As you have probably guessed by now, I love reading business books! I have just finished a fascinating best-seller called “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Although it was written in 2000, it’s amazing how a lot of the concepts he discusses in his book can be linked to social media.
Nowadays every business owner is in the marketing business because competition is fierce and suppliers are easier to find / research via the Internet (accessing a global market). Therefore, an understanding of the types of people involved in the spread of ideas, information and trends is extremely important and Gladwell relates his research to an epidemic of contagious disease. So, here’s a brief overview of how to engineer a social epidemic…
One of the key factors in any effective PR campaign is to reach ‘key influencers’, in most cases these are journalists and presenters who can influence the attitude of readers / listeners / watchers. However, there are now bloggers and social media networkers to add to the mix. Looking at how people are connected isn’t a new idea – in the 1960s the psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a chain letter experiment, which led to the concept of the ‘six degrees of separation’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment). Basically, a few number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.
Gladwell calls these people Connectors - they know lots of other people and have a special gift for bringing the world together. This handful of people have a knack of making friends and acquaintances.
Connectors are powerful people and the closer someone is to this type of person, the more opportunties they get (as well as more power and wealth). The same is the case for an idea or product – the closer it is to a Connector, the more power and opportunity it has.
This concept can be seen in action via programmes such as X-Factor when people get close to a Connector like Simon Cowell. Likewise, if a Dragon on Dragon’s Den invests in a company, it has more of a chance of success because of the contacts that Dragon has. Closer to home, look at your LinkedIn connections…who has the most number of contacts? Are they a connector within your industry?
Connectors learn about new information on a random basis – they know so many people that they get access to new things when they pop up. However, if you want to create a social epidemic you also need ‘information specialists’ or Mavens. They collect information and want to share it with you. They enjoy solving other people’s problems and have the knowledge and social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. They are not persuaders, they are teachers.
Mavens are data banks and provide the message. Connectors are social glue – they spread the message. The last group for people needed to reach a tipping point are Salesmen. They have the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced about what we are hearing. What makes a good salesmen? Energy, enthusiasm, charm and likeability. Good salesmen are charismatic and can infect other people in a room with his / her emotions.
However, the messager also matters – they make something spread. The content also matters…it needs to be memorable. This idea of being memorable or ‘sticky’ is often used in marketing campaigns – there is a maxim in the advertising industry that an advert has to been seen as least six times before it’s remembered (which is why adverts are repeated so often on the radio / on TV). Sometimes just a small change can tip something in the right direction, it’s a question of finding it…which is why testing different campaigns on a smaller basis is a good idea.
The Power of Context
Our environment plays a part in an idea / epidemics tipping point. Gladwell gives the following example – in the 1980s New York City’s crime problem reached epidemic proportions, the City averages well over 2,000 murders and 600,000 serious felonies a year. The subways were terrible – dimly lit platforms, dark, damp and graffiti-covered walls and trains were usually late because there was a fire somewhere ont he system every day and a derailment every other week. However, after a crime high in 1990 it went into decline; murders dropped by two-thirds and by the end of the decade there were 75% fewer felonies. In 1996 New York had became the safest big city in the country. How did this tipping point happen? There are a number of theories and one of the most interesting ones is the ‘Broken Windows theory’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory). Basically, this is based ont he idea that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking passed will conclude that no one cares cares and no one is in charge. Therefore, more windows wil be brocken and this sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street, sending a signal that anything goes. Therefore, minor problems such as graffiti, public disorder, etc are invitations to more serious crimes. Interestingly, there was a large-scale graffti cleanup of the subway trains from 1984 to 1990 and there was also a serious crack down on fare-beaters between 1990 and 1994 (the ‘broken windows of the subway). This suggests that an epidemic and be tipped by changing the smallest details of the immediate environment.
This idea of ‘small things can make a big difference’ is extremely interesting – I was discussing this concept with someone the other day in terms of dressing more casually at work. There is a perception that people can be more creative if they dress less formally but on the other hand studies suggest that productivity can suffer because a more relaxed way of dressing leads to a more relaxed approach to work.
Also, does the ‘broken windows’ theory help explain the behaviour of some of the people during the recent street riots?
150: The Magic Number
Groups play a critical role in social epdiemics. Once we’re part of a group we’re susceptible to peer pressure and social norms. Small close-knit groups have the power to magnifty the epidemic potential of a message or idea. How do you know if a group has little power or real social power? Use the rule of 150.
According to research, 150 represents the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relastionship with (i.e. knowing who they are and how they relate to us). A lot of other research brings up the magic 150 number – it seems that once a company or group goes over 150 people the community can become divided and alienated. It seems that in order to create one contagious movement you often have to create many small movements first.
Creating your Own Epidemic
So, how will you go about putting this into practice? I aim to use this information to:
- Find and contact relevant Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen
- Make sure my message is memorable
- Think about the context of the campaign (the environment, i.e. what else is happening around the time of the campaign…will it stop my message from being spread because it’s bigger / more important?)
- Create movements in many smaller groups / target 150 key people
Finally, a really good example of a ‘tipping point’ was the Facebook campaign to make sure the X-Factor winner Jo McElderry didn’t get to number one in the music charts over Christmas in 2009 but for Rage Against the Machine to get the number one spot. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/x-factor/6852502/Rage-Against-The-Machine-Christmas-Number-One-the-man-behind-the-campaign.html
How are you going to get your message/ product / service to reach ‘tipping point’?
Over the last four weeks I’ve been busy working on my new brand and website with Onside Creative in Prestbury (http://www.onsidecreative.co.uk/), who have done a fantastic job making my brief a reality! It’s meant that I had to go ‘back to basics’ – something I highly recommend for start-ups, companies that change their business model and as part of a regular three year business review.
Below are some of the main points to think about and the process I went through to launch my new consulting business:
1. What problem are you going to solve?
When most people are asked ‘what do you do’? They respond with things like ‘I’ve been in business xx years and we use the latest technology to…blah, blah, blah’. So what? People want to know what’s in it for them – what benefits you are offering and what problems you can help solve. Some of the most powerful motivators are things like: make money, save money, save time and avoid effort. I carefully thought about this when I was working on the Purple Monkey Plan. I would be easy to say ‘I’m a marketing consultant’, however, the benefit I offer businesses is to help them increase sales and save time. Increasing sales is a powerful motivator, so I decided to use the strapline ‘Business Growth Strategist’. This will also be a great conversation starter when I’m at networking events, etc. (so much better then saying ‘I’m a marketing consultant’…there are lots of other marketing consultants out there and in order to grow, I need to be stand out from the crowd.
Exercise:What benefits do you provide your customers? What you you do for them in the end? What specific and tangible results do you give? If you are unsure, ask some of your past clients. Write your benefits and solutions down into simple statements.
2. Who are your target customers?
You need to know who your ideal clients are, to make sure that your marketing is effective. These are clients that: need your help, recognise that working with you is essential, are companies / people that you really enjoy working with, can easily be identified and contacted, will get great results from you and are happy to pay what you are worth.
This was an easy process for me – I started by thinking about the clients I’ve worked with in the past, the areas I’m really passionate about and the industry experience I’ve gained over the years. This made me realise that I enjoy working in partnership with smaller businesses (less than 10 employees and sole traders), that I can get great results for businesses in the lifestyle, health / beauty and professional service sectors and that results are always better with regular client contact, so they need to be based within a 25 mile radius of my home office (which is in Prestbury, Cheshire).
My brand and marketing startegy are all based on who my target customers are.
Exercise: Describe your ideal client: what problem do they have that you can solve? where do they live / work? what gender and age are they? what sort of lifestyle do they have? what do they enjoy doing? what industry sector are they in? who can do give the best results?
3. What are your competitors doing?
When setting up a business or reviewing your business it’s easy to become very insular and think about YOU, not what other people/ companies in the same competitive market space are doing. Therefore, it’s best to look at what your competitors / potential competitors are doing – what are they best at? What are their compelling messages? what are they offering/ how much are they charging?
In order to stand out from a crowded market place, you need to offer something remarkable (e.g. Innocent drinks are brand leaders in the smoothie market; when they started their company they were competing against large brand names with big marketing budgets. However they managed to gain and build market share by being quirky and relating to their customers on a more personal level via their brand personality). Other great example of a company with a remarkable brand is Virgin.When I researched other marketing consultants in my local area I found that their brands were very ‘safe’ and although they were creative with client campaigns their websites didn’t reflect creativity. Also, very few were experts in PR as well as marketing. My research led me to create the brand ‘Purple Monkey Marketing’ and produce a brand identity that was vibrant, creative and unique (see point 5). People will remember it and it won’t get lost amongst the more traditional websites that my competitors have (in general people find my services via the Internet and through networking / referrals, so my website is a key part of my marketing strategy; this may not be the case for other businesses).
Exercise: Look at your competitors and write them down – what are they doing well? What can you offer that’s different? What are their strengths and weakness and what are yours against them (be honest)? Do you stand out from the crowd are are you ‘lost’ because everyone looks the same/ says the same thing?
4. How are you going to stand out from the crowd?
Once you understand your competitors, you can identify what makes you unique and make sure your brand reflects this. Ask your clients / past clients what they think (they will be more honest than friends and family) or get an independent consultant on board, who’s job it is to help you become more successful! Think outside of the box and be brave.
A great example of a new product that stands out in an established marketplace is ‘i’ from the Independent newspaper. The Independent has always had the lowest readership figures and they have captured a new audience with the launch of their ‘essential daily briefing’. It costs just 20 pence and summarises all of the daily news in concise, easy to read chunks (with no celebrity tittle-tattle). It’s a bit like the magazine ‘The Week’ in a daily and affordable format. Brilliant! I’m already a fan. The newspaper is certainly remarkable (i.e. has got people talking about it).
Exercise: Why are people going to talk positively about you, your product / service? What makes you unique?
5. Brand name & personality
This is a huge subject area and will be driven by your industry sector, target customer and service / product offering. However, it’s also a key area to building a successful business. Some of the things to think about are:
- Will people know what you do from the brand name? This doesn’t matter if you have a large budget to educate people about what you do (e.g. Virgin), however, if you are launching a brand on limited resources, it’s important to think about. This is why I called my business ‘Purple Monkey Marketing’
- Will people remember your business / product’s name? What sort of personality do you want it to reflect? I chose my brand name because it’s unique, easy to remember and conveys a sense of fun and creativity. When I tell people the name, they always ask ‘why did you call it that?’. My inspiration came from Seth Godin’s book ‘Purple Cow’…”Cows, after you’ve seen one, or two, or ten, are boring. A purple cow, though…now that would be something.” A purple cow describes something phenomenal, counterintuitive, exciting and flat out unbelievable. Every day consumers come face to face with boring stuff (a low of brown cows) but they won’t forget a purple one! If you put a purple cow in everything that you built and / or do, you will create something noticable.
- Is the company name already registered and can you buy the domain name? You can check at Companies House and online to see if a company with a similar name exists. However, the main area to check is the domain name – many are taken (even if they weren’t being used). Make sure you register your domain ASAP.
In terms of my brand personality, I give my design agency a very clear brief of who I was trying to target, what I wanted to convey and what I wanted my brand to ‘look like’ (i.e. a jungle themed website), I also supplied them with images I’d found on the internet that I liked. They did a fantastic job in visually translating everything into the website you are looking at today (the images are consistently used across social media, such as Facebook and Twitter as well).
Exercise: What’s your purple cow? Get some friends together to brainstorm ideas and brand names. Check no one else has the name or something similar at Companies House(Check the domain is available at Nominet via a WHOIS search (see right hand side of their website: http://www.nic.uk/) and buy your domain ASAP if no-one else has registered it yet (I recommend www.1and1.co.uk and www.123-reg.co.uk- domain name registration is approx. £5 a year).
6. What do you want your website to do?
This might seem like a strange question. However, websites have evolved and they can now be used to drive people back time and time again via great content and connecting with communities. This is especially important for knowledge based industries, such as mine. In the past, most business websites were really just an online version of a brochure. They were one-way and once people came a looked around they usually didn’t return because the site was filled with sales-orientated messages. Nothing compelled them to stay or re-visit.
Nowadays, instead of focusing on your website, if you shift your focus on what’s happening offyour site, concerning your brand, industry and competitors (as mentioned previously). If you create communities outside of your site (for people to connect with you, your products and others), people will revisit your site and tell others about it. The main way to do this is via blogs and social media. You will notice that this site is actually a blog-based platform, with the blog as a home page (very nontraditional). Also, each posting has links at the end for people to share the content via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, etc.
I have carefully thought about my site and how I can use it as an interactive tool for communities (in this case, business owners and people interested in marketing). I want people to react and create conversations around it. Also, regular blog updates and fresh content will help get my website towards the top in Google rankings. An excellent example of how this approach has worked in the past is Barack Obama, Barack was a little-known senator up against the well-known (and well-funded) Hillary Clinton in the 2008 residential campaign. Obama decided to use online media to actively engage with people (aided by Chris Huges, co-founder of Facebook) and the home page of his website was a blog. A true success story of how social media can help people compete against ’the big boys’ on a limited budget! The lesson for all of us to learn/ think about, is how we can use Internet tools to actively engage with customers and potential customers. Your website is the cornerstone to this.
Exercise: Does your website engage with customers? If not, can you add something collaborative like a blog to it? Your site, at the very least, should have an email sign up facility. Think about using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to interact and engage with customers / potential customers (more about this in future posts).
7. Spread the word via social media
Once you have everything in place you need to tell people about it. When I set up my first business, Pazang Limited, back in 2002 social media wasn’t used and the first thing I did to gain new clients was to send an email to all friends, family and acquaintances. It resulted in two new accounts (one was based in London and the other was based in Lancashire but the referral came from a friend in Brussels!). Nowadays things are even easier and social applications such as Facebook can help you spread the word far times better and more efficiently. The good thing is, they don’t cost anything to use and you can even build a website for free (see http://smallbusiness.officelive.com/en-GB/)!
I’m a massive fan of social media and have read numerous books and attended various conferences on the subject. If used properly (and I’m not talking about posting pictures of your dog dressed up or telling everyone about what you had for lunch), they can effectively build up your business for little or no cost. However, if used badly they can lose you business (see http://jimsmarketingblog.com/2011/01/04/whats-in-a-tweet/).
You will see from my Twitter and Facebook accounts that I have kept my branding consistent – my design agency created a landing page for my Facebook fan page (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQ36ugmXsO4) and I used www.twitbacks.com to create a bespoke Twitter background.
The other two ways to promote yourself are via LinkedIn and on your email signature (remember to add all of the different ways to find you, i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc at the bottom of your email). The good news is that there are many free applications that automatically update your social media accounts with new content added onto your blog (although don’t rely on these entirely).
Exercise: Set up social media accounts and tell people about them. If you are unsure how to do this, I will be adding information about how to set up certain accounts on forthcoming posts and I also offer social media packages (see http://www.purplemonkeymarketing.co.uk/?page_id=4).
I hope that you find this information useful; please get in touch if you would like to see a particular topic covered in a future post or if you would like to share your experiences re: the above.
5 Reasons Why Social Media Doesn’t Work
1. No resources. Although social media is very cost effective compared to other marketing methods, it’s also time-consuming and someone within your company has to consistently provide (interesting and relevant) content across key networks. Just turning up doesn’t count (e.g. Costa Coffee set up a Twitter account in October 2008 and hasn’t updated a Tweet since (despite having 1,262 followers – see http://twitter.com/CostaCoffee).
2. You are looking for a ‘quick fix’ sales boost. Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, etc won’t instantly generate sales. It will take time and effort to get into two-way conversations with potential customers and you need to build trust (which takes time) before these activities generate revenue. If you are looking for a more instant ROI use Google Adwords.
3. Your company doesn’t like criticism. Social media is about creating an open and honest approach between companies and individuals. You have to accept that criticism may arise as a result of this and be prepared to learn from it. However, if a company isn’t interested in what ‘the outside world’ are saying about them or dislikes negative comments, social media may not be right for them (although in his book ‘Purple Cow’, Seth Godin writes “Nobody says, “yeah, I’d like to set myself up for some serious criticism!” And yet…the only way to be remarkable is to do just that.”
4. Slow to respond / lawyers get involved. If your company likes to vet everything that gets publically published (and perhaps get lawyers to look over all external communications), then your posts are going to look too approved / polished and will turn people off. It will also mean that you become slow to respond, which goes against the whole idea of social media providing real-time communication.
5. Top Management aren’t interested. If updating social media posts gets given to the youngest staff member ‘because they have a Facebook account’ or because senior management believe Twitter to be all about celebrity updates and benign bits of information, then your social media campaign won’t work. It’s about creating advocates/ external brand ambassadors through sharing, being helpful, educating and guiding. Ideally, senior management should be the ones to embrace social media and utilise it, not shun it.
The Facebook Phenomenon
If you thought that Facebook was for teenagers who want to keep in contact with their friends, then think again. It’s fast becoming a social networking tool for businesses that’s cost effective (it takes time rather than money) and is accessible for businesses of all sizes.
In fact, the social networking audience in the US has now reached critical mass. According to eMarketer, an estimated 57.5% of all US Internet users (or 127 million people), will use a social network at least once a month in 2010. In the next 4 years this is predicted to increase to nearly two-thirds of Internet users.
The question for most marketers is whether consumers actually notice brands on social networking sites such as Facebook. According to a February 2010 survey by Chadwick Martin Bailey, a market research firm, 33% of Facebook users have become fans of brands on the network. Another survey, by Edison Research, found that 16% of social network users had friended brands there. And half (51%) had done so on Twitter.
Interestingly, brands such as Ford believe that Facebook is a good communication tool. A recent USA Today article (http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2010-06-09-explorer09_ST_N.htm) states that the car company has shunned the traditional glitzy auto show to launch its new Ford Explorer in July. Instead, they have chosen Facebook as a launch platform (the social network site has nearly 500 million members).
Are you using Facebook effectively for your business? A good start is to add a welcome page to your Facebook presence because visitors going straight onto your wall can become overwhelmed with content and may not even know what you do / sell. If you need some help setting this up Pat Flynn has an excellent training video on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQ36ugmXsO4
Another thing to think about is the use of discount coupons on your Facebook page. Coupons are a leading driver of brand interactions in social networks and help build ‘goodwill’ between brands and consumers. However, social networks are not seen as a primary research source when consumers are actually looking to buy, According to a study by PowerReviews and the e-tailing group, only 3% of online buyers said they sought recommendations from social network friends first, compared with 57% who started with search engines.
I’m currently working on the launch of my PR business and an e-commerce site (all will be revealed soon)….as a business owner and marketer I’m definitely going to be utilising Facebook as a social networking tool. The facts alone are hard to ignore…how are you going to use Facebook to increase sales?