People discuss their most important life events in social media – in public – all the time.

This reality opens the door for savvy and sensitive marketers to connect with new customers in ways never dreamed of just five years ago.

But marketing to life events in social media requires the right attitude, the right tools, honesty & sensitivity to others – plus a few new skills.

HELP OTHERS WOOD LETTER BLOCK

What are “life events”?

Life events are the most important things that happen to us in our lives. They include events we control, like taking a new job, plus all the events we don’t, like getting laid off.

There are several lists of life events available on the web. One of them is the Stress Scale prepared by Holmes and Rahe.  It has the advantage of weighting each type of event based upon the relative amount of physical and mental stress involved – a proxy for the relative importance in the average person’s life.

The Holmes-Rahe list for Adults is shown in the table below.

NOTE: the life events we track at NeedTagger are highlighted in bold.

Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

As you can see, many life events are quite marketing-worthy, but some are delicate private matters best left alone.

Life Event Marketing

Life events are marketing gold.

Major life events – things like getting married, having a baby and changing jobs – are directly responsible for a large portion of US consumer spending. The link between life events and consumer spending is easy to understand.  Getting married? find a new home together. Having a baby? buy a new SUV.  Changing jobs? buy a new suit.

There are plenty of studies out there that prove this. For example, a recent Forrester Research study of 26,000 online households showed that consumers are 43% more likely to buy a financial product around a life event.

Marketing to people experiencing life events is as old as marketing itself. Before the term “marketing” took hold, we probably called it “helping people during their moment of need”.

Today, marketers understand the intimate connection between life events and purchasing power and have wrapped their advertising spend around them. For example, many TV ads mention or imply a connection between their product and a life event. Retirement planning, real estate, pharmaceuticals and life insurance commercials are the most vivid examples.

Many internet media companies have embraced life events as their central marketing strategy.  As iVillage VP of Sales Marketing & Client Services Michael Streefland explains:

Targeting at key life events is the very core of (our business). Women like to gather and share with one another about events in their life that are mile markers.

Life Events & Social Media

As you might guess, we love to talk about our life events in social media, and we do it all the time. We ask our friends and colleagues for advice when planning our weddings, when moving to a new city and when choosing our next college.

Clearly, many large brands want to know when we do. That’s one reason Facebook’s Timeline design excites marketers so much.

But how big is this opportunity?

To get a feel for how often we discuss life events in social media, let’s look at one example: changing your residence.

The leading marketing data firm, Experian, reports about 290,000 changes in home ownership in the US each month.  On NeedTagger, we detect about 65,000 people discussing a change in residence each month on Twitter – even though only 15% of Americans use the network so far.

NeedTagger pre tested stream: Life Events Change in Residence

It’s still early days, but from what we see every day, people are really open to discussing their life events in a public social forums like Twitter.

How to Market to Life Events in Social Media

OK, so people talk about their personal lives online.  How can we leverage it for marketing? and, should we?

First of all, let’s understand that people experiencing life events are already being marketed to, en masse. For example, a large portion of the direct marketing / mail business is dedicated to welcoming people to their new home, new car, etc.

But blanketing the country with “welcome to your new home” postcards isn’t the same act as personally reaching out to someone you don’t know on Twitter to help them.

Social media is different than other direct marketing channels in several important ways:

  • It is personal. People bare their souls all the time. For many, it is a form of self-therapy. But that doesn’t mean they want your company to know.
  • It is often intimate. One-on-one conversations can be embarrassingly private, even when held completely in public on a network like Twitter.
  • It is real time. A lot of information (and brand damage) can pass in minutes. So be careful what you say.

These characteristics provide a significant upside for marketers who can tap into life events to market their products and services:  they can gain new customer relationships for very little cost.

But the same characteristics introduce new risks.

In general, marketing to a person discussing a life event online is something you need to treat with the utmost respect and care. If not done correctly, your outreach can be viewed as creepy, in bad taste – or even threatening.

Caveats aside, did you know that life event marketing in “social media” has been going on for at least twenty years?

Before Twitter or Facebook even existed, marketers scored new business from online forums using time-proven customer prospecting methods. The same methods work today.

To see a few recent examples, check out our Pinterest gallery of companies marketing to life events on Twitter.

Best Practices

Successful social media marketers focus on reaching out to people who have specific questions or needs related to their business. Then, they meet those needs and answer their questions.

Based upon observing how thousands of people engage with prospects using NeedTagger, we’ve developed a list of best practices that we recommend using when connecting with a potential customer discussing a life event, as follows:

  1. seek to help people solve problems related to your core business (or your personal experience). Don’t try to be interesting, funny or cute.
  2. avoid canned messages (at all costs).  The primary advantage of social media is the personal touch. Lose that, and you’re better off ignoring the medium.
  3. focus on sharing information, not advice. Don’t address how someone feels, advise them on what they should do next, or provide any sort of personal advice.
  4. respect the emotional state of the author at all times.  If you are unsure, then don’t send a message.
  5. research the author’s profile and their recent messaging behavior before taking action.  Has this person used Twitter before to ask for and receive advice?  or is this really out of character for this person? if so, then the risk of backlash is greater.
  6. respect the conversational context of the post: is this person “shouting out for help” and thus will not be surprised if anyone responds? or are they speaking with a friend or engaged in a multi-party discussion? big difference!
  7. share links to helpful content with no strings attached; or, if there are strings, then provide an honest description in the post about what’s behind the link. For example, if there is a form required to obtain the information, then tell ‘em this upfront.
  8. monitor and respond quickly (same-day) to any reactions, retweets and complaints generated from your outreach messages.
  9. lean on your profile/bio to help you sell. In your Twitter bio, explain who you are and what you sell. Most people will check you out if they like the information you share. You can even put a CTA (call-to-action) in there.

Getting Started

OK, let’s say you’re convinced and want to try “life event marketing” on Twitter. What do you do next?

The good news is that this is not hard to do – especially if your company sells something that can help someone solve a problem related to their life event. In this case, it will feel as natural as offering your business card to someone you just met at a dinner party.

That said, you do need to use the right tools and master a few new skills to make this new form of marketing work well for you.

For example, you will need to:

1.  Find people experiencing life events.

This is where a data mining tool like NeedTagger or Twitter Advanced Search come in handy. We currently monitor Twitter for several life events, with more on the way.

To see if we can help your business, try our Customer Search Engine (Free to use for one filtered stream).

You’ll find our Life Event filters under the “PreTested Streams” drop down menu for the industries they are most relevant to (see screenshot below).  

For example, you will find pre-tested streams for “losing weight” and “expecting a baby soon” under the “Health” industry.

PreTested Streams

We’ll be releasing more Life Event streams in the future.  Let us know if there’s one you’d like us to add.

2. Learn how to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know.  

So what do you say to someone you don’t know and who doesn’t follow you online – when they seem like they might benefit from your assistance?

To stimulate ideas, check out our list of the 10 best ways to introduce yourself to a potential customer on Twitter. In it, we summarize the best practices we’ve seen our customers use during the past year.  A lot of it is common sense for expert Twitter users, but for new users it’s definitely worth reading.

3. Be honest. And be yourself. 

This is not “mom and apple pie” advice. There are very specific things you can and should do related to “being yourself”.

First, make sure you post from an account that explains who is behind the curtain. You are talking to people about their personal life experiences, after all! The least you can do is expose who you are, too. Put your @name in the bio of your company’s outreach account.  Or post from your personal account.

Second, use the same relationship-building tactics that you are comfortable using to connect with prospects offline. To map your offline skills to their equivalent Twitter gestures, read How to Connect With Customers on Twitter Using the Skills You Already Have.

Third, don’t act like you have an answer that can help – when you don’t. You’d be surprised how many professional marketers cannot bring themselves to be honest that they cannot answer a question. Don’t ignore the original request and answer a different question that you can answer. Don’t be afraid to send them to another website for the solution. Or even to a competitor of yours.

Above all, remember that your goal is to help them with their (very personal, very important) life event – not to drive traffic. If you’re lucky, you might even generate a moment of serendipity for your potential customer. Yep, they’ll remember you for that.

4. Measure your results. 

You’ll want to track how many outreach messages you send for each life event you market to, and you’ll want to measure the clicks and shares they delivered for you.

NeedTagger’s web app includes a simple set of analytics that helps.

To track which outreach messages generated leads and sales for you, add Google Analytics tags into your landing page links.

5. A/B test your messages and landing pages. 

This one is important if you want to scale efficiently.

Here’s something that you probably don’t know that we learned by monitoring Twitter: the questions and complaints that people post online tend to fall into rather a small number of categories, and the same types of messages repeat themselves across a large population.

“People are people”, after all.

Knowing this, your goal should be to learn which outreach messages and landing pages work best for each type of situation, issue, complaint and question you see.  Then, re-use the message and landing page combos that work best with everyone else, moving forward. This is how our most experienced customers use our platform.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll end up spending just a few minutes each day “tagging” the opportunities with pre-defined messages that work.

 

In summary, people discuss their life events in social media all the time. This opens the door for savvy and sensitive marketers to connect with new customers in ways never dreamed of just five years ago. To succeed at this new direct marketing technique, focus on finding people with specific needs you can meet with your type of expertise and content – and be sensitive to your prospect’s emotional state, specific situation and typical online behavior. Then, just be your helpful self.

 

Everything mentioned above can be done without using our software, by the way. We just make it easier to manage your customer prospecting as a measured process.

Let us know what you think about this by leaving a comment, below.

Reaching Customers When They Need You the Most: Marketing to Life Events in Social Media by