Scaling your Online Network

It’s all well and good having a social media strategy, a plan to reach millions of potential new customers, and charm your army of advocates into buying your products, but there’s something niggling at the back of your mind. Scale. How on earth are you going to reach the amount of people that you need to reach on your own? With limited budget, minimal time to invest in your Social Media "execution policy" and no other resources at your disposal, this must seem to be an impossible thing to achieve. You can’t do this alone. You need to build up a fan base, not only a band of happy followers who love your product and buy every new iteration that they can get their hands on. These are your football fans who have the season ticket, attend every match – even the away games, and buy all of your merchandise whenever a new club design comes out. But they’re silent (apart from when they’re actually at a game of course). These followers do not actually help you get your word out to your new potential customers. They are the silent loyals. They will always buy that brand of Baked beans, toothpaste or tampons. But they won’t evangelise your product for you. For this you need to reach out and find your Tier 1’s

In the Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes 3 types of people, Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen:

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"Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world, people with a special gift for bringing the world together. They are ‘a handful’ of people with an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances". These individuals typically have social networks of over one hundred people. Connectors gain success in "their ability to span many different worlds as a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."

"Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own. Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate, they are information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".

Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.

These are your Tier 1 Influencers. Find people with these character traits, cultivate them and feed them information, special information not necessarily available to the masses. The Mavens will feed off these pieces of ‘special’ information, broker the information to the Connectors and Salesmen, and the message gets out to the next tier of Influencers.

Tier 1 Influencers typically sit on user forums, help out in community sites, have the answers to questions – any questions, or will know someone who does have the answer if they don’t actually know. They run User Groups, forums, User Q&A portals and Chat rooms and are the first to respond to a question posted on Twitter or Facebook. These influencers are key to your "fan out" evangelism efforts. These influencers are vital in getting your message out on your behalf by ReTweeting (RT) your Twitter broadcast, linking to your blog from their own, sharing useful links and pages on Facebook, rebroadcasting and amplifying your message for you.

Tier 1 Influencers are your early adopters. They buy the latest gadget, phone, ebook reader, software and laptop. They demo their new hardware to anyone who will watch. They download the latest Twitter Client and tweet endlessly about it. Remember the hype about the first iPhone? When it was released in the US in June 2007, hundreds of keen consumers lined up for up to 12 hours outside the Apple stores to buy the very first iPhones and broadcast the fact to their friends through blogs, Facebook and Twitter. These Influencers created a buzz about the device which ensured that a huge amount of people got to hear about it, it was reported in the newswires and now, the iPhone is the most popular mobile device in the US.

Large companies have structured rewards programs for these types of influencers who are not usually motivated by financial incentives, but who thrive on knowledge and recognition. IBM maintains an Influencer program for consultants and integrators, and another for Partner Resellers. Microsoft has it’s Most Valuable Professionals program and the Intel Insiders Program gained an award for innovation in New Media in it’s second year of operation from the Society for New Communications Research in December 2009. Ferrari has a well established community of fans, most of whom have never owned a Ferarri but who continue to give the brand prominence through out the world. For other examples of brand loyalists, you only need to think of Nike, Burberry and Calvin Klein.

If you get your key influencers right then the 1st and 2nd tier influencers will do your job of getting your message out. You only need to maintain a close relationship with the 1st Tier influencers and they will reward that relationship with you by broadcasting your message on your behalf. Software beta testers willingly try out incomplete software products for the chance to further their knowledge and appear more technically advanced than their peers. Airlines get loyalty with Air Miles programs, frequent flyer cards and supermarkets do this with loyalty and rewards cards. Even coffee shops have simple coffee loyalty cards.

You need to make sure you invest time to maintain the relationship with your first tier Influencers and you’ve got a great circle of loyal advocates to spread word about your brand. These influencers will greatly increase the amount of time talking about your brand, so if you don’t have the time to invest in scaling your social media work entirely on your own, then your 30 minutes a day that you do manage to invest in promoting your company brand can still be of benefit.

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