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Combining Social Proof And Influence To Create Social Context
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Note: This post was part of the “Marketing That Works” Ideas Contest, showcasing 20 of the most innovative marketing ideas from the blogosphere’s up and coming marketers. We’ve since picked a winner – check out this post for the details! :)

First, there was inbound marketing.

Then came social proof.

This year, the focus will be on social context.

Online, social context is the “push” behind the goal to get you to take action.  It’s a combination of social proof (such as “14,380 people like Zangy Spaghetti Sauce”) and people within your social sphere that could influence your decision (such as “Joe Bloggs and Suzie Homemaker like Zangy Spaghetti Sauce”).

As both sociable and influenceable creatures, we recognize the pull that numbers can have – but what really seems to spur action is the fact that our friends approve of it and can even motivate us to try it – even something as insignificant as the brand of spaghetti sauce we use…

Social Context In Action

The fact that Facebook is now sharing some of its copious consumer data with marketers has led to a slew of analytics programs trying to measure the social sphere.  But there’s more to marketing than metrics.  There’s also the importance of building a relationship with your customers and then branching out to their friends in the hopes of capturing more “Likeshare” than your competitors.

But social context goes well beyond products and branding.  One utility company, Opower, plans to use social context in 2012 to help reduce electricity usage by showing how your bill compares with your neighbor’s.  It rewards energy-conscious individuals with a smiley face.  Something so simple tends to bring out the competitive streak in us, while causing us to recognize patterns of behavior we’d like to change.

Utility company OPower turns energy saving into a friendly competition.

A Delicate Balancing Act

Of course, no one wants a bunch of brand blather clogging up their newsfeed or timeline. Marketers have to strike a delicate balance between being useful and being a nuisance. Currently, if you Like a brand on Facebook, you’re also opening up your profile and potentially your friend’s pages to a swarm of marketing messages and game invitations.  While this is great exposure for the brand, it can also be a huge turn-off depending on how the promotional messages are received.

But there are substantial benefits for those marketers and companies who do social context right.  Currently, it’s about the closest you can get to real-time measurements of how effective your promotions are. One study showed that over a 14 day period, one company achieved a 32% improvement using social context ads.

Stop Looking at Social Sites as Silos

Your social marketing efforts should no longer be looked at in terms of separate silos away from your main business, but rather an integrated part of your overall marketing drive.  Now, there are so many people creating apps and other excellent tools  that not getting all your teams on the same page – product development, customer support and social strategists alike – spells social media meltdown.

Become a part of your audience.  Find out what truly drives them to listen to you – not just what you think motivates them.  The early adopters on different social networks are essentially content curators for their various lists.  If you’re not actively engaging them and making your offer worth listening to, they’ll take their attention (and their followers) elsewhere.

Gaining Likeshare

These days, it’s no longer about how many Twitter followers you have, or how many Facebook fans like you – but about what your return on investment is with all of them.  How many ultimately clicked a link you posted? How many of them filled out your survey or entered your contest?  In 2012, you won’t just be a marketer, blogger or website owner.  Your job will expand to include titles like social community manager and content publisher.  Finding ways to turn your problem-solving marketing slant into helpful, actionable content that people can’t wait to recommend is what gaining likeshare is all about.

A Glimpse into the Future

Want to see how one of today’s top companies is taking social context to a whole new level?  Just take a look at this Dell ad by interactive advertising company Flite.

Not only is it advertising Dell as the solution provider, but it’s also providing a channel for users to get answers to their computer and network problems.  Not just answers from a Dell representative, mind you, but others in the community as well.

According to Flite, consumers spent 30 seconds on average interacting with one of its ads (versus 11 seconds with other types of ads) and are more likely to click on a “learn more” button.  Ads like these have a click through rate of 35 for every 100 customers.

Social context is a deceptively simple way to reach customers through the right channels at the right time and reap the benefits of direct and peer-supported engagement.  If people are talking about your company or your products – you need to know how, where and why, and be able to measure that activity.

Your Next Action Steps

Wondering how social context fits into your specific marketing plan for 2012? Here are a few steps you can take to start harnessing this powerful social trigger right now:

  • Look for ways to turn a simple “Share this with a Friend” promotion into a friendly contest.  Even a virtual token of appreciation, such as a special badge of recognition for participants’ websites, will help spur entries.
  • Leverage social context ads in Facebook to not only promote your brand to followers, but also give them the opportunity to include their friends, such as Starbucks’ Buy One Get One “Warm Up with a Friend” ad above.
  • Make social context marketing a part of every campaign you launch – from emails to direct mail flyers.  Use social analytics to determine how many people are truly interacting with your brand, rather than relying on sheer numbers alone.
  • Consider how you can position your company “in the background” while providing an open, helpful space for people in your industry to get answers to their questions.  Could you start an “Ask the _______”? promotion and invite your followers to join?

The Bottom Line

It’s worth noting that the best discussions are a two-way street – not a tediously manicured content stream that only displays the shiniest and most pristine parts of a company.  Whether you like it or not, the customer is now in control.  Give them every possible reason and advantage to become a brand evangelist – and use the power of social context to make sharing among friends as easy and welcomed as possible.

Sherice Jacob (@sherice) helps businesses and bloggers increase conversions with SEO copywriting, website reviews and conversion optimization strategies.  Want more?  Get your free conversion checklist and web copy hotsheet at iElectrify.

28 Comments

  1. Josh Sarz says:

    I really enjoy all these great guest posts Danny. Thanks for featuring them here on your blog.

  2. Tyler Novem says:

    Can’t wait to read the next ones. I’m learning a lot of this. I just started.

  3. Well said, Sherice, and I think a lot of what you said will help me.

    I’ve seen Danny’s engagement and social context with this contest, and I’ve seen Adrienne Smith draw the best out of her audience.

    I’d love to do something similar :)

    Side story about the neighborhood graph: (Once our ISP told us to stop downloading because we were using more bandwidth than the entire neighborhood combined.)

    • Hi Jason – I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a similar note from my internet provider yet!

      I can tell without a doubt that social context and engagement is just going to become more and more personalized. It’s amazing to see what some companies are doing to stay ahead of the curve!

      • Yeup, that definitely seems to be the way it’s going: “transparency” is a bit of a buzzword :D

        This happened quite awhile ago, when me and my 4 siblings were off school and basically downloading movies, music, books, apps, games, and more… non-stop. I’ve always been hungry for knowledge, wisdom, and media of all kinds, in all fields :)

  4. Kalen says:

    Everything you say is a representation of your business. This is every bit as important on Facebook or other social sites as it is on your main website. You should think of everything you do anywhere online as part of your branding strategy.

  5. hypnodude says:

    The real ROI about fans and followers is a very good question. Imho a pretty common answer is not too much. If someone is interested in social living is fine to have thousands of likes and followers but as regards making business is another matter. Looking at a normal timeline in Facebook how many interesting posts are there? One? And, is it always possible to find that good one between all the others? The same goes for Twitter. Well, it might also be that I’m the only one with this problem.

    But from my experience the ratio on Twitter of people retweeting tweets, those who help you, is around 1 out of 100. Clearly I don’t have 10.000 followers there, at that level numbers probably change. Same for Facebook and liking or sharing of links and articles. Which is pretty understandable, if someone is in touch with other writers, let’s say twenty, it means that he receives at least forty of these links every two days which becomes a bit exhausting. Also because you have to find them out from all those games and app requests.

    Anyway, coming back to your point, what is the real ROI of having 10000 followers compared with how much time and even money must be used to get them? That’s really an interesting question Sherice. Because one thing is a theory and another one is reality. Clearly I’m not talking about Zuckerberg who has the highest ROI on Facebook. ;)

    • I know this is a small part of your awesome comment, Andrea, but I just wanted to say, I really liked what you said about people who want to have a “social living”, which I imagine means a high-visibility, engaging the attention of many, life.

      Am I understanding correctly?

  6. hypnodude says:

    Definitely Jason, thanks for the reply. I don’t think, but I might be wrong, that is possible to be a star on social media and a star on blogging as there is usually not enough time to do both and you have to make a choice. Given that I’m not a celebrity who can be paid thousands of dollars for a tweet for me it’s better to stay in the writing field. And if someone doesn’t have enough time and want to be in both then he must pay someone to write or to engage social audience which in turn decreases the ROI. I’m more on the side that if you have good content the social presence will build up by itself while I’m not sure it can go the other way round as many make friends or followers just for the sake of having many friends and followers and this doesn’t mean they are interested at all in what you are saying. I see social media good and worthy for some businesses but definitely not for the majority of us because the time to put in is not usually worth what you receive back.

    I mean, the ROI of blogging can be measured, the ROI of social media I don’t know. Clearly generalizing a lot and talking about the average person.

    Also I’m a kind of caveman as regards social media so my words are just opinions which could be wrong. I was born when mobiles did not exist and I still remember life before the pc and internet. :)

    • Well said man :)

      It brings to mind something interesting for me, because I study celebrities intensely (‘shallow’ one’s like Kim Kardashian, and ‘deep’ one’s like Deepak Chopra), and I’ve seen some that engage the audience and write their own stuff, and some who don’t, and some who change (Steven King, perhaps?)

      I’m pretty sure Seth Godin still writes his own posts, but is celebrity-status, no? :D

      Interesting stuff to think about, either way. Thanks for this!

      • hypnodude says:

        Well, Seth Godin has always been the Purple Cow so he’s on a different level. And Stephen King, well, I stopped reading his books and following his life after he wrote the last three books about the Black Tower, one worse than the other. The last one especially was a kind of “I don’t know how to finish this and my creativity was dead ten years ago so I’ll put everything that comes into my mind because my readers will buy it anyway”. That one was the last book I bought from him. I knew from The Dreamcatcher that as a writer he had no ideas anymore but I gave him a kind of second chance and I was pretty interested in seeing how the story of Roland would have finished. Oh well, things that happen. Thanks again for the reply. :)

        • I think Seth would say he’s “not any more special than anyone else” :D

          Roland’s badass :)

          And Stephen King is understood by many to be so prolific because he employs Ghost-Writers, but I’ve never met the man and talked it over with him :)

          • Andrea Hypno says:

            Well, I guess a lot of those very prolific, both with books or blog posts, employ ghostwriters, but in the case of Stephen King he should fire them all. :)

            But I think that somewhere he has lost both his artistic vein and the due respect to those who made him a millionaire. The latter is probably the worse, as every blogger knows.

    • It’s a sad fact of life that celebrities (the Kardashians and their ilk) among us will always have more reach than scientists, engineers, teachers and writers. But I’d always rather have quality over quantity. 10 true fans rather than 10,000 mindless followers :)

      • OOoohhhh… stepping into my turf lol I LOVE celebrities *and* LOVE brilliant geniuses annnnnd write about fame and reach all the time :D

        What you’re talking about is very relevant, Sherice. I think the question is, what happens when you’re 28 years old and you ‘finally’ got your 10 true fans… do you just give up on life, stop working, and stop expanding your reach? Or do you go for more? Say 100 true fans, or 1000?

        Intel had a commercial called “Our Rock Stars Are Different Than Yours”, and it showed how their engineers really were rock stars.

        It is a hilarious and well-done clip: http://youtu.be/zMlWbTqwkdU and it makes the point that everyone is a rock-star if they want to be :D

        The *main* reason these engineers aren’t famous with huge reach is because they don’t read my site :P (Okay, no, it’s because they don’t want it. They don’t deeply desire any kind of reach. They are happy creating awesome things, and being respected in their niche.)

        Deepak Chopra is a ‘weird, spiritual coach’, but he has reach. Dr. Oz is a freakin’ Doctor, but he has reach. Kim Kardashian has what some people call ‘no talent’, but still she has reach. Seth Godin is a BLOGGER, and he has reach (though not as much as the other two).

        I say that ‘reach’ is not really related to talent, skill, or intelligence, it is mainly related to desire.

        I could ramble about fame forever lol, but I really appreciate your comment and it got my mind thinking and got my fingers replying. Thanks!

        • Hi Jason – I remember that Intel commercial, and I loved it! I though, “finally! These guys are getting the attention they deserve!” but like you said, they’ll go on being awesome whether they’re in the spotlight or not…

          If you hit 10 true fans, why not go for 100, or 1000? Just remember that true fans > cult followers who mindlessly retweet what you had for breakfast :)

          I guess what it boils down to is — what exactly is fame? Is it just about reach? Or something more?

      • hypnodude says:

        I surely agree Sherice. But that’s human nature, celebrities have always had such a great following, the main reason why they are so popular in the advertising industry. But if they use such popularity for good causes this is very positive. Have a great day!

  7. Great post Sherice. You’re so right “Finding ways to turn your problem-solving marketing slant into helpful, actionable content that people can’t wait to recommend is what gaining likeshare is all about.”

    I think you’ve neatly summed up the crux of marketing, whether online or offline. And maximising social media context and “likeshare” is crucial in today’s savvy consumer world.

    Good luck in the competition. You’ve certainly started some interesting comment threads.

  8. True, maximising social media context has become very important and it has become even more important to ask ourselves about our specific marketing plan for 2012. Social media is going to become more personalized and reading about how big companies are utilizing the social context is quite inspiring.

    • I think so too, David. We’re just going to see more and more personalization – even bordering to the point of “creepy” – but for the mobile generation, it’s a question of privacy versus convenience, and a lot of people will opt for convenience every time.

  9. Sarah Arrow says:

    Hi Sherice, great post.
    Interesting that we think conversations are a two way streets, but most brands still aspire to fill our timelines with self promotional blather.

    Good luck with your contest entry, if it was down to me you’d win.

    • @Sarah I do wish they’d learn. Or maybe they have learned and they just don’t care. This top-down broadcasting stuff is quickly (and thankfully) falling apart. Customers want more choices and they’re not afraid to create a vocal community about it

      Thanks for your vote of confidence in my entry :)

  10. Nick Kellet says:

    The phrase “Social Spread” popped into my head as I read this.
    Thanks for the techcrunch link – that helps my researched.
    I love your thinking. Most people are still at Social Proof 1.0 and you are seeking to push and extend it.
    People are talking about big data, but this is the opposite. Small data. Tell me how it matters to me, in my world.
    I love the thinking and will be joining you on the cause.
    I feel a blog post brewing.
    The next big thing – the commoditization of the last big thing.

  11. Hi Sherice. Very well spoken article and I learn so so many things right here in your blog. I agree with you that this year 2012 doesn’t matter how many likes and followers you have in Facebook and in Twitter but it all matters of how many posts you have and the investments in return.

  12. Rose Audrey says:

    I also agree with Sherice

  13. Tanya says:

    I especially love this, Sherice –> “Become a part of your audience. Find out what truly drives them to listen to you – not just what you think motivates them.”

    Well said! Too often it’s easy to get caught up in our own minds and plans, but it’s really your audience that drives the content (or at least the success of your content). I myself need to remember to keep this a daily focus. Great post!

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