Expert Advice


Tapping Into Your Brand’s Social Graph

A major source of Facebook’s success is its “social graph,” a term coined in 2007 by company founder Mark Zuckerberg to describe the network of relationships between Facebook users. Facebook’s social graph is a valuable component of the Facebook platform. The robust mapping of relationships and preferences enables Facebook to deliver a personalized and targeted user experience.

The term might only be a few years old, but the concept of a social graph isn’t new. Brands have always had social graphs comprised of customers and their spheres of influence. What has changed is the ability of brands to tap into their social graphs to identify key influencers, learn about their behavior, and improve their marketing programs to grow sales and acquire new customers.

Two thirds of the United States GDP is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations, according to McKinsey & Company. Thanks to the rise of online social networks like Facebook, successful marketers have discovered the value of building their own social graphs with the help of customer-driven campaigns to activate, identify and target their influencers.

Brands that develop a deeper understanding of their social graph will gain a deeper insight into their customer base, prospective customers and — most importantly — influencers who help attract new customers.

Understanding the value of influencers is important, but the real key to customer-driven social marketing is finding these key individuals. That’s where coordinated programs to tap into customer relationships come into play, and it all starts with giving customers the opportunity to raise their hands and be recognized.

Activating Influencers

The social marketing opportunity is quantified in Forrester analyst Augie Ray’s Peer Influence Pyramid, which identifies “mass influencers” as the best target market for marketers looking to develop a social marketing strategy.

This group is “a new category of influencer — 28 million in number in the U.S. alone — created thanks to the scale afforded consumers by social media tools,” notes Ray. Itgenerates an estimated 500 billion “influence impressions” a year.

The key to activating influencers — and in fact, to activating the larger base of customers — is to run marketing programs that encourage them to generate influence impressions. For example, many savvy marketers are engaging their customer base via referral marketing programs that generate positive social recommendations and bring in new customers. Converting existing customers to Facebook “likers” also generates positive “influence impressions” among a trusted network of friends.

The Value of Tracking

Tracking these positive influence impressions is critical to building a brand’s social graph. In the brick-and-mortar retail world, it’s all about “location, location, location,” but when it comes to social marketing the mantra is “tracking, tracking, tracking.”

Making it easy for customers to identify with a brand (such as by liking it on Facebook) and recommend a service or product through their social networks is the first step, but in order to identify the key influencers, brands must track the responses to customers’ liking/sharing events.

Tracking the recruitment of friends is just the tip of the iceberg. The real value of tracking comes from understanding the results of recruitment and determining who the true influencers are. In other words, it’s not about how many friends and followers a customer has — it’s about who is actually driving sales and leads. Tracking may also uncover some surprising results. For example, a high-profile blogger in a certain space might not actually be driving sales, but a dedicated fan with many friends might be a “secret super-influencer.”

Being aware of exactly who is recommending what products, how they are making recommendations, and what their friends are doing with the information is critical to the success of customer-powered marketing programs. The responses to social impressions (e.g., referrals and likes) enable brands to build out their social graphs by identifying the social relationships (i.e., which friends respond to a referral), social behavior (how many people clicked on a customer’s Facebook post), social preferences (which social channels are used) and influencers (which customers recruited new customers).

Deeper insight into a brand’s customer base and prospective customers enables marketers to improve targeting of future marketing campaigns and promotions by identifying key influencers and engaging with them on the next social promotion.

Thanks to the rise of the Internet economy, consumers are now more social than ever. This presents new marketing opportunities for brands; for the first time, they can activate their customer bases through highly effective programs such as referral marketing to generate ROI-positive results. At the same, brands will effectively build their social graphs and identify their true influencers.

Brad Klaus is founder and CEO of Extole.

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