Association Insights


Finding New Customers with Social Media

Dec 18 2017

By: Matt Bradford

Social media offers a virtual world of promotional opportunities, and among those is the ability to reach potential customers on their own digital turf. Yet with almost 3 billion people tweeting 500 million messages and watching 3 billion YouTube videos a day, actually finding the people with the highest potential of buying from your association can be overwhelming and costly. Here's where knowing your target audience and understanding the tricks of the online trade can help build a strong social media strategy.

“The first step in using social media to grow is to identify the channel and the topics that your potential members are using,” explains Suzanne Carawan, Chief Marketing Officer of HighRoad Solution. “The whole idea is to get your content in front of a group of individuals who aren’t aware that you have products and services that can benefit them.”

Building Your Buyer Persona

Your customers are out there – you just have to know who they are. That begins with creating a “buyer persona”, which is a generalized representation of your ideal customer. Think of a buyer persona as a fictional character who embodies the needs, wants, concerns, and habits that speak directly to the product or service you are offering. More than that, however, a buyer persona helps paint a clearer picture of what potential customers are doing online, where they're most likely to be found, the voice to use to connect with them, and which social media messages they respond to best.

Building a buyer persona takes research and resources, but the return on investment is worth the effort. The process includes interviewing current members to find out what drew them to your association, speaking with newly acquired members to understand where they found you, and consulting with industry partners to gain insights into the type of people you're hoping to attract.


Once you have your buyer persona, the next step is using it. And between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and countless other online communities, there are plenty of social media channels to choose.

Twitter, for example, is a quick and easy way to speak directly to potential customers. However, firing off 140 characters and simply hoping someone reads your post won't get you far. To get attention, you need to be familiar with the concept of hashtags (searchable keywords that link Twitter messages between users), what content your potential customers typically “like” or “re-tweet”, and even the time of day they are checking their feeds.

Similar considerations apply to channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube, where knowing the type, length, and tone of videos or messages your potential customers enjoy can go a long way towards catching their attention.

Effective Ad Placement

One perk of using social media marketing is that it can often be free (save for the time and human talent required to keep the campaign going). For a more targeted approach, however, many social media channels provide an opportunity to purchase ad space on users' feeds. In many cases, the social media channel will already have the data and analytics on their user base to help you target the customers with the greatest potential of reading your message.

These ads can take the form of anything from website banners to sponsored Facebook posts, commercials before a YouTube video, or “promoted” content that boosts your message among targeted users.

“Earmarking funds for digital advertising is a relatively new practice for associations,” states Carawan. “Our State of Digital Marketing in Associations Study tracks the growth over time of using paid digital advertising in the association’s marketing portfolio. We need to see investment in this area if we are going to grow new revenue through the recruitment of new members. Paid digital advertising allows the association to get in front of potential members in the most targeted, cost-effective way possible.”

Using social media to generate leads for membership and product/program purchases is an absolute must for today’s associations. While associations are behind in using social media for lead generation, they are ideally positioned to quickly catch up due to the abundance of quality content each organization has to offer. All associations need is a digital agency partner to help them build capacity in using social media to grow revenue.

Suzanne Carawan is Chief Marketing Officer with HighRoad Solution. For a copy of the 2016 State of Digital Marketing in Associations Research Report, visit