I hear that question quite often, not just in my Social Media Training Classes, but from clients and even friends who are just venturing out into this world of online marketing. "Where is my audience, how do I find them?!" is asked, over and over again.
The other night I was sitting in the McDonald's drive through waiting on my fries to be handed to me, and I saw classic car, after classic car pull by and then park further up in the parking lot of this McDonald's. By the time I got my fries and went to pull out of the parking lot, over half the parking lot was filled with bright, shiny chrome, classic, muscles cars and some antiques, too. There was even a smaller group of souped up imports forming as well. Then it dawned on me, I saw this happening on really warm, clear Saturday nights in the summer at this McDonald's before.
There isn't a sign promoting this congregation of car enthusiasts to come to McDonald's, and McDonald's doesn't do anything to promote it either (perhaps though they should!). So how do these car owners who love to hang out and discuss engine blocks, chrome and how fast they can get to 60 mph know to come to McDonald's when the conditions are right?
They asked a friend.
Unless you ask, you won't find your audience. They aren't out there with signs pointing to them saying "Hey! I'm here come talk to me!" And one word of caution, seriously, no matter how cool an advertising agency might claim that to be in a pitch to you, don't tread down that path.
Asking a friend, and receiving a response is a form of word of mouth marketing. You are taking the recommendation of your friend to go hang out with your fully restored 1965 Pontiac GTO Convertible (AKA "The Goat") at the MickyD's and that you'll get along with the crowd there because you have something in common. You trust your friend, how or why would he steer you wrong?
The same goes for finding your audience online. Ask your most loyal customers! Say you are sneaker company launching a new soccer cleat line and you want to know what's most important in a Soccer Shoe. Stop and ask your loyal customers "Hey we're trying to find people who love Soccer to get their opinion on helping us develop a new shoe, is there some place you go online to talk about your love of sports (or Soccer)?"
You might be amazed at the feedback.
There are other places you can ask too. Ask a search engine, although they don't give impassioned responses as a human would, a search engine can return a list of forums or communities related to your interested, if you ask the right way. You can ask your blog audience, Facebook friends, or even your Twitter followers (when twitter isn't down that is) and find new places every day.
The point is, you can't expect your audience to tell you where they are. You have to ask, if you don't ask, you'll never know that they are hanging out at the local McDonald's on a Saturday Night!