Why You Can’t Ignore Social’s Selling Power

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Over the past decade, we’ve been treated to pundits and practitioners talking about the power of social media in the sales influence process.

We’ve heard that “likes” by friends and recommendations from peers are instrumental in helping us to make purchasing decisions and that companies best able to engage with prospective and current customers via social are more likely to succeed. We’ve been preached to (and preached about) regarding the need for authenticity and its power of persuasion. And, more recently, we’ve heard voices to the contrary, stating that there is no empirical evidence to support a unique power of social over another marketing media.

I have always believed in the need for diversity—that the right blend of social, broadcast, print, and direct will yield the most effective results. I’ve counseled my clients and colleagues that the best “viral” campaigns were the most unanticipated (and was rewarded for my position by none other than Jon Favreau in his movie Chef, where he portrayed a massive spread of his Twitter campaign as completely unintentional).

Recently, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Juanjuan Zhang, gave me pause with the release of a study that talked about the power of persuasion of social on buyers and reinforced the notions endorsed early in the digital era.

The Power of Persuasion  

Zhang collaborated with colleagues at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management to evaluate (among other things) the manner by which posts about a television show on Weibo affected viewership of the show. The study showed that these posts drove an increase of 77% in viewership. Zhang also characterized Twitter as a “godsend” and went so far as to counsel Weibo and Twitter to charge fees for their advertising services.

I have always believed in the power of Twitter as a gateway platform for dialog—a news engine designed to act as a modern-day wire service, launching stories and serving as a news source for other media throughout the day. Weibo, with its micro-blogging capability and reach, has equal potential to power. What Twitter and Weibo illustrate is the capacity to organize people in a way they engage, with short-burst thoughts that reflect how we consume information today, and also as a means for driving behavior and action in other media.

This, in a nutshell, is the power of social. Not only should buyers and users evaluate it as a potential means of direct sales but as an agenda-setting medium with the capacity to drive news and information cycles throughout the day and become gateways to larger stories and audiences.

I am increasingly counseling clients to evaluate influence through three categories: agenda setters, distributors and echo chambers.

Agenda Setters, Distributors, and Echo Chambers

In a country of about 320 million, there are only a few agenda setters—that is, properties of such high influence that others use them as source material, such as Twitter, NPR, the BBC, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN.

Distributors are those properties with larger audiences that don’t necessarily source material but can have a strong and credible distribution impact, such as television and cable networks.

Echo chambers are those mammoth social properties that rarely source any news but have such large member bases that you can drive a message far and wide with some cash and effort.

In an era when spend of marketing and advertising spends are scrutinized to the dime, smart usage of media, social or otherwise, is essential.

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As you think about your media mix, bear in mind the findings of the Sloan School and Tsinghua University but remember the value of common sense as a governing factor for achieving maximum results and cost-efficiencies.

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