I don’t know about you, but I produce the best work when I’m fully engaged in any given project I’m working on. This means that I’m not only interested in what my client has to offer (and am probably a member of their target market), but have taken the time to really understand the ins and outs of their business so that I can design in the best way possible. Because of this, the research + discovery phase of my process is absolutely pivotal.
Recently, I started allocating even more time towards this phase in order to establish a solid foundation with my clients and one of the exercises that’s been a big help is what I like to call an audience deep dive. This is where we drop assumptions and observe + explore their audience in real time, figuring out who they are, how they consume, what they like, and so much more. I truly believe that this exercise is something all business owners can benefit from, whether it’s for yourself or for a client. So! I’m going to tell you exactly how to do it.
Fair warning: this is definitely a rabbit hole type of experiment with lots of clicking, so it’s easier to be at your computer. You’ll also want to take notes, so grab a clean notebook and follow along below:
THE DEEP DIVE EXERCISE
Works best for existing businesses.
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01. IDENTIFY HIGHEST ENGAGEMENT Pull up the social media account that gets the most user engagement. And remember, engagement doesn’t necessarily equate to a high follower count, so go beyond that and decide which account is experiencing the most discussion (usually with comments). For Rowan Made, this is definitely Instagram. It’s a space where my audience interacts on a regular basis, well beyond anything else.
02. EXPLORE FOLLOWERS Next, navigate to a few recent posts that received a good amount of engagement. Likes (or shares or retweets) are a good start, but again, comments are truly where it’s at. Anyone can quickly double tap a photo (or heart or like a post), but those who take a few seconds out of their day to actually write something are a better reflection of your tribe.
From there, click on the usernames of at least 10-20 people who left you a comment. I like to open their profiles in a new tab on my browser window to keep myself from getting lost. ;) Then, one by one, start observing. What do their feeds look like? What do they like to share or write about? Who are they (young women, moms, creatives, etc.)? What life stage are they in? Jot down any common threads that you notice and after a bit of exploring, you’ll start to have a real time overview of who your audience is. And if you feel like 10-20 people didn’t give you enough, dive deeper. A greater sampling certainly won’t hurt. ;)
I’ve gone through this exercise a few times myself with Rowan Made and found that my people are often entrepreneurs, typically in the design field. Most follow other creative entrepreneurs and enjoy process shots as well as behind the scenes posts. I keep this in mind while strategizing what to share, whether it’s on the blog or within social media, so that everything is tailored specifically for my people.
03. EXPLORE WHO YOUR AUDIENCE FOLLOWS This is where the rabbit hole game really gets going. Go back to the 10-20 people you were just observing, but this time, click on the provided list of who THEY are following. In step two, our exploration centered around who our people are as well as what they’re sharing. But this time, you’ll dig deeper and observe HOW they consume content.
To get started, click on the usernames of at least 10-20 people that your followers are following. And again, jot down any common threads that you notice between all of these accounts. For example, maybe your audience follows a lot of photographers. Or maybe they follow mostly women. There are literally endless amounts of ways in which one can connect the dots, you just have to discover them. And I promise, it’s easier than it sounds. Commonalities will literally jump off the page and into your notebook.
04. REVIEW NOTES At this point, you should have a good page or two (or three!!) filled up with notes about your people, from who they are and what they share to what they enjoy in life. If you’re doing this exercise for yourself, you can leave it at that (messy and exploratory). But if this is for a client, you’ll want to summarize your findings in an easy to digest way. Just a paragraph or two should do it. OR, you can even have your clients run through this exercise on their own time in case they pick up on some more commonalities.
Not all designers will agree with me about doing more of the heavy lifting up front and to that I say: good for you, not for me. ;) We all work differently and that’s absolutely okay. But without that initial research + discovery phase*, I’d feel like I’m grasping at straws and simply making things pretty just for the hell of it. And for me, that’s not what design is about. So I choose to go deeper with my clients for the better of the project.
Yes, this does elongate my process. And yes, I may need to charge a little bit more in order to account for the added time and value. But I truly truly think that the results are worth it. And ultimately, my ideal client would agree. So it’s a win win situation. ;)
* Note: The only time I don’t go through the research + discovery phase is if my client has already hired someone else to do this or has done a good job of it themselves and can provide exactly what I need.