How Do You Scale Social Media? Ask the Latinosphere

  |  October 18, 2011   |  Comments

Everyone wants to do it. But who really knows how?

In my last column, I talked about a conference I was attending where the topic was "The State of the Latinosphere." The venue was Omaha, and the crowd was the National Hispanic Corporate Council, an influential group of marketers, diversity officers, and other leaders who watch the latest trends for the Fortune 500 companies they represent. At the conference, there was lots of interest in the collective power of Latinos online, so for my talk I coined a phrase that might add a few dimensions to that collective power: Latinos online are like a country. Let's call that country the Latinosphere, and let's try to understand its laws, its language, and its leaders. Do that, and you may get a better sense of how to leverage one of the most interesting phenomena in digital marketing: as a group, Latinos are growing faster than any other in the world we call social.

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I won't go into all the reasons why. Instead, let me share what was probably the most relevant angle to folks at the event. My presentation (based on interviews with 50-plus leaders in marketing and a comprehensive review of whitepapers, articles, and blog posts) revealed that the Latinosphere provides marketers with an approach to doing something that every marketer wants to do: make social media grow.

Let me explain. For marketers schooled the old way, it's difficult to get budget for anything meaningful unless there's a good idea for how it can achieve reach with the right number of people. The digital revolution introduced many other ways to measure success. And the social media market forced an even more aggressive debate about whether traditional approaches to ROI were shortsighted. All true, but the fact is, no marketer today can secure the budget for anything that's ambitious without knowing how it might get to scale; a fancy, more-scientific sounding word for "big."

If you've been watching how the social media marketing world has evolved, you will have noticed that there are at least three models for scale that innovators are pursuing.

Employee-driven. One model, championed early on by technologies, was to understand that everyone on your workforce potentially is a marketer. If you can then equip your employees with rules, tools, and best practices to better connect directly with the market, then perhaps you can extend your reach faster than any increase in marketing budget might allow. Call it the long-tail approach to employee-driven marketing; and a number of companies - even beyond technology - have been able to capitalize upon it.

Manager-driven. If you accept the premise that employees can expand your market footprint, then it makes sense to think about a special class of employee - the managers that hold the levers in your organization. A big trend that has only become visible over the past year is the investment that companies are making in real-time access to social data. The idea is that the data, distributed intelligently throughout the enterprise, can make managers smarter, nimbler, and more responsive to consumer needs. Consumer-packaged-goods companies have been among the first to move in this direction, but the interest in social data is near universal, and you can expect it to drive larger, scalable social-media implementations across many vertical industries.

Customer-driven. Finally, there's the customer. What role does she play? Well, as long as marketers have known social media, they've understood that one of its benefits is that companies might motivate consumers to "do marketing" on their behalf. Never mind the cold business calculations that inspire crowdsourcing; to get consumers or even managers or employees at your company to do something on your behalf is very difficult. There has to be a reason why anyone would speak well about your company in the marketplace. We'll unveil the results of the NHCC study this fall, and we'll talk about companies that have driven their social programs to scale by engaging consumers. In the meantime, there are three paths that companies appear to be following, and only one of them is a surprise.

First, there are companies that have focused so well on the customer experience that good word-of-mouth almost naturally - and deservedly - happens. For many companies, it's not quite that natural; marketing almost always seems to lend a hand, but the focus on experience is still right and just. The only trouble is that it's so tempting to align around another value: things your customers care about whether they have little or nothing to do with your core product or service. Hence the recent surge of cause-marketing campaigns in consumer social media. How many of these campaigns are truly consistent with what the company does and stands for (corporate values in action, not just mission statements)? But a third approach, which integrates the first two, is going through the paces in the Latino marketing world. The approach is to engage the so-called metatribe of Latinos - the diverse and divergent Latino groups that sometimes come together when the marketer can devise a campaign with the right umbrella message.

I floated the idea of metatribes in my first column for ClickZ as a mechanism to describe how a number of politicians in the 2010 elections came up with the wrong umbrella message for Latinos and lost voters. Think of their campaigns as negative role models for marketing to the Latinosphere. But over the course of the past year, I've observed how some of the most admired social media campaigns in the Latino market skillfully crafted campaign themes that not only attempted to go to the core of the company's product or service, but to leverage a social cause that inspired Latinos to come together, despite their differences.

I'm not trying to be coy; we'll release the results of the study soon enough. But the point I'd like to make today is that the metatribe approach to scaling social media is one that marketers are just beginning to notice in other markets. Women are a metatribe - they comprise so many groups on the web with divergent interests, yet the mommy blogger phenomenon along with the BlogHer movement proves the value of their collective power. Islamics are a metatribe - they too comprise so many divergent groups, but the gravity toward Pan-Islamic identity has been one of the most important assets for the dissemination of teachings that have led to so many uprisings in Islamic countries. And finally (though not the last example), there's Occupy Wall Street, which has inspired so many people to first march on Wall Street then to other venues to air their grievances over the current economy.

The Latinosphere is not the only metatribe. But our resolve to study and learn from it has great utility beyond the immediate market it represents. Stay tuned for a future column where we'll go into the specifics.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Giovanni  Rodriguez

Giovanni Rodriguez is an author, consultant, and public speaker on organizational leadership and digital/social communications. The views expressed in this blog are entirely his own.

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