By now, I’m sure everyone has been exposed to the ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ – by either experiencing the freezing sensation or laughing hysterically at the thousands of bloopers circulating on the social media front. Initiated by one person with a challenge to three people, the phenomenon has now exploded into more than 4 million challenges and more importantly, more than $94 million (compared to $2.7 million during the same period last year) in donated funds to the ALS Association.
This is a great testament to the willingness of people to contribute to the greater good (and to humiliate themselves in the name of good fun), and more than valid proof of the power of social influence. Just think – what other channel or technique can spread the word and drive action that quickly?
Social influence is by no means a new concept or technique – it’s been used by governments, businesses, politicians, etc. for years. Ever added that ‘other people who bought this also bought this’ item to your online shopping cart or contributed that extra dollar to a charity when you checked out at the grocery store? These are not random marketing attempts. They are purpose-driven strategies based on the science of how humans behave. For example, knowing if a person spends over a certain amount they have a higher propensity for additional spend within a specified time frame. Or knowing that people with certain demographic profiles or geographical locations are more prone to follow those in suit when it comes to in-store prompts for charitable contributions. There’s a lot of long standing research into how customers behave which has fueled the application of social influence to drive specific actions.
Pretty fascinating on its own but add the rate at which today’s networks and devices can share and receive information, and the potential of this proven technique grows exponentially.
You get a notification that you’ve been nominated for the ice bucket challenge via a video tag, you accept the challenge with a video of your own, and you tag three of your favorite people to keep the chain going…all within a matter of minutes.
Now apply it to mobile marketing. You get an offer from your mobile operator for free data credits if you forward it to three of your contacts, you accept the challenge by forwarding it and the credit is applied, and three of your favorite people keep the chain going…all within a matter of minutes.
But consider yourself warned. Social influence is not always rainbows and butterflies. You have a bad experience and share your less than glowing review with three of your contacts, you make the decision to end your relationship with your service provider, and guess what? Three of your favorite people keep the chain going.
I know, I know…it kind of feels like getting a bucket of ice poured on your head, but the reality is that the power of social influence can have effects in either direction – positive or negative. Marketers are super eager to ‘spread the word’ by igniting viral campaigns, but to do so successfully requires more than just lighting the first match. It requires a unique understanding of your customers’ networks – who your customers interact with the most, how they interact with different sub-networks, who drives the interactions versus who’s on the receiving side – and a unique understanding of your customers’ behaviors – how often are purchases made and in what context, which customer cluster is more likely to follow someone else’s lead, what offers motivate someone to take action.
Interestingly enough, when you leverage technologies that enable a minute level of granularity, you can really begin to see not only which behaviors and customers are susceptible to being influenced, but also which customers are actually capable of driving significant influence. The obvious ones may be the customers with the largest social network but it may also be those that have a seemingly small network. Although a customer may only have a few direct contacts, they may offer significant social reach when looking at the potential of network extensions. If you’re not following me, think of the cheerleader who only socialized with other cheerleaders (ok, and maybe the football players) versus the class president who had direct links into all of a school’s cliques.
Mobile is redefining ‘the power of social influence’ and although a sophisticated application at scale is relatively limited in the realm of marketing, it offers a considerable opportunity for accelerating customer engagement efforts and significantly impacting long-term KPIs. My challenge to you is to look at your current goals and determine the changes in behavior required to achieve them. From there, it’s a matter of knowing enough about your customers at an individual level to know which customers command a social ‘nudge’ and just as importantly, who is best to initiate that nudge and how.