How to Scale Social Media
How Can Social Media Scale?
It’s the dirty little secret about social media, one that almost nobody is talking about.
No, it’s not that advertisers’ current obsession with Instagram and Pinterest has little basis in reality.
It’s that if you accept the premise that social media is about relationships, and if you further accept that the best way to have said relationships is by having people in your organization engage with people (customers, prospects, vendors, naysayers) on your behalf, then how exactly can that approach scale up to hundreds of thousands, or millions, of relationships?
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 account, 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.)
Even if you ignore those billions of potential engagement points, imagine the sheer scale of trying to manage the main Coke US social media sites: You have 41.1 million “Likes” on Facebook and 800,000 Twitter followers. Don’t forget the other 200 countries in which you do business.
One way companies can manage a multitude of fans is by using community managers; saintly folk who respond to comments and questions, create and nurture the relationships, and keep order online.How many community managers does your company need?
There’s a social science theoretical concept called “Dunbar’s number” 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.
But, you’re Coke, and for the sake of making the math easy, let’s say you have 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 manage relationships with 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 regularly and create most of the posts
Fine. Coke employees only need to worry about handling 68 customers each. And do their other jobs.
You see where this is going. It’s impossible to scale today’s social media practices that 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.
These 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, “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.”
In fact, Coke understands that evangelism is the only way for them you to scale, but even as savvy as they are, they are only now testing their first large-scale brand ambassador program in Europe after experimenting with small efforts over the last few years.
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 you can design an evangelism program to deputize your most rabid fans. In turn for your support and encouragement, these ambassadors can help engage other customers and quench online negativity by coming to your defense.
Social media can indeed scale through the creation of a web of relationships mediated by your most impassioned fans.This fan web is critical, as research shows that people listen to friends when making buying decisions.
In a June, 2010 Harris Interactive poll, 71 percent of consumers claimed that reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence on their buying decisions. Similarly, a Nielsen study found that 90 percent of consumers surveyed noted that they trust recommendations from people they know, while 70 percent trusted consumer opinions posted online.
The stats about evangelists are even better: Brand evangelists write more than twice as many posts about brands and forward between two to three times more of other people’s online communications. Evangelists are also are 50 percent more likely to create a post that influences a purchase.  Wow!
So if you want to multiply your business’ social media efforts, forget about Facebook page likes or numbers of Twitter followers or even numbers of pins on Pinterest and focus on the people who are delighted with your company. Devise a plan to enable them to spread the love and you’ll be able to scale social media, no matter how big your company becomes.