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strategy and business
 / Winter 2013 / Issue 73(originally published by Booz & Company)


Jonah Berger Is Over Twitter

People tend to read The Tipping Point and think that if they just find the mavens, the connectors, and the salesmen, they’ll be done. But there’s no data to suggest that certain people are repeatedly more influential than others in a way that marketers can use.

Rather than focusing so much on the messenger, we really need to think about the message. Sure, some people have 10,000 followers, and some people are more persuasive than others. But there are many more everyday Joes and Janes who have 10 friends or 100 friends rather than 10,000. Marketers need to think about how to get them talking as well.

S+B: You write that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online. Has the significance of social media been overhyped?
Too many companies set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account and assume they’re done. “We must be successful! We have a social media department!” That’s not a strategy. Companies get seduced by their numbers of followers and likes. They think, “We got more followers today; we’re doing a great job.” But at the end of the day, is that getting them increased sales, is that bringing them new customers? The problem with online is it has encouraged people to mistake activity for productivity. “Just because we’re doing something, it must be the right thing.”

Now, that 7 percent statistic doesn’t mean that online and digital aren’t important. Of course they are—particularly if your product generates most of its sales online. But don’t forget that most word of mouth happens offline. Face-to-face conversation is still the original social media.

So companies need to make sure they also have an offline strategy. Optimizing giveaway programs is a great way to encourage people to do the targeting for you. The average American engages in more than 16 conversations daily in which they talk about a product or service. And there are companies, like BzzAgent, that are in the business of making your brand one of them. If I’m a dog food company, and I sell my big bag of dog food, maybe I also give people a little trial bag that they can give to a friend. Rather than you figuring out who has a new dog, why not let people do it with their own friends? They have the best sense of who’s going to like your product—much better than you do.

“Liking” something is a passive action. What you really want is that engagement, where people are authentically sharing your brand with others. Twitter, in some ways, is the new television. At one point, when there weren’t a lot of advertisements on TV and there weren’t a lot of channels, you could get your message out through that medium. But that’s clearly changed. Similarly, today there’s so much clutter on these various online channels that it’s unlikely your message gets out to very many of your followers. In fact, on a good day, your tweet may get out to 1 or 2 percent of the people who follow you.

S+B: Who’s doing it right?
Recently, LinkedIn sent out a note to some of its users alerting them that they had one of the top 5 percent or 10 percent of profiles [in terms of viewership]. It made people feel special. But instead of just patting themselves on the back, thousands of people shared that message with others. It’s pure social currency.

LinkedIn made those people feel like insiders, like they had status, and they crowed about that status to everyone else to take advantage of it. Status is only good if other people know you have it. But LinkedIn got to come along for the ride. It wasn’t just that people were saying, “I’m great.” They were saying, “LinkedIn said that I’m great.” LinkedIn got to be part of that message—that story.

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