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Getting to grips with social media

South African corporates are in the process of getting to grips with social media and what it really means and how to make it work. The biggest of all the disinformation in the market is that it's merely another channel and the principles of marketing stay the same. The truth is that it's nothing like what has been understood as marketing.
Without trying to redefine marketing, I think that it's fair to say that marketing means getting people to buy your product. I was speaking to a prominent marketing academic a while back and he felt it was changing perceptions about your products.

That's all well and good, and the tools we use to do so are communications tools. We find groups of people gathered to do something and, at a strategic time, we interrupt them with a message and, if we do it creatively and often enough, they may absorb our message and buy our product. By the way, product and service in this instance are synonymous.

'It will cost us much less'


So what a bonanza, we think to ourselves. We have millions of people sitting on social sites such as Facebook and yes, even Twitter, has more than a million in South Africa alone and it will cost us much less to interrupt them here than when they are watching rugby or some soap opera.

So what do we do? I mean, look around and tell me whether I am right. We set up a Facebook page [and now Google+ has climbed on the brand-pages bandwagon - managing ed] and we look for 'likes' and invariably it seems we offer an iPad as a prize to build up numbers and then, if we are really clever, we get a social media agency to generate content, drive engagement and we try to get people interacting with us on our site.

And we measure ourselves on how many likes/fans/followers we have.

This is all legacy-thinking, based on our understanding that the bigger the audience, the better, because it changes our odds of successfully interrupting them with our message.

That's not how it works


That's not how it works. To understand it, you have to think about how ideas spread.

For a long time, ideas have spread best when we broadcast them in print, and radio and TV, and we lived with the limitations that these media have.

Now ideas spread the quickest and best through networks of connections linked by some sort of cause, something we call a social object. The most dramatic examples have been things such as the Arab Spring, Slutwalk and Occupy Wall Street

It also doesn't matter how many followers you have. It matters whom they are and what role they play in the network. If your 10 Twitter followers are the most influential journalists in the country, it is clearly better than if you have a 10 000 who are on your Facebook page because they entered your win-an-iPad-2 competition.

Track the conversation


Don't be seduced by influence measures created by ad networks allocating influence scores but by actually tracking the topic through cyberspace and finding out who shared and who spread the message and, maybe even more importantly, who links which groups of people together.

It's not unusual to find that a single person with a modest Twitter following of say, 150, links two massive groups together and that person is crucial to the spread of the message, much more so than a leader in a closed group with 5000 followers duplicated in his own circle [aka the "circle jerk" - managing ed].

A single influence score doesn't work because a person's influence also changes per topic. I am far more influential, for example, talking about brands than I am on the topic of underwater basket weaving.

Tools such as NodeXL may be used to track the conversation and map it on social network diagrammes. Why not give NodeXL a try? It's free.

Further information added to the conclusion at 3.17pm on 9 November 2011.

About Walter Pike

Thinker, writer, blogger, podcaster and public speaker Walter Pike (@walterpike) has teamed up with Dr Marc Smith (@marc_smith), a sociologist specialising in the social organisation of online communities and computer mediated interaction who will be out from California at the end of November 2011, to run Mastering Social Media workshops in Cape Town and Johannesburg on exactly the topic covered in this opinion piece.
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