Attention social media marketers: Don’t be lured by large numbers online

31 Jul
Web and Social Media Advisor
Occasionally I bet briefed to “increase Facebook fans to 100,000” or help make something “viral”. Each time I cringe and tell this cautionary tale about a Sydney based shoe company …
In March of 2010, an online shoe company Shoes of Prey ran a promotion with a popular 16 year old video blogger. Sanity warning – I don’t recommend it!

This created a rather dramatic response in just one week …

  • 500,000 YouTube views
  • 500,000 Web site visits
  • 90,000 competition entries (requiring shoes to be designed)
The traffic to the web site from this totally eclipsed all previous activity …
There was only one thing missing – sales.
It turns out 13-15 year old girls don’t have the budget to spend $275+ on a pair of custom shoes.
One of the big problems with very large numbers is that they often distract us from the relatively small number of our core customers – the ones who see value in our products and services and are willing to exchange that for their money. Think about how you would feel if a brand that you were loyal to suddenly started spending all its attention on “potential” new customers and ignoring you.
The other big problem is catering for those large numbers – traditionally a web site would simply crash under the strain. The SoP site runs on Google’s AppEngine so could scale up – unfortunately so do the hosting costs.
That’s why the right metrics are so crucial to evaluating the success of any strategy or tactic. The most important metric in this case (for an unfunded startup) was sales. Reach and engagement don’t matter much if you don’t have the cash-flow to make payroll.
Luckily, SoP was able to very quickly see that sale conversions were not happening and the company quickly changed tack. The team realised that they needed to capitalise on the interest and reach the people who could afford the shoes – older friends, older sisters and mothers who form their typical target market.
Within a week they:
1. Changed the web site to make sharing easier in the channels where the conversations were happening (facebook & twitter)
2. Joined in those conversations where appropriate and start steering them towards the target market
3. Wrote a blog post about the experience (not unique) and told the truth about the lack of sales (very unique)
The story was picked up by influential tweeters like @Scobleizer and the business press … including  The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider,  E-Consultancy, The Next Web, Y-Combinator and Sky Business News.
This coverage did reach professional women who form a key part of their target market.
After 2 frantic weeks of doing everything possible to capitalise on the attention, sales did enjoy a sustained uplift of 300%.
How many organisations are able to react in a similar way to convert interest to conversions – rather than just celebrating the large number of views?
Some of the negative fall out:
  • Conversations about the brand became massively skewed towards 13-17 year old girls, away from the traditional market
  • Returns spiked
  • New media can attract a lot of action but you have to be ready for it – both technically and people resources
  • Make sure you are measuring only the important things –
  • Be ready to change tack quickly if the results aren’t what you expect
  • Capture the ability to recontact people (email, FB like, Twitter follow)
  • Never lose focus on your core customers
So, back to the original brief – do you really want 100,000 facebook fans who don’t buy anything but cause an lot of activity. Or would you rather an extra 100 people who not only buy but become loyal customers because the actions required to achieve each one are very different.
The challenge is accepting the smaller number.

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