Just back from SMI12. As usual, very thought provoking. The theme of this year’s event was social media success stories, but for me, the real theme was doing social at scale. We had Lee Bryant talking about engagement at scale and measurement being key to securing the investment necessary to do this. We then had Bian Salins from BT and Alex Pearmain from 02 talking about the industrialisation of the customer service process and creating scale by having a team of 25 people (as O2 has) embedded across a number of departments and business functions (essentially managing the scale issue by decentralising the function). We also had a great presentation from Prelini Udayan-Chiechi at Lithium, demonstrating the scale effects created from the effective use of communities (creating communities of people whom you don’t pay, but will none-the-less help you do your business).
That said, scale may be the wrong word, at least scale in the context of being big, because what most of the case studies showed was that success (in terms of measurable business benefit) came from working out how to operate at the small scale. The exception was a presentation by Luca Benini of Buddy Media which was firmly rooted in what I think is the old fashioned, traditional marketing, view of scale – i.e. the ability to reach out to lots of people. The emphasis here was all about building a Facebook fanbase and turning your Facebook presence into a sort of slightly interactive website. (I have posted my views on this approach previously). I now know, for Buddy Media has told me, that I can go to the Pringles Facebook page, press like and then the Pringles moustache will wiggle – just for me. How’s that for a uniquely personalised and relevant brand experience. Marvellous.
Understanding scale is very important. Traditional media channels had scale built into them – get your message into the channel and there was a guarantee of reaching a certain number of people. Social media doesn’t have that guarantee, largely because social media is not a form of media or even a channel, it is better understood as a set of tools or infrastructures. While an infrastructure may have many users, a mobile network for example, simply using the infrastructure doesn’t guarantee you will reach all (or any) of the users. Because social media doesn’t bring scale with it, the scale effect is something you have to build into your usage of it. This requirement is further complicated by the fact that social ‘media’ is usually very ineffective at reaching lots of people – the exception being the very rare instance where something goes viral. Facebook became successful because it was a tool designed to allow small groups of people, most of whom already knew each other, to talk amongst themselves. Its success in doing this meant that it became a platform for the masses, but this is not the same thing as being a mass platform.
The scale effect in social media comes from understanding how to talk to small numbers of people at any given time, with the benefit being generated by the ability to talk to exactly the right people, about exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time (‘right’ in this instance usually being defined by what it is the customer/consumer wants to know at the point in time when they need to know it – a behaviour-based attribute, not a channel-based attribute). This is essentially an extension of the customer service function, as the BT and O2 examples illustrate. Customer service, which was previously locked-up in email and phone channels, has become liberated and transformed from something you had to do as a business hygiene factor, to something which can become a front-line marketing or reputation tool.
The other scale benefit is derived from that (still very small) group of people who are your brand loyalists. Prelini Udayan-Chiechi showed us the example of the ‘super-fan’, an example being KachiWachi a fan of Logitech products whose contributions within a customer service community that Logitech set up had been valued at $250,000. Critically, you don’t get the scale effect by trying to turn all of your consumers into super-fans – that will never happen – or by imagining that super-fans will become a form of digital influencer who will amplify or spread a band message. (As previously posted, I don’t think digital influencers actually exist). You get the scale effect by how you allow the super-fans to help you run your business.
Finally, I was glad to see that the conference touched upon the whole thorny issue of data – who owns it and controls it. This first came up with a fascinating and scary presentation by Andy Hobsbawn setting out a future within which objects are connected to the internet and have their own digital identities and thus data attached to them – including, of course, data about their usage and their users. So now you can be friends with your jeans – and we will live in a world in which your trousers can spy on your life. Who needs Big Brother when you can have Big Denim. The issue was also raised as a question in the session on social commerce by Chris Reed and got the “yes – important issue” nod from all the panellists and reference from Antony Mayfield to Doc Searls and Vendor Relationship Management – although I must confess that I am a bit of a VRM sceptic (see this with follow-up comment from the Doc himself).
All-in-all, a great event. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough time to have much discussion and q&a after the presentations, and that I had to leave early to catch a train.