Scaling Social Media with Infinite Touches

In the previous posts in this series, beginning with Social Media is Not Advertising. Duh! we talked about the proper uses of social media (not traditional advertising), the lessons of Obama’s 2012 campaign (microsegmentation), and a little bit about our Infinite Touches™ process for using social media to create mass relationships. This post takes a look at the problem – creating relationships with thousands, millions, or billions of people – and how brand evangelists can help.

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Brand Evangelists Are Key to Scaling Social Media

Let’s say you’re Coke (Congratulations! Can I borrow a couple hundred grand?) You’re one of the most savvy social media marketers on the planet, and by your own count, you deliver 1.7 billion “servings” per day. That’s billions of opportunities to engage. (My spreadsheet refuses to display the yearly number as anything other than 6.205E+11.)

Like many businesses, one way you can manage lots of fans is by using community managers—saintly folks who respond to comments and questions, create and nurture the relationships, and keep order online. But even if you ignore those billions of potential engagement points, think of the scale of trying to manage just the main Coke US beverage sites: You have 41.1 million Likes on Facebook and 800,000 Twitter followers. And don’t forget the other 200 countries you do business in. How many community managers, then, do you need?

There’s a social science theoretical concept called Dunbar’s number[1] that posits a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. The generally accepted value for Dunbar’s number is 150. This means the average human can maintain up to 150 stable social relationships.

Coke Zero mention map
Coke Zero mention map

But, you’re Coke, and you have, let’s say for the sake of making the math easy, a billion customers. Your community managers need to have relationships online with many more than 150 customers each. Either that or you’re going to have to hire 6,666,666 community managers.

So how are you going to do that? Well, if you accept the concept of Dunbar’s number, and you want to maintain relationships with huge numbers of supporters, you’re going to need lots of people: like you, your management, and your employees. Well, let’s see. Coke has 146,200 employees. So each needs to handle 6,849 customers. Sure, you could argue that not everyone on social media needs personal attention. In fact, many experts subscribe to the 90-9-1 rule of social media:

  • 90 percent are lurkers who read but don’t contribute
  • 9 percent contribute infrequently
  • 1 percent participate a lot and create most of the posts

Fine. Coke employees only need to worry about handling the 1 percent – 68 customers each. And do their other jobs. You see where this is going. It’s impossible to scale the kind of social media practices that today are the most prevalent, and most effective.

All is not lost, however. There is an answer to the problem of scale: evangelists, also known as brand ambassadors. We talked a bit about brand ambassadors in the first post in this series, Social Media is Not Advertising. Duh! We prefer the term brand evangelist because, frankly, ambassadors are stuffy, bound by protocol, and not generally gonzo about anything.

Brand evangelists are people who love your product or service and already tell their friends about it. According to Jeremiah Owyang, formerly of Forrester Research and now with Altimeter,[2] “An evangelist’s role is to go beyond understanding and get others to believe in your product or service. This is beyond just communication and advertising and gets to the fundamental root of human communications – building trust.”

You want to find the people who are in love with your company and your products. You want to treat them well, and reward them for beating the bushes for customers. Often it’s quite enough just to give them recognition, or perhaps small discounts. Sometimes just encouraging them is enough. You have evangelists already, if your product doesn’t stink.

The trick is to find them, cultivate them, and enable them to spread the word and, of course, find more evangelists, enable them to spread the word and . . . you get the picture. Using evangelists is really the only way you can scale the relationships you need if you’re a company of any size, with thousands or hundreds of thousands of customers.

Coke understands this, but even as savvy as they are, they are making a mistake by ignoring their huge social media franchise and instead expanding their tried and true real world brand ambassador program. We briefly described this type of approach in the first post in this series as “paying some schmo off the street to distribute samples and ‘generate awareness and excitement.’”

To be fair, Coke also pays local, national, and international celebrities to be ambassadors. Coke’s idea is to push this celebrity-endorsement-cum-brand-ambassador program down into the grass roots, and they’re doing quite a bit of it in India. Google the term Coke brand ambassadors and see what I’m talking about.

It remains to be seen whether this effort is successful, but I can tell you for sure that it misses the opportunity that social-media-based online evangelists present for their business, and for yours.

Of course, you’re not Coke (perhaps that’s a relief after reading the preceding!) Your business may not even be able to support a single community manager. But using our Infinite Touches approach, you can deputize your most rabid fans and create a network of evangelists to create that gold of social media: relationships with real people that deliver bottom line results. How? That’s the topic of tomorrow’s post.

Next up: Infinite Touches—Finding Social Media Brand Evangelists

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What Others Are Saying

Infinite Pipeline offers practical advice for using social media to extend relationship selling online. It’s a great way to get crazy-busy prospects to pay attention.”
—Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies

“Sales is all about relationships and trust. Infinite Pipeline is the ‘how to’ guide for maximizing social networks to find and build relationships, and generate trust in our digital age.”
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Infinite Pipeline will be the authority on building lasting relationships through online social that result in bottom line business.”
—Lori Ruff, The LinkedIn Diva, Speaker/Author and CEO of Integrated Alliances

[1] Dunbar’s Number:
[2] Understanding the role of an Evangelist at a Web 2.0 Company by Jeremiah Owyang
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