Three (more) Rules for Making Social Marketing Work

As promised, I’ve decided to share (and test) my next three rules of social media marketing, as a follow on to my last post.

These are loosely inspired by the “immutable laws” from Ries and Trout, and are based on some of the models my firm is developing.  They also aim to be observations and discussion starters as much as recommendations.

I welcome your feedback, critique and ideas for additional rules, and will plan to post more real-time thoughts and updates via Twitter.  So here goes.

It’s better to be better, than it is to be first

I know, I said this list is loosely inspired by Ries and Trout – but I just couldn’t help this one.  Traditional marketing says that you should be first.  But I’m convinced that social media rewards the fast follower.  Not only are switching costs dropping (to zero?), but the nature of social media makes it incredibly easy to share hot tips, create buzz and look for the lower price or better option.  Take MySpace vs. Facebook.  MySpace was first, but by the middle of 2008 Facebook passed MySpace in monthly visitors and hasn’t looked back (note that MySpace still has the second-highest market share of US visits for social sites).  Plus, many early social marketing campaigns were essentially market tests with little or no way to really measure ROI.  Some worked, some didn’t.  Now, better tools and emerging ROI models allow us to create better campaigns and user experiences and returns for our investors – and build on the successes (and failures) of others.

Social conversations continue (or start) offline as well

Last time I mentioned that social media is the ultimate discussion starter.  But it’s not the only discussion starter (or finisher).  Communities, and user groups and focus groups existed long before social networking!  And in work environments, organizations that have the most effective knowledge sharing have created a social infrastructure (business platform) that not only supports multiple social channels but also traditional channels like email.  Social marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  And just as radio didn’t go away when television came along, traditional marketing programs won’t either.  For this reason any reasonable Community Marketing Model (yes, I have one) needs to include both online and offline touch points and a seamless weave of social and traditional marketing as you move from conversations, to deep discussions and learning from the community.

Social marketing IS a battle of perceptions (and good content)

To get the part, you have to play the part.  If user-generated content and connections are the primary currency of social media, effective social marketing needs to not only be informational or clever or offer unique content, but also establish the company or their representatives as regular, trusted members of the community.  A number of successful B2B social networking sites and portals have done just this, by promoting both the benefits of reaching peers and having ready access to unique content or research, experts, news feeds etc (see common ground for a great example).  In traditional marketing, the message shapes perception.  In social marketing, the community increasingly shapes your brand.  Before, perception was an outcome of good marketing.  Now, having a good perception in the market may be necessary to even getting your message out!

What do you think?  Do these three new rules hit the mark as well as the first three? Any other ones?

9 Replies to “Three (more) Rules for Making Social Marketing Work”

  1. Allen

    I read your first post after reading this one. Both posts make some pretty broad statements that whilst uncontroversial, are not backed up by much robust evidence. They seem to have been swept up in the current fetish for SocXYZ as the solution to every problem. A case in point:

    You say in the second post that social media is the ‘ultimate conversation starter’. I just can’t see this. It is pretty obvious to anyone who walks around the streets with their eyes open, that the vast majority of conversations are started by people talking to each other face to face. The ultimate conversations are based around real relationships, those based on shared goals, trust and commitment. The next biggest conversation starter is almost certainly phone conversations. There are over 4 Billion mobile phones in use today, significantly more than the number of PCs in use. Internet-mediated social media is a distant nth in the list of conversation starters. Only a small percentage of ordinary people are active users of social media. The challenge for SocXYZ isn’t so much to work out the rules of engagement of Internet-mediated social media, but to start to understand the social dynamics of customer conversations and to actively engage in more of customers off-line conversations that we are still largely unaware of.

    We have to move beyond the shallow, almost idolatrous thinking that dominates SocXYZ today. It is not about SocMedia, or SocCRM or SocAnything. It is about CUSTOMERS. About how they engage with other customers to help them get important jobs done. About the conversational tools they use and the tools they would love to have. About how companies should build experiential platforms that enable customers to co-create value for themselves and for others.

    I have said this before and I will say it again. It is time we upped our game. It is time we took the broader view of the off and on-line social customer. It is time we understood the dynamics of customer social networks. It is time we understood what jobs customers use SocXYZ to help them get done better. And it is time we started to think about customers and how to co-create mutual value, not just about companies and the bottom-line.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator


    1. Thanks for the comments Graham – I totally agree that it is time that we upped our game as marketers. And if you go back to the intro of my first post (“social media really is just another channel…”) and also read some of the other material my firm is publishing (see the CMM model in our overview deck), I am proposing a balance, even historical approach to figuring out the best way to use social media to get closer to our customers.

      That said I have to disagree with your statement that only a small percentage of ordinary people are active users of social media – especially when Facebook has 300 million users, LinkedIn now has 50M, you look at Technorati’s numbers on the number of bloggers and blog readers, etc. Also, as an aside, I agree that mobile is a huge “conversation channel.” And if you look at the top selling apps on BB or iPhone etc…you see a number of social apps!

      As I wade deeper into the social media pool, I look forward learning more about your perspectives and sharing more of mine.



      1. Hi Allen

        Thanks for your measured response. I am pleased that you too are encouraging our friends and colleagues to up their (our collective) thinking game. I must read your CMM materials.

        I still disagree about active Internet-mediated social networks. Facebook may have 300 million users, but plenty of research suggests that usage, friending, applications, etc, all follow an approximate power-law distribution. In other words, there are a tiny number of super-users who practically live on Facebook and who have huge numbers of friends, but there are many tens of millions of average users who rarely use Facebook and who only have a handful of friends, if any. The vast majority of these users of Facebook cannot really be considered as active users. But these people are still talking to each other directly and over the telephone.

        I agree with you about the potential of MobSocNets. The bundling of SocNet applications with leading smartphones will only serve to accelerate the widespread usage of MobSocNets. Whether this changes the so far unchanged dynamic of the number of real friends (unchanged at 7-10 contacts) versus acquaintances (all the rest of the contacts) remains to be seen. Personally I doubt it, not because of the efficacy of MobSocNet applications, but because of our human cognitive limitations to the number of real friends we can handle at one time.

        I look forward to future posts.

        Graham Hill
        Customer-centric Innovator


        1. Graham, a couple of observations though:

          First, all human interaction is subject to power laws, not just online interactions. Gladwell and many others report similar results. The overall participation numbers touted for online are now penty large enough that this is not a hinderance. In fact, there is reason to suspect we can have many more contacts online than we can in the physical world, which makes the Social your best bet for overcoming power law limitations.

          There also has been very little work done on how to shape these power laws. Even a little more compound interest due to a better approach yields a much larger bank account. For example, at Helpstream, we see much higher engagement numbers than the old Rule of 10’s (1% initiatie, 10% respond, and everyone else watches) suggest. 3 to 10x higher engagement is possible.

          Second, in a conversation and context about how marketers initiate conversations, I don’t have a problem at all with the poster’s proposition that Social is the ultimate conversation starter. After all, it’s not a scalable marketing model to go walking around trying to start face to face conversations, is it?

          Look at the Social relative to other tools available to marketers and then ask whether it might not be the ultimate conversation starter after all.

          Once you’ve started that conversation, and gotten to know one another well enough its clear you desire a deeper conversation, then the face to face, telephone, or even email are likely to take over. But for starting a new conversation among the arsenal available to marketers? Gee, what works better, email spam, banner advertising, Super Bowl ads (can anyone afford those any more?), radio spots, print ads, or Social Media? Would any of us be having this conversation without Social Media?


          .-= Bob Warfield´s last blog ..The Experience Portfolio: Thinking about Customer Experience Strategy =-.


  2. Allen,

    Interesting discussion. In conjunction with your first post, here are some thoughts. As an aside, I think that we all take a visceral approach to much of this, as we relate our own personal experiences to the broader world. I am not sure if that is a good thing, or not, but it does become a bit more emotional.

    I am going to start with something from your first post, and make tracking the conversation even that much more fun. I think some conversations start online, but the majority start face to face. Collaborations may start in either location, but become solidified with either a phone call, video chat or in person. This has happened to me way too many times recently. The face-to-face meeting or really old (think High School reunion) relationship allows for the online to exist. As I evaluate the current conversations where I have a high degree of participation , they follow this model.

    Now, bringing this back to your first point, above – Fast follower does have an advantage in certain markets. Because the agility loop is so tight with respect to products and programs, seeing how someone else succeeded, or failed can be a distinct advantage. Isn’t this the Microsoft model? The Ipod model? Now, the Better part is interesting – better or smarter? better product or better experience – or where all the cool kids hangout?

    Good post Allen – Esteban, we can let Allen hang-out with all the cool kids 🙂


    1. Thanks for the thoughts and comments Mitch.

      I agree that many individuals start conversations face-to-face, but even in this scenario, the relationship often continues online or is re-started via social media. Think of old classmates or colleagues that we connect with via Facebook of LinkedIn. When you are a business, the first part of this model just doesn’t scale (to Bob’s point), unless you are a high-end retailer or maybe a financial advisor or in real estate?

      I sense that you agree with my point that ‘social marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum’ and that our new marketing models need to include both online and offline touch points, and ideally make this transition (and the flow of data) between these interaction modes as seamless as possible. There you go, I think I’ve steered this conversation back to SCRM!

      So what do the other cool kids think of the above?


  3. Bob, if you are seeing participation like that that’s awesome. I assume these are “lurkers” who are somehow engaged as opposed to new community members? It would be interesting to know if there is expansion along those lines or internal penetration of the existing community.
    .-= Mike Boysen´s last blog ..CRM Sales Professional Needed =-.


  4. Interesting thread; so is social media the ultimate conversation starter?

    Research we’ve been involved with into word of mouth suggests a big No, the ultimate conversation starter (around brands) is delivering a product experience that either beats or misses expectations, not media content – social or otherwise.

    We found that less than 10% of conversations around brands were triggered by media content, social or otherwise. Most conversations happen when you delight customers with what you are selling – giving them a remarkable experience worth talking about (and to a lesser degree by offering remarkable offers).

    It’s about what you do, not what you say.


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