Feel Their Pain

Oh, social media: the most necessary evil of the 21st century. (Don’t fact-check that.)

But really, if we break it down, there were more than 1.5 billion people on Facebook last year. For those of you who can’t comprehend such huge numbers (guilty), that’s more zeroes than will fit on your iPhone’s calculator. For comparison, 98.75 million people subscribe to Netflix – Facebook alone surpasses those numbers. (Sorry, Netflix. No chill.)

Whether social media is running your life or not, it has become prime real estate for marketing, making this a tool that won’t go away anytime soon. For the most part, that’s great. New capabilities are always being rolled out, influencer marketing is running rampant, and for the first time, brands are able to directly engage their audiences in real time – and customer satisfaction levels are soaring, in large part due to consumers feeling like their concerns are actually being heard. In a way, we’re bridging the gap between the public and the brand. People feel closer to a brand after engaging with them, much like you would feel much closer to Margot Robbie if she favorited your tweet.

But it’s not all fun and games. With instantaneous posting, ever-changing trends and a constant flow of controversial content, advertisers have a pretty serious responsibility. So where should we be concerned?

In recent years, various studies linking heavy social media usage to depression have brought numerous worries to light. Parents are more protective of their children’s screen time, cyberbullying has become a hot-button issue, and an “obsessive comparison” culture has taken root.

This means we have to be overly aware of the type of messaging we put into the world – not just the words, but also the associated imagery, as well as any misperceptions that could come along with it. We’ve got to make sure we aren’t unintentionally causing someone harm where it can be avoided, which is easier said than done.

Case in point: the most recent Pepsi ad. We won’t get political here, but clearly the received message was not the same as the intended one.

There’s no right answer to the question of how to avoid unintentional messaging. The truth is, everyone approaches content with a unique point of view, and each person will have a different reaction to the same message. The key is to always try to understand your audience, and to think like someone who disagrees with you. You’d be shocked at how not so crystal-clear things are when you look at them through someone else’s eyes.

For me specifically, I think about my best friend. She’s a single woman, age 20-25, which means most of you have probably already thought of products you would target her with. But what you don’t know – what you don’t see on social media – is that she struggles with severe depression. Which means this ad she sees, about a happy woman with her happy family and her super successful life, may have been meant to motivate her – but it actually kept her in on a Friday night. That ad with an attractive man “protectively” holding on to his lady friend may remind her of a more aggressive situation.

We can’t target this. There’s no way for us to know the intimate details of what has happened to each of our audience members, but we have to be aware of it.

Sometimes, we get so disconnected from our audience. We describe them with labels like “moms,” “single,” “educated” and “high-income.” But is that who these people are? They have names, lives, problems. They may have known tragedy, and they may be full of regret. We should be thinking about each of them, because we’re talking to all of them. You change the way you speak depending on who you’re talking to, do you not?

My little trick is to give them a name. Different names, different people, but all part of the audience – the professional thing here would be to call them personas. For example, “Karen” may be a stay-at-home mom with ambitions of going back to school, while “Stephanie” is a single parent working over 60 hours a week who is in need of some serious help to manage all her obligations. Not to mention “Tyler,” who graduated high school, stayed in his hometown to take care of his family and became successful with his trade. It’s about user-centered messaging. These are the people we have an obligation to.

Messaging and creative should always be thought out in terms of who you’re speaking to, and responses should be as well. Don’t say to “Devin” what you said to “Natasha.” Speak to them like they’re real people – because they are.

We have got to learn to be aware of what’s happening in the lives of those around us. We can’t assume that all is well, and that a canned response is enough. Our job is to not only reach them, but actually speak to them. Acting as if everyone is the same is genuinely irresponsible. A lot goes into achieving this desired result, so for time’s sake, we’ll give you the quick-and-dirty version.

Step One: Define Your Core Audience

This may sound like common sense, but I don’t mean you should tell me you’re targeting men age 18-65 who live in the metro – that’s not the core of anything. Actually figure out who you’re trying to reach. What are their questions? Do you have the answers? If you don’t know what these questions are, do some research – don’t guess.

Step Two: Feel Their Pain

While you’re getting to know your audience, figure out what their problems are. What areas are causing their little hearts to break? A great example I stumbled upon recently is the never-ending weight-loss conundrum. If people are Googling “help me lose weight,” they are probably either tired of not seeing results with weight-loss programs, quickly trying to lose weight (if prepping for a wedding, vacation, etc.), or feeling some mixture of confusion, frustration and indecisiveness.

Now that you know their problems, or “pain points,” you can be more specific in your messaging. This broadens your horizons. You don’t have to focus on your big keywords. You can integrate these consumers into your content and show that you understand their frustrations – and may be able to offer a solution.

Step Three: Answer Their Questions

Start thinking about your keywords as questions – because generally speaking, if someone is searching online, they’re asking a question. Answer it. Integrate that answer into each piece of your content. Cut through the clutter with attention-grabbing titles, use strong imagery and stay focused on your user. If people are looking for an answer, they won’t stop until they find it, so being relevant can be more important than being clever.

If you can master all of that, you’ve done more than positioned yourself as the expert – you’ve bridged the gap between you and your audience. You’ve shown that you heard them, you understood them and you’re the new go-to place for the answer. Powerful stuff, my friends.

So keep learning. Keep creating. And keep getting better.