Can Social Media Personalities “Scale?”

Can Social Media Personalities “Scale?” image TheIncredibleShrinkingMan

Social media can really benefit your personal brand. But how do you keep its most powerful value — the “one-to-one-ness” of social connection — intact when that reach explodes? The irony is, the more popular you become on the social web, the less effective you might be!

Here’s a story from my own life that illustrates the problem I’m talking about.

In 2005, I started my personal blog. I was posting photos, sketches, poem s— things that weren’t about marketing and had nothing to do with growing a business. I was amazed that people followed it (I didn’t do any of the things people suggested to grow a blog), and was even more amazed that my visitors came from all over the world.

Two of those new blog friends were from Perth, Australia. I got into a jokey comments war with another blog friend, Willie Baronet, about who most wanted to win a tin of Milo (a chocolate drink mix) from my friends in Perth. I won the contest, and gloated about it in the comments on Willie’s blog.

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So far, so good. Some new friends, some fun, some chocolate. I was really liking this social media thing.

In fact, I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to ship my friends in Perth a surprise gift—all the fixin’s for a Tex-Mex party. Were they ever delighted!

They were so delighted, they decided to start a blog to foster people exchanging their local stuff around the world. It was called Gimme Your Stuff.

Notice they were inviting people to join in; a year later, they had 479 “cultural ambassadors” from 36 different countries. I couldn’t keep up, and neither could my Perth friends. I bailed out; shortly after, they found someone to take Gimme Your Stuff, we lost touch. Explosive growth + one-to-one social media = KABOOM.

Social media enabled me to scale—but I couldn’t make scaling work while keeping one-to-one connections intact as my reach grew.

The social marketer, exposed to those tools that enable social marketing to scale, has a similar problem.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest help people and brands “scale”—they enable (and can help automate) one-to-many connections, and can give start-ups the same impact and presence as established companies. Tools like HootSuite and TweetAdder further enable social scaling, by making it easier to manage and grow social reach.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Social media thrives on vibrant one-to-one connection (part of why I keep coming back to Mark Schaefer and the {grow} community.) It can build communities among those with shared interests, and link the victims of disasters with those who can share their stories and get them aid.

The dilemma: how do we balance personal connection with the very scalability that makes social media marketing so powerful?

The upside for the broad-reach social marketer is huge potential top-of-the-funnel metrics, which look great for potential Return on Marketing Investment. And if you use tools like the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, you can get insights into your brand’s social communities that help you hone campaigns.

As you scale up, however, you may struggle with KABOOMs arising from the lack of real person-to-person connection. The “Kaboom Effect” on a brand can be huge.

Hashtags can get hijacked by angry customers (see what happened to McDonald’s #McDStories here). Social “charity-promo” efforts can make for spectacular fails (see Bing and its donation effort here). KABOOM!

While one-to-one social efforts may cause one person to fatigue, or to net an occasional troll, the sheer size of enterprise-scale social media marketing means scalability adds an equivalently super-sized “Kaboom Effect” risk.

That said, I think as social marketers we’re very fortunate. Through the personal connections we make across platforms like Twitter and this blog, we “get” that we are all in this together. And knowing the risks of increasing social scale, we can advise our employers and clients in sensitively managing their companies’ social streams.

This is something every social marketer has to think about. Can you scale your personal engagement? Or, are you going to suffer from the “Kaboom Effect” like my friends and I did?

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