Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 23, 201211:32 AM

The Problem Of Scale

This or that?

Have you seen the regular editorial piece titled, Eat This, Not That, from Men's Health magazine? It's a quick way to not only think differently about the food choices we make, but slowly - over time - you start learning (no, educating yourself) to make better food decisions. We make calls like this in marketing on a frequent basis, the problem happens when we're not learning from each speedy decision. Lately, I've been hearing a constant challenge from brands (and peers who work with brands). Several years ago, they jumped into social media and now, they're faced with some tough decisions. While the channels are aligned with their strategy, they're starting to feel like their ability to truly connect with consumers has become even more fragmented.

The conversation goes something like this...

"We have almost 100,000 people that like our Facebook page and about 50,000 people connected to us on Pinterest. Should we just drop doing this whole Pinterest thing and focus on Facebook?" Without question, these types of decisions need a deeper-dive. We need to look at how each platform is performing, the type of engagement, amplification and conversion that we're getting. We need to look beyond "how many" people are connected and focus more on "who" those people are. That all being said, these questions aren't popping up because brands are suddenly waking up to the old "quantity over quality" debate. In all of the cases, it's a question of scale. They simply don't have the resources and/or funding to scale and maintain the level of quality that people expect in these highly personalized social spaces, so they're stuck in that old, "this or that?" paradigm.

The problem with social media success.

It's become a bit of a sad joke, but the majority of brands are simply not prepared should they become successful at social media. Much in the same way we love to watch brands flame out when a social media crisis happens, the same is true for success: it's overwhelming and hard to wrap the brand's hands, head and heart around. It goes from awesome to awkward in the speed of hitting the refresh button on Twitter. We go from a brand speaking in a human and personal way to these awkward mass messages that attempt to speak to a larger majority, instead of one-to-one.

Scale happens.

Chris Brogan (co-author of Trust Agents with Julien Smith and author of Social Media 101 and Google + For Business) is feeling this today. There's something up with his blog and he's getting pinged non-stop from every angle (social media, email, etc...) from kind and well-intentioned people who are just trying to let him know that his website is having a problem. That type of help isn't a problem for the vast majority of us, but when you have hundreds of thousands of followers, fans, readers and more, it becomes overwhelming. Chris explains in a Facebook posting that he's well-aware and thrilled with his lot in life (who wouldn't want lots of followers and helper-bees looking out for them?). What he does say is this: "Truth: we're not MEANT to have thousands of friends. It's not sustainable. Over the last many years, I've met tens of thousands of people. No exaggeration. Of those, I've done what I can to be friendly and stay somewhat aware of maybe a thousand or more. But think about that number. What can you really know when trying to connect with 1000 people?"

That's one person. Imagine a brand that has multiple people looking at all of these different human touch-points.

You see, on one hand we do want to thank each and every person who is kind to us. On that same hand, we want to ensure that we can correct someone who feels like they have been wronged as well. In this strange arms race that brands are facing in the pursuit of likes, plus ones and followers, we're starting to see how hard it is to authentically scale and get it right. Scott Stratten (UnMarketing and The Book Of Business Awesome - How Engaging Your Customers and Employees Can Make Your Business Thrive and The Book of Business UnAwesome - The Cost of Not Listening or Being Great At What You Do) was talking up the issue of automation on his Facebook page. He tweeted something along the lines of: automation in social media is like sending a mannequin to a networking event. He got a response from someone at Hootsuite (a social media management system for businesses and organizations) with the title of "Ambassador of Happiness" who tweeted: "Truth is, @marketing cannot fathom social media beyond his own utility, so his advice should be taken with a grain of salt."

Is automation the answer to scale?

One of the coolest online tools I have seen in recent times is IFTTT (If This Then That). It's a site that creates a ton of interesting automation hacks to make life easier (things like taking your highlights and notes from your Amazon Kindle and automatically putting them into Evernote). With that comes some of the uglier hacks (things like automatically sending a direct message to a new follower on Twitter with a sales pitch). Scale and automation do not have to go hand in hand. See, what Chris Brogan, Scott Stratten and Hootsuite are all talking about is either using automation to overcome personalization or a scenario where you simply can't connect with enough people, so just do what you can do (and, as Brogan so beautifully states, is bad because it lets people - who are connecting with you - down).

What now?

Let's not confuse using technology and automation to better organize and understand who we are connected to and the types of people that they are (how they amplify, share and convert) with using automation (and bots) to replicate the power of human interactions. Those two should, probably, be mutually exclusive. What we are talking about is this strange and awkward place where brands are getting exactly what they wanted: lots of people who are engaged and want to connect. The problem is that it's overwhelming and instead of forging ahead, they're learning the same truth that Chris Brogan uncovered above: it's hard to have a substantive relationship... it's even harder to do it when you have many people on the brand side and a massive amount on the customer side. Technology automation isn't panacea. It can help a brand get better organized, but it doesn't solve the problem.

Now, it's over to you: can you scale social media? Is that even a sensible sentiment?

By Mitch Joel