Marketing: Are you the target? You should be. For years, we’ve performed SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to profile students and donors, break the market into segments, and concentrate efforts on one or more key segments. For years, it worked just fine. But it’s not working anymore.

Online communities like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have changed today’s marketing landscape. Your audience doesn’t want you to find them. They want to control when and how they find you. They want to bypass your carefully and lovingly crafted marketing messages and get the skinny on you as revealed by students, alumni, and friends on social networking sites. In other words, your goal in marketing is not to target your audience but to become the target.

Here’s how to paint a bull’s eye on your institution:

Observe your online communities and notice the topics that keep members engaged and chatting with each other. Once you’ve learned what they want to discuss, keep the conversation going. Be friendly, honest, and open.

Remember that each community has a different personality and code of conduct:

LinkedIn resembles a business cocktail party. You’re dressed for business, talking about what you do, looking for opportunities to move up the ladder, and trying to find someone to help with business decisions.

Facebook is a bit more casual, like a neighborhood block party. You’re wearing your sandals and t-shirt, corralling the kids and dog, showing off pictures of your family, and talking about vacation and how to improve your lawn.

Twitter is like greeting a friend as you walk down the street on your way to an appointment. You stop to chat for a moment about something he or she should check out online—an article about the basketball team or a new restaurant in town.

As in any networking situation, you want to make yourself or your organization attractive to others. A blend of charm and character mixed with interesting information will keep you in the spotlight.