Wednesday, March 19, 2014

love action for Peter Pawlett, baby.

With any rule or set of rules there can be exceptions or anomalies.

A social media manager recently presented conclusive proof to us that Facebook sells product.

Sales data over a four week period on a particular item had remained steady until the item was a featured post on the brands Facebook page, then et voila a 30% spike in sales occurred.

Conclusive proof, right?

Not really. We all know now that a brand's Facebook following is made up of mostly its heaviest and most 'loyal' buyers, albeit a tiny fraction of its total customer base.

In all likelihood the vast majority of these 'extra sales' were merely sales 'brought forward', that would have happened anyway. The measure and value of Facebook pages being their ability (or not) to spread a message and bring in new or lighter customers and increasing penetration.

Historically Facebook has never been very good at that, and by all accounts the algorithm changes (much reported by geeky types elsewhere, so no need for my ham-fisted interpretation) now mean a significant acceleration of its transformation from a social network into an ad network as organic reach becomes less and less likely for most brands.

However, one should always expect the unexpected.

While fans of a brand page are among its heaviest and most loyal buyers, what happens when that group generates momentum around the product of another brand, in a completely different category, where there is very little cross pollination of customers?

80's synth weirdos turned popsters, The Human League, woke up this week to find that their 1981 chart topper 'Don't You Want Me' has had a mysterious revival in interest and (at the time of writing) is sitting pretty at number 13 in the iTunes chart having not troubled said charts for 35 years or so.

The principal driver of the revival has been a collective campaign to 'bum rush the charts' (yep, it never gets old) by football supporters on Facebook, to push the song to number one.

Why is this so?

An interpretation of the song has been adopted and sung by the fans of (my beloved) Aberdeen Football Club throughout this season.

The latest highpoint of said season was the League (no pun intended) Cup triumph last weekend, when Aberdeen edged it on penalties in a semi-local derby against Inverness Thistle at Parkhead (renamed for the day as ParkRed, again a fan-driven modification in recognition of the fact that 90% of the 50k match tickets were held by Aberdeen supporters).

The phone video clip below will reveal all.

The latest in a long tradition of pop songs adapted with football lyrics, Dont You Want Me is replaced with the name of star Aberdeen attacking midfielder Peter Pawlett. Hence 'Peter Pawlett, Baby'.

(As another aside, one of my favourites of this nature is sung by Chelsea fans to visiting Liverpool fans. To the tune of the famous 'Do They Know it's Christmas' charity song, Chelsea's version goes 'Feed the Scousers...'. Also worth noting that Aberdeen have some form in this terrace meme department having invented the 'ten men went to mow' thing, later adopted - with somewhat less gusto - by Chelsea)

What examples like you see in the clip also clearly demonstrate is that social influence is less the 'hub-and-spoke' model as the common Gladwellian 'influentials' notion suggests - ie a small group of influencers directing the many - but much a more fluid and mutual influence, all happening at once. It's much more akin to what Mark Earls describes as the behaviour of the 'influenced' (and their perspective) counting for more than that of the 'influencer'.

For those in the crowd who may have not known what was going on they could quite easily get it because of what they see ordinary others around them doing, in the moment.

Then following that mutual influence there's a further action available, Buy the song.

So, yes, Facebook can sell.

Just not in the way we think (or perhaps would prefer).

And what we, as marketers, can learn and apply is probably something like this.

Understand that it is impossible to try to predict random events. Instead, it is essential to make peace with uncertainty, randomness and volatility (as Taleb would say).

This is, in effect, the essence of the 'real-time marketing' opportunity.

Not the one where every brand in the world huddles round the Oscars or such-like waiting for the thing to comment on.

The one that, when it comes along, the smart brand takes it.

Certainly for The Human League a chance to capitalise on some unexpected newsworthy-ness among a public (many of whom will never have heard of Phil Oakey and gang, and many who had forgotten) getting acquainted and reacquainted with the brand - it's all about those associated memory structures, after all.

And for Aberdeen FC a fan driven vehicle to further attract the 'light users' that are critical to brand growth.

40,000 supporters made the trek to Glasgow for the cup final, whereas the average attendance at home matches is closer to 10 or 12,000.

There's a huge market of lapsed or infrequent customers who can, and should be nudged to buying a little bit more.

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