Strength of Weak Signals
What is a “weak signal”. In the McKinsey Quarterly post The Strength of Weak Signals by Martin Harrysson and Estelle Métayer explains a weak signal is a social media mention or conversation happening outside of a company’s or brand’s normal listening perimeter. Most established brands have “listening” teams either in house or hired out.
When I worked at NutraSweet more than twenty years ago they hired an agency to comb references from news sources into a daily summary. NOW is significantly different than then 20+ years ago in many ways including:
- Amount of NEWS has increased by 100x.
- Number of “news sources” has increased by MILLIONS.
- Social media didn’t exist then and it influences everything now.
- Connections matter more than ad budgets.
- Connections are forged with authenticity, customer service and via social media.
- Brands depend on an army of “advocates” to have their communication heard and shared.
The last bullet, brands as dependent coaches for an army of advocates, is what makes social media marketing so important. Even if a major brand had the $500.000,000 M&M/Mars used to spend on Snickers advertising, I worked at M*M/Mars before NutraSweet, doing so might HURT Snickers more than help.
Buying so much TV advertising today would sound SHRILL and make Snickers look out of step with its young male consumers (the only people capable of burning off a Snickers without hours on a treadmill lol). Snickers needs a “multi-channel” approach and, as the social media and mobile tsunamis take hold, an army of helpers.
How do you find “helpers”? Look for weak signals. McKinsey describes the importance of these “Brand Sherpas”
As the manufacturer’s example implies, spotting weak signals is more likely when companies can marshal dispersed networks of people who have a deep understanding of the business and act as listening posts.
I translate “dispersed networks of people who have a deep understanding of the business” as “Brand Sherpas” or advocates willing to put their social nets “in service” to Snickers or some other favorite brand. Despite the ubiquity of social media brand advocates don’t grow on trees.
The book Citizen Marketer put the number of visitors willing to help at 1%. That truth formed the basis of the 1:10:89 Rule – 1% of visitors will support with content or other valuable contributions, 10% will vote on or otherwise engage with the content created by the 1% (and the brand) and 89% ride for free.
Citizen Marketer was published a lifetime ago (2006), but the 1:10:89 rule remains relevant.
Perhaps 11% of visitors are willing to LIKE and SHARE, but the majority of people still “ride for free”. Marketers must win the hearts and minds of the 11% willing to SHARE their social nets, provide feedback and help brands be relevant for/to the advocates’ followers, friends and supporters.
When I started selling bar soap for P&G winning hearts and minds was highly centralized. Brands were crafted with the help of MadMen-like ad agencies supported by millions in “ad buys”. Ads that aired into a much quieter world. Listening wasn’t a top priority. Conversations were rare. Winning hearts and minds was something millions could buy (or so the prevailing presumption went).
Not so much anymore.
Now brands are only as good as how well they harvest, react to and create “weak signals”.
Why C Level MUST Join The Social Media Club
A few days ago I Scooped a post about why your CEO doesn’t and probably won’t get Social Media. McKinsey makes a more subtle arguement about why and how C level executives can see social media benefit:
Engaging at the top
For starters, given the fluid nature of the insights that surface, it’s often useful to get senior leaders actively involved with the social-media sources that give rise to weak signals. Executives who are curious and attuned to the themes emerging from social media are more likely to spot such insights.1 McKinsey Quarterly emphasis mine
Social Media can only be “understood” by doing it. If I’m tweeting for the CEO he doesn’t and won’t get social media. I’ve been working for C level executives since my twenties (so a long time lol). Here are my “inside baseball” tips for how to get your C level involved in and supporting social media marketing:
Selling Social Media To C Level Executives:
- Don’t pitch with statistics, pitch with examples from THEIR children and grandchildren (do so quickly, don’t hang here).
- PICTURES first data later (as in the appendix lol).
- Share examples from competitors (again PICTURES from all along the value chain: social to distribution, distribution to sales and marketing to results and impact on your brands and marketing).
- Start small & stay close to “customer service”.
- Work with legal to develop company “social media” guidelines (don’t let legal bully you or be SMM stupid if at all possible).
- Run and film a “social media disaster” drill (share video AFTER drill).
- Profile VIP customers via their social media (how many followers, PR of their blog, posting schedule and typical themes).
- Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) & CSFs (Critical Success Factors).
- Work into costs from return (and that may take some magic math).
- Align Why Social Media pitch with core values.
C level executives don’t respond well to threats. By aligning social media to a company’s mission statement where most talk responsiveness and leadership social media doesn’t feel dissonant or like a waste of time. By pitching with examples of social media from a CEO’s children you pack an emotional punch. Nothing a grandchild can do is WRONG or STUPID.
Don’t spend a lot of time on the grandchildren idea since a little is going to go a long way.
Follow with a right cross by showing cool things competitors are doing with social media. Follow competitor social marketing all the way through the funnel if possible projecting sales and brand results for them and impact on you as detailed as your modeling can create.
Finally work backwards into costs from sales and brand benefits.
You may have to create some “magic math” since attribution, what % of a sale social media and content marketing should be given, is a bear. At least if they say 10% instead of 40% you are closer to having the right conversation about the right thing. I NEVER pitch a single financial model to a C level executive. I use “good”, “better” and “best” models. My sweet spot was always the middle choice (something smart CEOs trip to fast btw).
Finally if after all your coaching, pitching and sharing of articles (like the McKinsey post) doesn’t work put on your traveling shoes. Your personal brand can’t afford NOT not to understand the new “Scenttrail Marketing” of weak signals creating connection via social media and how those ideas impact brand marketing and sales. Your career and personal brand will depend on your knowing how and when to use Twitter, Facebook and GPlus.
Before your put on your traveling shoes, make the “retention” pitch. Explain leading in social attracts and helps keep leaders. If that pitch falls short too take the bus to your next job knowing you did what you could to save them from themselves (lol). M