How to Find Your Target Audience Online (on social media, Youtube, podcasts, and more)

Post by Alison Knott | Last Updated: February 23, 2023

In trying to expand your business, do you or your team wonder “How do we find our target audience online?” Are you looking for an easier way to find out who else your audience follows on social media, Youtube, podcasts, or Reddit?

This article will cover different ways to find out where your target niche audience hangs out online. Including surveying your existing audience and using SparkToro as a tool to help.

Video: how to find your target audience online overview

What is audience research and how does it benefit small businesses?

“Audience research” is about discovering specific characteristics and habits of your target market. In a variety of ways. Once you have the data, you can use it to help improve various aspects of your small business:

  • How your business goals are aligned with your audience’s own goals.
  • How to communicate with them effectively.
  • How to improve your marketing strategy. Because you focus on tactics that will actually resonate, you can stop other tasks that aren’t. This saves a ton of time!

The focus of this article will be on that last point about marketing strategy. Especially on finding out who else is targeting your audience. When you pay attention to other brands in your space, it improves your own strategy. This is because you can quickly find out what sort of content resonates with them, and what flops. Without having to create that work yourself!

But as small business owners and teams, it can be tough to find out exactly where your target audience hangs out online.

My suggestion? Ask your existing audience, and use an online tool to find look-alikes. To do this doesn’t have to be a large, time-consuming project, either. It does, however, take a little creativity.

Here are some simple and effective ways you can gather data from your existing audience:

Ask your existing audience where they hang out online publicly

Using social media posts and polls is a quick way to survey your audience publicly. Ask what brands they follow, influencers they love, podcasts they recommend, etc. Be creative with how you ask, and be specific in what you’re looking for. Think beyond your initial niche or industry. 

For example, let’s say you’re a copywriter that helps emerging entrepreneurs. Instead of asking “What copywriting podcasts do you listen to?”, you could ask “What podcasts would you recommend when starting your business?”

It’s more likely your target audience listens to all sorts of marketing, business, and entrepreneurship podcasts. Specific copywriting podcasts? Not so much. 

Or, let’s say you’re a nonprofit that helps people with intellectual disabilities build career skills. You could find out who their guardians pay attention to. Ask “What are the go-to resources that have helped and supported you navigate the world with your loved one?” 

This could bring up associations or influencers you didn’t even know existed!

Survey your email list (and reward them for answering)

There’s more to email marketing than just sending newsletters. Us it as a treasure trove of audience research. Send a survey to your email list asking 2-3 questions about their online habits.

You can keep this very simple by asking them to respond directly in the email. But you can also use a survey tool like Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Typeform. Sweeten the deal by giving them a chance to win a gift card for responding. This makes for one very cost-effective research project!

Interview your clients about their online habits

Sometimes, you just gotta pick up the phone or hop on Zoom to interview your audience. This is a great option if you want to ask deeper questions than a survey or social post can provide. Especially for follow-up questions such as

  • “What is it about that podcast you love so much?”
  • “How did you find out about that particular Discord?”
  • “What sort of information do you find out in that Subreddit?”

Conducting these interviews may seem intimidating. But if you see them as conversations to learn more about your clients, it can be quite rewarding. I have another article that talks more about
how to interview existing clients to boost marketing efforts if you’re interested.

But what if you don’t get a lot of good responses, or your current audience is still small and you don’t feel like you’re in a position to ask them? The answer darlin’, is a tool called SparkToro.

SparkToro: a great tool to find your target audience online

Starting with 5 free searches a month, SparkToro is an affordable audience research tool that tells you who else people pay attention to online.

To use it, you finish a sentence such as:

  •  “My audience frequently talks about….”
  • “My audience follows the social account…”
  • “My audience frequently uses the hashtag….”

And then Spark Toro goes to work to bring up results of who else people with that particular information engage with. W
hat’s included in those results? It will list:

  • Websites
  • social media accounts
  • Podcasts
  • Youtube channels
  • SubReddits

Now your circle of influence has expanded considerably!

screenshot of SparkToro results for "My audience frequently talks about "sustainable fashion"

Let’s take it for a spin. I’ll pretend my target audience frequently talks about “sustainable fashion”.

As you can see in the results there is SO much killer intel. Just look at it all! Top words in their bio, the hashtags they use. There’s a lot of great data already, and it took a few seconds.

screenshot of SparkToro "Hidden Gems" results for "My audience frequently talks about "sustainable fashion"
The “Hidden Gems” data in SparkToro is a great way to find more accessible brands you can reach out to.

One neat feature of SparkToro is the ‘Hidden Gems’ section. These are accounts that have that sweet spot of being popular but aren’t the ‘super obvious heavy hitter’ accounts you obviously already know about.

Now, I’m not an expert on sustainable fashion, so let’s pretend that Safia Minney is an interesting result and I want to check it out. I can hover over any of those icons to find out how many followers the account has, and clicking them will take me right to that profile.

Detail of SparkToro results for Safio Minney social profile and followers
Sometimes there’s interesting information in the ‘frequently used words in bios’ results. Useful audience details!

Interesting to note, I see that “founder” is a frequently used word in the bios of Safia Minney’s followers. Knowing that could help me create targeted content for founders if I was a bit too generic before.

As you can see, it also gives me the websites and social accounts that those followers pay attention to.

These screenshots are using the free version of SparkToro. So you can see what’s available at no cost. With a free account, you get limited results and can’t export the data. But their monthly cost is cost-effective, and you don’t have to do a year subscription. You can turn off paid at any time. And they remind you when they will bill you ahead of time. It is rare to find a SaaS company as ethical as they are.

SparkToro also has a blog that is essential reading if you want to stay on top of marketing and audience research trends. I’m not an affiliate for this company. I just friggin love them so much.

What to do when you find out who your target audience follows online? Spy on them.

Once you’ve sourced where your target audience hangs out online, what comes next? Well, you’re not quite done with your audience research. There is still some sleuthing to be done.

Your next step is to research why your target audience enjoys those social media accounts or YouTube channels.

Follow their social media accounts to see what resonates with your shared audience.

Yup, I want you to lurk on your competition’s social media accounts. By keeping tabs on what they put out on social media, you can quickly see what resonates and what flops with your shared audience. This will help you with your own content ideas at the very least. The goal isn’t to copy what they do. But chances are they will do things you haven’t considered.

Also, pay attention to what engagement looks like on the account. Are their followers really chatty? Do they tag the brand a lot in their own content? Dig around to see the habits of your ideal audience out in the wild, then figure out how you can achieve the same for your own accounts.

Sign up for their newsletter.

If they offer some sort of newsletter or content subscription, sign up. Now you can see all their marketing activity that isn’t as public as social media or podcasting. You might also discover how they sell to their audience beyond social media posts and ads. And once you have what you need, simply unsubscribe!

Reach out and collaborate with brands that share your target audience.

After 2 or 3 months of lurking, consider collaborating with brands you notice are open to it. Especially with those Hidden Gems found with SparkToro. There’s a higher chance they’ll agree to collaborate with your brand because you both want to grow your audience. This is why I often say to my web consulting clients that “other brands aren’t your competition: they’re your contemporaries”. You could reach out to collaborate on:

  • a guest post
  • newsletter takeover
  • social media account takeover
  • guesting on their podcast or yours
  • or another exciting project you haven’t even thought of yet

Target audience research does not have to be expensive or time-consuming.

Performing audience research to find out where they hang out online does not have to be an expensive or time-consuming endeavor. As long as you are open to talking to your existing audience, and performing some light research, you are set. With a healthy dose of curiosity and creativity, you can learn a lot about your target audience. And be able to connect with them in a deeper and more strategic way.

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