking to try and connect a few people with out trying to sound selling.

    I am trying techrigy but I haven’t yet. I have to really develop a strategy since I somewhat have one in my head but I am not sure if I am translating it to paper right.

  • Lawrence Liu says:

    Excellent post!

    Here’s my model for PR audiences:
    1) Elites, MVPs, Advisory Council Members
    2) Influencers
    3) Highly Interested
    4) General

    Should be self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate on them in an upcoming post on my blog at

  • Heather Rast says:

    The recommendation I feel you’re making is that companies should tap into the most accessible, least emotionally distanced prospect segment. As with other low-hanging fruit, the Ad-Hoc group are prime targets for engaging in dialogue that could result in valuable feedback and insight, and likely result in ancillary conversations. The possibility for gaining empassioned followers capable of generating greater interest exists.

    I like the point you made about how genuine interaction with the Ad Hoc’s could lend credibility when a company aspires to step into the next level. I definitely think there’s something there, demonstration of a willingness to dive in and pay dues including answering tough questions, problem-solving on an individual level.

    I enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing it.

  • Mark Johnson says:

    I’m a big fan of models like this to inform decisions, but it would be interesting to see a case study or talk about how it’s used in practice. I think small companies usually make a mistake in tryin to cast the net too widely and go after Ad Hocs at the beginning; Influencers are easy because everyone knows who they are; the Passionates are the most valuable group (because they give you street cred for the Influencers and help to disseminate your message to the Ad Hocs), but they’re typically really tough to target. Maybe a follow up post talking about different techniques for addressing each group?

  • laurent says:

    Good model because of the simplicity. I like. The devils is in the ‘doing the engage the passionates’. On niche topic, there may be 1000s of passionates (5000 food bloggers, 1000 computer security bloggers…just in the USA). The scale is significant, the task will take time, better performed as a team and needs to be managed. One additional category that can be useful is ‘customers’. If a brand has satisfied customers who may be ad hoc, passionate or influencers, cultivate them and giving them the mean to grow is key too.

  • Great post, I love the way you simplified it, for many businesses it’s getting down to the nuts-n-bolts of identifying those groups within their market and potential market. I also wonder, as the previous commenter, are we going to reach a time where divisions are clearer or increasingly blurred – thinking ahead in the implications of either direction.


  • Hey Todd,

    I love this post. I actually LOVE the simplicity behind it, because I think we have a tendency to try and over-segment and label our communities. The trick is in the path between the ad-hoc and passionate people; in many ways, I feel like it’s my (our) job to be focusing on how we can bridge and cultivate between the two.

    Thanks for the shoutout and for some great food for thought.

    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community, Radian6

  • Todd,

    I like it. But this model tells you just one point in time – today. Now.

    Next week and next month the list will change.

    Everyone was an ad-hoc at one time. And many passionates become (major) influencers. Others just fade away.

    Your suggestions to clients to pay close attention to ad-hocs is critically important for long term success. Sadly, too many companies won’t bother with ad-hocs. That’s a mistake. That beginning blogger may have no audience today. But it you take the time to comment on their blog now, they will remember. Forever.

    • Keith Trivitt says:

      Todd -

      First, as always, great insight and thanks for posting this! I believe David’s reply does a very nice job of describing the situation within a real-time context. Yes, you can loosely break people into the three categories you mention, but in reality, much of social media is very fluid and constantly evolving, particularly in terms of groups/followers/fans.

      And that, really, is what makes social media such a great challenge and thrill to work in (IMHO): the constant fluidity of the business and its strategies. Until we get to the point where SM becomes more of an accepted part of mainstream PR and marketing plans where more research and scientific data has been gathered (even though I hated stats in grad school, I can now see its benefit!), I think we still need to leave some of the grouping in a free-form for now.

      Thanks again for the insight.

    • [ ... Take the time to comment on their blog now, they will remember... ]

      True. a well intentioned and cogent comment with at most 1 outgoing link, is high value social stuff to both the site owner and visitor. Blogs with off topic rants in comments have the opposite results.

      I allow 1 link and 1 graphic in my comment fields, and this has encouraged revists without needing a social member platform.

      excellent posts here. thanks for your insight

  • Great, great way to look at community building. I have different names for each of these but each category falls right in line with what I have done in every social network since I started creating campaigns.

    So dead on. Thanks Todd.

  • Lewis Green says:


    I like the way you describe your three audiences but find that I can’t really put folks in those categories, especially the Influencers if based on number of followers. Maybe it’s me but outside of Twitter, I suspect most people have never heard of most of those folks and certainly aren’t influenced by them. Gosh. Mostly we’re talking about techies, aren’t we, who only influence each other. They aren’t a part of most people’s universe, are they? I certainly wouldn’t count on them to help my clients’ marketing, PR or sales efforts.

    Where am I going wrong? What am I missing?.

  • Ryan Miller says:


    Great post. I’m actually going to be giving a presentation to a client this afternoon on why they need to engage their base using social media tools, and this is great tangible information on how to break down the conversations that are out there. Many many thanks.

    I’m wondering though, as more and more brands come into this space, do you think that a ‘class structure’ of Twitter users will be even more defined? Right now it seems as the influencers, passionates, ad-hocs and brands are all pretty accessible. Do you see this changing as more people start playing in the space?


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