According to Brandwatch, there are currently 2.3 billion active social media users. As impressive as that statistic sounds, it is about as relevant to your marketing efforts as the number of fish in the sea.

Yes, your customers are undoubtedly on social media, but that does not mean they're sharing your posts, re-tweeting your content, or clicking on your links.

The truth is, no matter how hard we try to reach our prospects and customers, they're only interested in hearing from us a few times a year, when they're in the market for our products and services.

The truth hurts, but it can also help--a lot. Brands that understand the relevancy wave can find ways to ride it to marketing success. But how do you know when your customers are most likely to want to hear from you?

Can you create the perfect content and the perfect time? It has become easier to predict customer behavior and anticipate when they might be looking to buy by examining their online behaviors.

Results delivered

When UPS Director of Customer Communications Brian Pember first joined the company, he immediately began searching for ways to engage the brand's one million followers on social media.

He quickly realized that these folks were mostly posting about customer service issues. Still, Pember believed that UPS' follower base was an untapped opportunity for positive engagement.

As he assimilated into UPS culture, he started hearing heartwarming stories about UPS drivers. One driver jumped into a frozen pond to save a customer's dog. Another rescued someone from a burning building. This led Pember to realize: People know "their UPS guy."

"A package represents an emotion or a flashpoint for excitement and interest," Pember observes. That one simple insight sparked the development of UPS's Wishes Delivered campaign.

The campaign encourages UPS customers to share their wishes via a hashtag #WishesDelivered during the holidays. The #wishesdelivered video, about a little boy who wants to be a UPS driver for a day, became a viral sensation and has been viewed at least 3.7 million times on YouTube.

This campaign is a perfect example of using predictive marketing to create an instantly impactful initiative.

Not all brands can readily tap into seasonality the way UPS does. However, most brands can create predictive personalization and craft brand experiences that keep buyers engaged.

Predictive personalization

Charlene Li, Principal Analyst and Founder of Altimeter and author of the New York Times best-seller Open Leadership, is a strong believer in the power of social media or, as she sees it, social business.

She offers her Trader Joe's shopping habits as an example of how predictive personalization works. "I shop at Trader Joes once every 18 days or so," she asserts. "If the brand knows enough about me by studying my buying habits, it should time its message for right before I go. The rest of the time, the brand messaging should go dark."

Another example of a brand that excels at engaging its audience, Li says, is the large shipping container company Maersk. The company invested in some market research and found that many of the brand's fans shared a hobby called ship spotting.

Ship spotting is exactly what it sounds like: Participants try to spot, identify and photograph a variety of marine vehicles and share their "spots" on Instagram.

This insight led to the opportunity Li describes: "With 73,000 followers and 13,149 uses of #shipspotting on Instagram, the brand is engaging a small, but targeted audience which will tell its story for them."

Li believes other brands can learn from Maersk's example of audience segmentation to create engagement. "They understand that what they do inside certain brand channels for customers is not all the same," she explains.

Know your audiences

The creation of relevant campaigns increasingly depends on a company's ability to adopt and implement predictive personalization efforts. Fortunately, technology is making it significantly easier for brands to cull, interpret, and use their data advantageously.

You spend a great deal of money, time, and effort to get your customers to understand and appreciate your brand. But if you want to turn your customers into a captive--and captivated--audience, you need to understand and appreciate them.