Shiv Singh: February 2008 Archives

Social Influence Marketing: Strategies & Tactics to Win Customers


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Recently I introduced social influence marketing – or employing social media as part of the entire lifecycle of a marketing campaign, even beyond it.  But why does social influence marketing matter to you, and does social influence marketing translate into real digital marketing tactics?

The answers to both those questions essentially point to the future of social media for marketers.  So let’s examine them carefully.

Why social influence marketing matters to you

Consumers have always been heavily influenced by each other when they make purchasing decision.  They ask each other for advice, they observe and mimic each other’s decision making, and frankly they let peer pressure inform their decisions whether they like to admit it.  

What’s changed is that digital behavior has caught up with the offline behavior – and that’s why social influence marketing matters to anyone who has a future in marketing.

Communication technologies like social networks, prediction markets, micro-blogging solutions, location-based networked mobile phone applications, and even virtual worlds make it possible for consumers to influence each other fare more directly and dramatically than ever before.  This influence occurs in three ways:

  • Compliance: an individual agrees with a point of view and acts in a specific way in order to achieve a favorable reaction among his or her peers.
  • Identification: a person acts a certain way in front of a group because she believes in what she says, and belonging to a group is important to her.
  • Internalization: your views are truly altered beyond the relationship with the group.
Aside from making for good copy in behavioral psychology text books, these concepts do translate into tactics for a digital marketing program or platform.  Let’s dig deeper.

How it works

Building compliance, identification, and internalization is in many ways the holy grail of marketing.  Here are some points to consider as you take advantage of social influence marketing to do so.  

1. Become your consumer. The rise of social networks and blogs has allowed consumers to stay far more closely connected with each other. As a result, consumers are more intimately watching each other transact online and offline. They want to be in compliance. As they observe, they also comment and directly or indirectly influence purchasing behavior. To influence consumers, you need to become like them and participate honestly in those same conversations in an ongoing basis.

2. Aggregate information for your consumer. Social media has empowered consumers to form stronger opinions and express them more broadly. More people are blogging, commenting and rating than ever before. Approximately 120,000 blogs are created every day. These contributors are providing a richer base of knowledge for other consumers to use while going through a purchasing process. Consumers who tap into these blogs know more about your brand than you probably do. Rather than trying to control the message, serve as the aggregator of all information regarding the brand. Let your website become the amphitheatre for the conversation. Even if the conversation is negative, you win over the long term as Chevy did with its Tahoe campaign. The user generated advertisement contest resulted in 629,000 visits to the micro-site and Tahoe sales took off. 

3. Articulate product benefits better. Recent research by eMarketer highlights how influential customer reviews are. Approximately, 22% of US online buyers always read customer reviews before making a purchase. 43% of US online buyers read customer reviews at least most of the time before making a purchase. That's social influence at play. So what can you do about it? Recognize that your consumers are more informed and make sure you sell a strong product and articulate its benefits in a more digestible manner. You’ll create happier customers who’ll then do the marketing for you as others will want to identify with them through similar purchasing behavior.  

4. Align your organization into multiple, authentic voices. Social Influence Marketing is about providing the space for consumers to influence each other during the purchase process.  As a brand, you want them to positively influence each other. Do this by aligning your entire organization into a network of multiple, authentic voices. Don’t leave customer interactions to the sales and marketing teams. Empower other internal constituents across the organization to serve as brand ambassadors maybe via blogs. They’ll talk about your brand in their own voices to their own communities. They may not be totally on message but they’ll be authentic and it’ll have a strong, positive influence. Trust them. 

5. Amplify the favorite business stories. So you can’t control the message anymore. Your consumers would rather listen to each other than to you. But you still have messages that you want to disseminate. You can do that by shaping, influencing and amplifying business stories that play to your brand’s strengths. Remember; just because your consumers are more interested in talking to each other, it doesn’t mean you have no voice at all. Edelman research highlights that 28% of US online consumers took an action such as calling, speaking or e-mailing others based on what they read in a blog post. In Belgium that number is 43%. Publish your favorite business stories as widely as possible and also direct consumers to the individuals or groups already predisposed to your products. 

6. Let consumers shape and share the experience. Your consumers don’t necessarily want to participate in the conversations on your own website. Rather than just focusing on creating strong brand experiences that can then be shared among consumers, also think in terms of creating assets that allow consumers to shape and extend the brand experiences however they want to. Furthermore, let them shape and share those experiences wherever they want to. For example, make it easy for consumers to pluck information off your website and carry it with them elsewhere to the places where conversations are happening. Apple gets this. According to patent filings, Apple will be launching a service that lets users of iTunes assemble and modify podcasts prior to downloading them. 

7. Participate where your consumers are. Your consumers are spending time on social sites interacting with their peer groups. Don’t try to disrupt those social dynamics by dragging them to your website at every opportunity you get. Instead, provide them with the messages directly on those social sites themselves. Go to your consumers rather than continuously trying to pull them to you. In fact, even de-emphasize the website if you have to. Wondering where the conversations are happening? Not just on the social networks but on the magazine websites too. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, the top 320 magazine websites received 67.5 million unique visitors per month representing 8.1% growth over the same period in 2006. Overall Internet traffic grew only 2.1%.

8. Don’t do it all at once. Your consumers are probably smarter than you think. Don’t try too hard to come across as clever, participatory and cool. Rather than trying every social strategy at once, focus on strong ideas and only use the channels that are most appropriate for them. In other words, don’t feel obliged to have a Facebook page, a CEO Blog, a wiki, a MySpace page and a YouTube channel simply because everyone else has one. Focus on an engaging way to interact with your consumers as a participant and then choose the channels to use. After all your consumers maybe suffering from social networking fatigue as its happening in the UK. Bebo, MySpace and Facebook all took double digit percentage hits in December 2007. Users spent less time on those sites.

It is early days for social influence marketing. We’re only just beginning to understand how consumers are influencing each others’ purchasing decisions online and what role brands should play in this. Behavioral psychology helps us understand influence to a certain extent. But no one brand has really figured this out as yet. If you’re smart, sensible, pragmatic and mindful of your consumers’ sensitivities, you may be one of the first to do so.

Strategist David Charles and Account Planner Grant Owens contributed to this post.


Social network fatigue not global


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For all the talk about social networking fatigue, Facebook is quickly evolving into a global phenomena. Granted its usage maybe dropping slightly here in the United States, but internationally it is growing by leaps and bounds. Andrew Harrison sent me this graph. It tells an important story.

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Maybe all social networks go through an evolution. Their usage shoots up as the buzz attracts more users who in turn attracts more users themselves (the Duncan Watts phenomena). But then as Jesse Pickard stressed to me last week, some users realize that they need to return to their daily lives and can't carve out time for activity on the network. The network plateaus as the wannabes leave and the platform begins a growth phase in a new market. The cycle repeats in each market.

Digital Outlook Report 2008 launches!


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Our 2008 Digital Outlook Report is out. Register for your free copy. Domestic advertising media billings for the agency grew to $735 million on more than 1,800 web sites in 2007, up 36 percent from 2006. Publisher web site spending slipped to 19 percent of billings, down from 24 percent in 2006. As Jeff Lanctot highlighted, customers don't live on a handful of web sites or portals anymore. Advertisers still value large sites, but they realize the web presents a seemingly endless number of advertising options.

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And not just that, social influence marketing is changing the way marketers do business in 2008. Don't miss the Social Influence Marketing section in the report which includes social media trends, the six "C"s of social influence marketing, an argument for rewarding users on social networks and the social technographics profile. All the  charts from the report are on Flickr too.

Feedback has already started pouring in with Advertising Age and News.com doing pieces on the report. I'm most interested in learning what the bloggers like Rohit Bhargava, Peter Kim, John Bell, Jay Deragon, Matthew Peters, Paul Gillin, Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel and Brian Solis have to say about it and specifically the various social media thoughts articulated throughout the report.

Direct Marketing Association Leader's Forum


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I'll be speaking on a social networking panel at the Direct Marketing Association's Leader's Forum in Florida on Tuesday. I'll be debating the effectiveness and viability of social networks. If you have  insightful statistics that I should tell the audience, please share them. Thank you.

Our Australian Heros


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stage1.jpgTake a look at the Amnesia Blog to learn about our Aussies friends. They won the Adnews Interactive Agency of the Year award for the second year running. While you're there, poke around their blog. It'll certainly give you a good feel for our Australian office. 

Looking back at the Tahoe Ad Campaign


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I sometimes learn the most when I read older articles again. With today's perspective, I can better understand what worked and what didn't. With that in mind, I took a look at Wired Magazine's excellent coverage of the Chevrolet Tahoe advertising campaign. For those of you who don't remember, Chevrolet ran a consumer generated advertising campaign in 2006 in partnership with the Apprentice. Consumers were invited to submit their own advertisements at Chevyapprentice.com with the best advertisement being aired on prime time television.

At first it appeared that the campaign bombed. There were approximately 3,000 submissions but some of them heavily criticized the Tahoe for its fuel consumption and resultant negative affects on the environment. But rather than removing those ads, Chevy let them stay much to everyone's surprise. They used the ads as an opportunity to start a conversation. The microsite got 629,000 visits and sales took off. The rest is history as they say.

A 21st Century Magnifying Glass


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Alex Weishaupl, who's an information architect in our New York office, pointed me to this inspirational concept. I loved it. Imagine if a concept like this had social elements too. What if the magnifying glass automatically told me whether there were any friends of mine in that specific building or what if I could have a conversation with someone about that building using the magnifying glass. The opportunities are endless. I can't wait for this to become a reality some day.

Adwek wants to help the Snowman


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Adweek blogger Brian Morrissey liked our save the environment efforts and talked about saving the snowman on his blog too. Separately, Guy Kawasaki on Jaiku and Page Donner at the Huffington Post picked up on Newsbreakr.

Help save the Wild Snowman today


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Here at Avenue A | Razorfish, we're doing our little bit to help the environment. Check out the entertaining Wild Snowman and do your bit too. The environment is ours, we all need to do something to protect it. The video clip ends with a list of environmentally friendly causes.

The Connected Agency


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connected_agency.gifOver at Forrester, Mary Beth Kemp and Peter Kim have published a report titled, "The Connected Agency." As Mary Beth Kemp explained to me during a conversation, they believe that as consumers trust brands less, the interactive and advertising agencies will have to get closer to the consumers. Getting closer to the consumers means nurturing consumer connections and facilitating conversations. Mary Beth and Peter believe that within five years the agencies will get closer to the consumer communities and will eventually become an integral part of them.

I couldn't agree more and it supports the Social Influence Marketing thesis. Consumers aren't trusting brands as much as they used to, they're trusting and are being influenced much more by each other. It's not a new concept by any means but with the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of social networking websites, it is getting a lot more important.

In my conversation with Mary Beth Kemp I did raise two points that were bothering me - how much can an agency facilitate conversations and nurture connections? I feel this is primarily a job for the brands themselves. They need to become participants in the conversations and connect with their own consumers more directly. Outsourcing  those activities to agencies won't be healthy. 

Secondly, I'm not sure if I agree with the point that within five years the agencies will get closer to the consumer communities. The reality, at least at Avenue A | Razorfish, is that we're very much a part of those consumer communities. Our employees participate in them everyday as individuals with strong personal identities. In fact, we specifically recruit employees who are active online. Our agency doesn't need to have a formal voice in those communities if that's what the report implies. We're there already in a multitude of ways. I'm sure this is the case with other agencies too.

Social Media Fatigue. Too much out there?


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shuttleworth-map.jpgSo one of the key buzzwords for 2008 is turning out to be social media fatigue. We have too many profiles, too many networks and too many places to publish our media. We're not sure where we need to be anymore and anxiety is setting in. 

Shuttleworth decided to map his social activities - where he was publishing and what networks he was participating on. The result of his efforts is a diagram that depicts how complex the social media world is getting. Be warned, looking at this diagram can make you feel tired. Your social media life doesn't have to be as complex as this one.

Social Influence Marketing in Chief Marketer


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Some of my thoughts on Social Influence Marketing were published in Chief Marketer recently. You can find the article which was written by Dave Friedman over here.

Blogging at the Olympics in Beijing


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myphoto-1.jpegOne small step for athletes, one giant leap for bloggers. That's what I thought upon reading about the IOC's decision to allow athletes to blog at the Beijing Olympics. Here's the rationale in the IOC's own words - "The IOC considers blogging...as a legitimate form of personal expression and not a form of journalism," the IOC said. However, they don't allow audio or video blogging and references to third parties is prohibited. Apparently, the IOC is eager to protect rights holders as Games broadcasting contracts are worth several billion euros.

What's most interesting is how the IOC has separated blogging from journalism. The truth is that those lines have long since blurred. With prominent bloggers getting media credentials at conferences and them breaking stories as quickly and professionally as the mainstream press, they are very much bloggers today. And athletes blogging? If they're blogging authentically and have something to say, I would treat them as journalists too. I wonder what the Chinese government thinks of that.

Harnessing the Power of Social Applications


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Here's an article from the MIT Sloan Management Review which describes what a lot of us who work in this space have been talking about. It discusses the concepts thoroughly and is peppered with interesting articles. Its a must read.

People are connecting with one another in increasing numbers, thanks to blogs, social networking sites like MySpace, and countless communities across the Web. Some companies are learning to turn this growing groundswell to their advantage. More at MIT Sloan Review.

Duncan Watts and spreading messages through networks


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viral.jpgCesar Brea was in our offices the other day. A former colleague, Cesar was most recently a Global Practice Leader at Marketspace Global (part of the Monitor Group). So what did we talk about? Social networks of course and more specifically Duncan Watts research on how trends spread.

Duncan contradicts some of the more traditional research arguing that how much an influencer a specific node is matters a lot less than earlier thought. It doesn't matter what the composition of the network is. Trends are just as likely to spread through networks full of random, everyday people as they are through networks sprinkled with "influencers." This flies in the face of some earlier research by Ed Keller and Jon Berry that they highlighted in their book, The Influentials. It also contradicts the The Tipping Point premise that Malcolm Gladwell outlined in his first book.

Analyzing email patterns, Duncan Watts discovered that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. His research shows that a slob is just as likely to start a huge trend as a well-connected person is. But that's not all. Duncan has developed a new technique for propagating advertisements virally. Apparently, this technique can quadruple the reach of an ordinary online campaign by harnessing the pass-around power of everyday people and ignoring the influentials. Called Big Seed Marketing, it combines viral and mass marketing into one strategy. You can read more about it in his Harvard Business Review article.

My take? Based on the research I've seen and been a part of, Duncan seems more right than the others. Just by looking at information sharing patterns on social networks, one can see how the centrality of the node matters more than who the actual node in a network is. For an interesting Duncan Watts paper, read The New Science of Networks which was published in the Annual Review of Sociology. Also read the recent Fast Company coverage.


OpenSocial but nobody's really opening up


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Everybody seems to have joined the data portability group and appear to be excited about the OpenID and OpenSocial initiatives. But the reality is that a lot of backroom deal making is going on. Most of the vendors who have joined these initiatives are more interested in plucking each other's social graphs than actually opening up their own networks. For example, the OpenSocial initiative is turning out to be little more than an OpenWidget standard. Is this all we're going to get?


Watch Google's PR on OpenSocial

The reality is that the social networks see their member data as one of their most valuable assets. They're not going to be in a rush to open them up. LinkedIn is probably the one exception as it allows services like NotchUp to import user data. Plaxo seems to be a little more open too. But for the most part the social networks are happy keeping their worlds private. Will it always be like this? Hopefully not. I believe that it is only a matter of time before the social networks are forced to open up and let their users carry their own data out of the networks. It'll happen as users get more and more social network fatigue. I believe that in a few years we will be able to carry our social graphs wherever we want to - whether it be to other networks or to other platforms.