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I've got followers: rewarding social media influence

Ashton Kutcher was famous for being the first celebrity to exceed 1 million followers on Twitter (now 5.8m), the famous Zuck has over 850,000 friends on his Facebook fan page, but this is not your average social media profile. The profile of your average Facebook user shows typically some 130 friends (source:Facebook), and the average Twitter user has 126 followers. To exceed say 1,000 or 5,000 friends an individual normally has to have something special. It may be the fact that they were amongst the earliest adopters and have been active since day one, it may be that they are super-connected individuals in real-life, or it may be that they have a following due to some celebrity or claim to fame. The thing is, in marketing terms, friends and followers mean reach. So, is there a way to connect social media ‘credit’ in terms of following, and reward an individual for it?

Factor 1 - The Key Influencer or Connector

In viral marketing and in customer advocacy the best targets are those that will tell lots of people about how great your product or service is (of course, the converse is also true). The measure of how many people an advocate of your brand will talk to, parallels social networking in many ways. The LinkedIn social network, for example, often talks about the six (6) degrees of separation as a concept. This is the concept that every person on the planet is just 6 steps away, in relationship terms, from any other individual on the planet.

Some people in this concept have a special power or capability, as Gladwell characterized in his book The Tipping Point, connectors have a unique reach across diverse populations. These connectors know lots of people and seem to have an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances, and they have the ability to span many different worlds or are connected to many different types of people. Kevin Bacon, for example, is known as one of the most “connected” actors in Hollywood because he’s played roles in many different movies that span a variety of genres, working with other actors from multiple age groups and backgrounds. This means Kevin has unique reach to a diverse community.

In social media terms, the super-connected individual with lots of friends is the digital equivalent of Kevin Bacon or Gladwell’s “connector”. If we want lots of people to hear about how great our brand is, in social media we ideally want to target these key influencers and make them advocates in the hope that they will spread the word about us.

Factor 2 – Geo-location or trigger-based events

So when would a super-connected individual post about you on Facebook or tweet your brand via Twitter? Hopefully it’s when an exceptional customer event occurs, and not when they get some really bad service. However, today, we have the added possibility that one of these individuals might check-in at one of our locations, or might mention their brand new iPad, their flight on your airline, or a stay at your hotel.

Every time one of these super-connected individuals mentions our brand positively, in theory it has the ability to influence the group or individuals within the network. So an event might trigger a mention, but if it is a passive mention, it’s not necessarily going to influence my friends or followers to flock to your brand. What we need to work on is getting these connected individuals to sing our praises, or to refer our brand or product to their friends. It won’t be long before networking merges with customer analytics to enable marketers to target key influencers with viral messages that can flow out to their tribes or networks.

Factor 3 – The social reward program

These days most of us are involved in a bunch of reward or loyalty programs, whether they are airline based, frequency programs for shopping or retail, or a credit card usage program. These programs are essentially about customer retention, and providing a mechanism to recognize a loyal customer and reward them accordingly. To date, no one has really figured out how to integrate social media in loyalty or reward programs beyond integrating fan pages and twitter feeds into the loyalty program’s website, etc. It would be cool, however, if based on your following that a loyalty program could reward you accordingly. Here’s the concept…

We could give the connector tangible rewards for every positive mention at the time of check-in at one of our 4sq or Gowalla locations, here’s a few possible examples based on actual tweets:

Airline miles for positive check-ins/mentions

“Well, not complaining. Got an upgrade! Thank you #Qantas- I love you!”

Voucher for positive mention at a Starbuck’s location

“Pumpkin spice latte why are you so delicious? Love @starbucks Minneapolis, MN”

Discounting monthly account keeping fees for a top mention

"Props to Chase Bank on the awesome customer service"

For a mention, the reward needs to be commensurate with the following. For example, the user above who checked in @Starbucks, why not give him an SMS-voucher based on his social ‘credit’. Something like this:

Friends/Followers Reward

1,000 Buy 1 get 1 free next visit

5,000 Free Grande Coffee next visit

25,000 Free Venti Coffee next visit

50,000+ Free coffee all week @Starbucks

In this way you reward advocates with the largest following so that their role as key influencers or connectors can be leveraged effectively.

Step 4 – Reward the Tribe

Using the example above, let’s say you create an offer not only for the key influencer but for his/her tribe also. The connector could receive loyalty reward bonus points for every follower that responds positively to an offer through Facebook or Twitter.

The objective is to get a key influencer or connector to advocate our brand, but in a way that benefits him, and if possible, his followers. So the first objective beyond advocacy is to create an offer that can be directed at his ‘tribe’ that gives that collective some benefit. Say a viral offer involving discounts or coupons to the tribe. If you are a bank, for example, a free $50 pre-paid debit card for successful member-get-member efforts for a new personal loan, credit card or account opening might work.

Build advocacy programs that recognize key influencers, their reach or social ‘credit’ and the value of their tribe as a whole. Reward the connector first and foremost, but think about viral offers to the tribe that feed off positive advocacy.

This is how loyalty should work in the social media universe. My social credit, should be a valued commodity.


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