If your goal is to get as many people as possible to opt in to a relationship with you, stop reading this now.
Evidently, there's a band called Nickelback.
I've never heard of them, but that's not really a big surprise. My music tastes go back to "London Calling," then leap back a few centuries. But Nickelback is fairly popular; it has about 1.4 million fans on Facebook.
Which, unfortunately, is not quite enough.
A woman named Coral Anne decided to create a Facebook Page called "Can This Pickle get More Fans than Nickelback?" Lots and lots of people became fans of the pickle. In fact, about 1.5 million people became fans of the Pickle - a good 100,000 people more than Nickelback. Of course, the whole page got a major boost when Nickelback's lead singer came onto the page and began taunting people. This did nothing to slow down the growth. In fact, in true Internet style, it invited the crowd to rise up even more firmly against the band.
There's not really much reason behind this page, or the movement that compelled it. Even though I never heard of Nickelback before this episode, I assume the band is made up of reasonable people. They most likely haven't committed a crime any more serious than producing music of a particular kind that some people don't like.
But, the interesting thing is that this is only one of a slew of recent pages that have attempted to gather more fans for a totally random object than a particular celebrity. Glenn Beck, the inflammatory TV and radio host, has also been a recent target of a similar campaign.
Add to that this image, recently circulated, which makes a simple (but funny) joke about the whole process of "becoming a fan," and you have to start wondering - are people beginning to get weary of social media fandom (and followerhood)? And, if so, what exactly does this mean for social media marketing strategy?
Are we ready to move to a place in social media where amassing fans is no longer the goal?
The Twilight of Permission Marketing
A number of years ago, there was a huge focus on permission-based marketing. This was the bedrock notion of interactive advertising: you needed to get permission from the consumer to advertise to them. To be honest, I always felt like this was a proposition that limited us as creative marketers. The absolute best ads, even online, asked forgiveness, not permission. Some of the really great work from Apple that used the Mac and PC guys taking over a page and doing very clever things with content didn't wait for your permission. They simply delighted you and provided a product message. We should never offend consumers, of course. But we also shouldn't tread too lightly around them either.
The push to secure consumer permission has gone on for a while and it has gone pretty far. In an effort to get people to opt in, we have continually brought the opt-in bar lower and lower. Today, we have big-buy TV spots where the single call to action is to follow the brand on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook - an action so simple, easy, and non-committal that it has almost become entirely meaningless for the consumer and, ultimately, scarcely valuable for the brand. Yes, we've gotten permission, but for a relationship that hardly seems worth having. Of course a pickle can get more fans than a band under these circumstances.
This is why the brands that are really working in social media, really in interactive marketing as a whole, are forcefully evolving their engagement strategies away from a simple number of who-has-the-most-fans to something that actually has some value: what-do-my-fans-get-me.
CAFE: A Strategic, Social Marketing Model
If your goal is get as many people as possible to opt in to a relationship with you, stop reading this now and go start a contest to give away a trip to Hawaii to one lucky person following you on Twitter. It hardly matters what you are selling.
But if you are in this to create an actual business with long-running value, I invite you to explore a new model, called CAFE, which provides the four main building blocks of a strategic, social plan. CAFE stands for Content, Advocacy, Fans, and Engagement.
Content is the fuel that drives the plan. A brand must have some content to start an interaction. We can't wait for the consumer to come to us. That content could be an invitation to tell us what they are thinking. But, more likely it is something that communicates an idea about the product.
Advocacy is the newest kid on the marketing block. While we've always known that people make decisions based on advice from their peers, we've never been able to bake that into a plan the way we have now. Generating advocacy needs to be a real part of what you are planning to do.
Fans are important, of course. We've said they shouldn't be the only goal, but it is critical that when consumers do come to your content, you seek to establish a relationship with them, and following (or fanning) is an excellent way to do it. This is also the pathway to advocacy and earned media.
Engagement is the final piece and the one that most people, unfortunately, ignore. This is the long-term relationship that you intend to have. The work you do to bring people in to your world not only represents value to you, but also a commitment. When someone opts in, it's because they are looking to interact with you again and again. You need to be ready to do this.
Become a Fan!
OK. Thanks for reading this week's column. And, of course, if you'd like, please click over to continue the conversation with me.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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