How to Find Those Hard-to-Reach Audiences in SparkToro… Fast

Every day, I help folks in fascinating, unique niches uncover key information about the audiences for their marketing efforts. It’s a fun problem! For a few minutes, I get to feel like a digital Sherlock Holmes, digging into their products and services, trying to understand their customers, and then figuring out how to target them in SparkToro.

But, one Rand can only do so much. So, let me show you how, in 10 minutes or less, you can replicate these processes and nail down your target audience inside the tool. And yes, you can do this for free.

Today, I got a request to help a marketer find an audience of food & beverage company executives and researchers/product development team members, and the detective process was a great combination of challenging, but rewarding. I’ll use that as my example in this post.

Step 1: Determine Your Audience’s Basic Attributes

I almost always begin with three questions about the group I want to understand:

  1. What words and/or phrases are these people likely to use in their online profiles and bios?
    Job titles are great, but often too limiting or not specific enough. If I want to find food and beverage executives, “food” and “ceo” might work, but it’s going to exclude far too many job titles and roles. Plus, many CEOs in the food and beverage field might not specify in their bio/title/profile online that they’re in the food world. Many just use their company name. So I need to go deeper!
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  2. What are unique passions, interests, hobbies, or topics of discussion that are likely found in the content of what they post and share online?
    If you already know the audience you’re targeting pretty well, and are aware of unique topics popular with them, this can work wonders. But, if you’re not yet very familiar with their behaviors or interests, it’s harder, and that’s when I turn to #3…
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  3. What’s a source of influence—a publication or a person—this audience already follows?
    When the two above don’t get me where I’m going, or when I don’t yet know an audience well enough to have great answers to #1 and #2, this method almost always works.
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I start with a Google search:

Sometimes, I’ll use Facebook Search, Twitter Search, Instagram Explore, or LinkedIn to search as well, but I find Google to be most reliable for uncovering publications that target a given group. In this case, Forbes is too broad, but FoodProcessing.com looks like exactly what I’m seeking.

This publication is gold for three reasons: 1) it speaks to exactly the kind of audience we want to reach; 2) it has a significant presence on multiple social networks; 3) it’s specific to our target audience, rather than a broad publication that appeals to a wider group. It’s a perfect starting point to better understand the food & beverage industry insiders we want to analyze. Let’s plug it into SparkToro and validate that we’ve got the right group(s).

Step 2: Analyze The Publication’s Audience

I’ll use the search My audience follows the social account: @foodprocessing. SparkToro tends to have more information about niche social profiles than niche websites (unless those sites are very well-shared & amplified).

This is everything I like to see from the initial results:

  • 6,478 sources is a big audience—plenty big enough to get loads of useful data from the results
  • The “Behavior Similarity” metric tells me this group is very homogeneous in their online behaviorswhat they follow, share, talk about, etc. which means we’ve nailed down a distinctive group
  • Big audiences with similar behaviors yield “High Confidence” audience analysesthe kind we can bring to a boardroom or put in our market research and feel great about

And when I scroll down to the publications, websites, and people this group engage with, I’m doubly encouraged.

These sources of influence have extremely strong overlaps (49-65% affinities!), appear highly relevant (from their names, at least), and there’s loads of them. Based on this, it’s safe to say we’ve found a publication that reaches our target audience; let’s dig deeper and confirm that assumption.

Step 3: Iterate & Expand via Audience Insights

The Audience Insights tab is my secret weapon for uncovering more searches that reach the people I’m after. In this case, seeing what @FoodProcessing’s followers talk about, share, use in their bios/profiles, employ as hashtags, etc. does two things: A) it tells me whether I’ve hit upon the right sorts of people and B) it shows me other searches I could do to get more data about sub-groups of this audience.

A few things leap out:

  • Automation, technology, manufacturing, processes, and supply chain are in heavy rotation in profiles, hashtags, and word-use, suggesting we’ve nailed the right group of people with this publication
  • There’s a lot of discussion and word-use around safety-related topics (which makes total sense during a pandemic)
  • Many of these words, phrases, and hashtags will likely lead to other audiences that match the profiles we’re trying to find

My next step is to start iterating, i.e. using the information found here to perform more searches and drill down into more audience targets. One important note on that: I often find that the most popular words and phrases (and hashtags) are less useful than the more specific ones further down the lists. In this case, for example, words like “leading,” “industrial,” “food beverage,” or #packaging are excellent indicators that this audience is the right one, but not great search terms.

Instead, I found a ton of value in the hashtags #foodindustry and #foodtech, as well as the phrase “additive manufacturing”. I ran a few searches based on these and found some gold!

The query My audience frequently uses the hashtag: #FoodTech delivers an audience adjacent to the previous search, but one that precisely matches who our food & beverage marketer is attempting to reach. I was particularly fascinating to see Seeds & Chips, a name that didn’t mean anything to me until I clicked on it to learn more.

Yes. Yes. Yes. This is not only a great social account for further analysis, but probably a superb event for our food+beverage marketer to target with a pitch, sponsorship, advertising, etc. (once the pandemic ends and events are back on, of course).

From here, I click “Analyze @SEEDSandCHIPS” to learn more about their audience, and see if there’s more opportunities.

This looks potentially even more promising than our previous queries. The topics, profile elements, hashtags, and geographies all suggest we’re reaching industry professionals at the researcher and executive-levels—precisely who we want. From here, I can click on more hashtags and phrases to discover even more opportunities, and at this point, I’d start building my list for whatever follow-up marketing tactics I’m going to engage in.


This search→refine→iterate→search process works astoundingly well. But while SparkToro is remarkably good at these kinds of audience analyses, it can only ever be as smart as the inputs its taking, which is why choosing the right search formats is so important.

There are also areas where SparkToro, frankly, sucks. If you’re trying to reach an audience based on demographics like “women between 25-39 in the US,” SparkToro can’t help at all. If you’re seeking a group with incredibly broad behaviors or attributes like “people who buy shoes,” or “homeowners” SparkToro’s not a great service. And unfortunately, right now, we’re only good at English-language audiences (with a hopeful expansion to others in 2021 and beyond).

Hopefully, using this process, you can do your own audience detective work and uncover some truly remarkable market research insights and opportunities for marketing tactics, whatever yours might be.

P.S. If you ever need help formatting a query to reach that hard-to-uncover target group, you can also drop me a line—rand at sparktoro dot com—I love to help!