Social Marketing Scalability: Facilitation is the new Participation

November 26, 2008

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A question came up on Twitter today, courtesy of @BethHarte: is social marketing scalable? Sure, it’s nice to interact directly with customers and prospects. But past a certain point, doesn’t it change from one-to-one into one-to-many communication? And isn’t that Old Marketing through New Channels?

I thought about the same question last week when reading the NY Times’ article on Girl Talk, aka Greg Gillis. His job: make people dance. He’s an enthusiastic participant, dancing and interacting with hundreds during the course of the night. But he’s entertaining thousands. Past a point, his participation doesn’t scale. How does the party keep growing?

Because he goes beyond participation to facilitation. He doesn’t just dance with everyone he possibly can. He creates an environment where everyone dances with everyone else. To coin a snowclone, facilitation is the new participation. As I tweeted to Beth, I can’t dance with everyone at the party, but I can throw such a great party that they dance with each other.

What does that mean for social marketing? Well, participation is still table stakes. You have to be willing and able to interact with your customers and prospects on their terms and platforms: twitter, blog comments and groups on social networking sites as well as your own platform (if you have one).

But you have to go further. What do you do to enable them to interact with each other? A good host facilitates communication by creating an environment conducive to it: social objects to discuss (music, art, anything), social lubricants where needed (alcohol or similar), seeding the party with people willing to talk. Are you setting up your social marketing program to get customers talking to and sharing information with each other?

I’ve got my thoughts but I want to know your thoughts: what platforms are good for this? What platforms enable participation but can’t scale to the next level without facilitation?

Photo by Gwen

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4 Responses to “Social Marketing Scalability: Facilitation is the new Participation”

  1. Joseph Says:

    There is a limit on the number of really close relationships that us humans can maintain, and I don’t think online social networks ultimately have a great effect on that.

    However, just as mass marketing is plummeting, interconnectedness and the individual’s influence is at an all time high. Your company’s one-to-one interaction has the potential to be echoed to 150 facebook friends, 200 twitter followers, 20 people in an email forward, 5 people at a party, 3 people in a skype chat, and/or 1 person on the phone.

    I think that on an individual level, precise measurement is sometimes impossible and companies should weigh the pros and cons to investing energy in each channel based on their user demographics and goals. Twitter is not the only answer, and as social marketing becomes part of the marketing mix, coordination across multiple online and offline channels is becoming both more critical and more complicated.

    Back to Girl Talk, look how he communicates and adapts to multiple channels:

    -Free/donation album distributed online though both web and P2P channels
    -Paid CDs by mail order w/ extras
    -Music and performance adapted for live shows
    -Interviews with the cool kids on Pitchforkmedia.com, etc
    -Interviews with smart folks on NYTimes.com, etc
    -Active Myspace presence
    -Probably more channels that I’m not aware of…

    All that said, I guess I should attempt to answer your question. I think online customer interaction should center around your corporate web presence if possible, since you can shape the experience. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and [insert social network here] are all relatively the same in terms of scalability and customer engagement. Twitter is probably the easiest to work with, but the least likely to become truly mainstream.

  2. rsomers Says:

    Very thoughtful, Joseph – thank you! I hadn’t paid attention to the ‘multiplexity’ Girl Talk employs, but you’re right – he meets his audience through whatever channel they prefer.

    The concept that we can have a limited number of close relationships, regardless of channel (online/offline) was popularized by Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point’ as the ‘Rule of 150’ (also known as Dunbar’s Number). I wonder if having more channels to interact through allows us to increase that number, just as exercising a muscle more frequently causes it to become stronger. If the average is 150, do we gain a competitive advantage in business if we can bench-press a Dunbar of 160? 170?

    Last point – it makes sense to me to have the corporate Web presence be the hub of online customer interaction, as you suggest. Other tools and networks can be used to bring customers into that space or to interact with those not willing to enter it.

  3. Joseph Says:

    We need more time too! Perhaps Community Manager-type roles will grow in importance in the near future as their ROI becomes more apparent.


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