Finding The Right Search Frequency

This morning, I watched a man on television tell business owners not to use Twitter unless they were focusing on females 18-34, the most dominant demographic group on the microblogging site. He then drove home his point about how terrible Twitter is by referring to a study that showed 90% of tweets are meaningless rubbish about what people had for breakfast, and only 10% are in any way helpful to humanity.

I'd like to have been a research scientist on that project! "Dr. Macbeth, I'm not sure whether to put this LOLcat tweet under "meaningless" or not. Is making people laugh helpful to humanity?" To be honest, a 90/10 ratio has to be an improvement over the current state of television programming -- a balloon hoax designed to land a role on a reality show? -- and it certainly sounds like a reasonable rule of thumb for the face-to-face conversations we have every day.

But it was the demographic comment that hit home for me. "Dominant demographic" is a carryover from traditional media, in which a commercial message had to be broadcast to the entirety of a channel's audience. If you were selling men's deodorant, what you cared about was that the bulk of Super Bowl viewers were in your target market. If your dragnet happened to pick up a few old ladies, it couldn't be helped.



But online advertising is not a homogeneous channel. Twitter is not a homogeneous channel. Google is not a homogeneous channel.

Instead, what new media excels at is the ability to allow advertisers to specify their broadcasting frequency, combined with the ability to allow consumers to tune their ad radios with ever-increasing granularity.


Seeming non sequitur: have you ever noticed that Democrats hang out with Democrats? Or that crazy Georgia fans hang out with crazy Georgia fans? We are all mini two-way radios, transmitting and receiving information and adjusting our own frequency every day. Every day, we're efficiently focusing on what we want to do, see, and hear, and neatly discarding everything else. This tuning process is two-way, so as we adjust our own frequencies, other people find us more or less relevant.

Google has risen to the top of the search heap because its results tend to resonate at the same frequency as our intentions. That's great news for searchers and for advertisers, because when there's a frequency match, there's likely to be a sale. But the Google process is close enough to traditional advertising (I take out a classified, I get some buyers), that we haven't necessarily noticed that that's what's going on.

When it comes to social media, though, that's exactly what we need to understand. You're not marketing on Twitter; you're adjusting your frequency for the highly select subset of people who tune in to your message.

This is why, now more than ever, specificity is critical. The more focused your message, the stronger it resonates (think of a laser). The stronger it resonates, the more likely it is to find its own kind: those people who will appreciate what you have to say.

The question we need to be asking is not, "What's Twitter's primary demographic?" but "Is my demographic on there in sufficient numbers to be worthwhile?" On Twitter, I choose not to tune in to Ashton or the "what I had for breakfast" types -- that's just not the frequency at which I resonate. Instead, I've found lots of people who make the endeavour worthwhile.

Find your frequency. Then focus on it and make it more powerful. You'll discover like minds everywhere you turn.

3 comments about "Finding The Right Search Frequency".
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  1. Renee Mcgivern from Spark Plug Consulting, October 20, 2009 at 12:52 p.m.

    Excellent point. It baffles me that some pretty bright people are not understanding that social media tools - all communication tools, for that matter - have distinct uses and distinct audiences. The analogy of "frequencies" is very helpful and my clients will understand it right away. Thanks.

  2. Mike Valentine from RealitySEO, October 20, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

    That's exactly the thing I've tried to explain to co-workers, friends and family members who don't understand Twitter. Thanks for the clarity! I'll be printing this as a handout for those who claim to understand the web, but don't understand social media.

  3. Ibrahim (larry) Moss from Virtuoso, LLC, October 20, 2009 at 7:25 p.m.

    The article, more generally, demonstrates to what extent we are all captives of pseudo-sciences. Demographic studies, marketing, etc are manifestations of pseudo-sciences, and perhaps one of the worst examples of this wrong-science. Why?

    Lets look under the hood of some of the components of demographic marketing. Look at all idiocy of our definitions. Is race a thing in fact, or a reflection of those in power who want to determine social orders, privileges, and other things? Also, at what specific age did anyone so change that s/he became different? When did a $40,000 household income stop someone from making a down payment on a three year old BMW? When did a rural American zip-code prevent someone from voting for Barack Obama, or an inner city kid from buying a pair of Columbia hiking boots? When did being homosexual stop a man from being a conservative? When did Apple, Inc., decide to market its iPods to persons who will only spend more than a $1,000 or their laptop computer?

    The truth about demographics is that too imprecise as a measurement for predicting human behavior and spending habits. Sure, it may be a good measure for collecting data historical data points, but even that is limited.

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