Home Blogs Why I think our latest online marketing 'experiment' is not working

Why I think our latest online marketing 'experiment' is not working


Two weeks ago, we launched our first social networking experiment for Anthill’s Online Marketing Month.

We kicked off a Facebook competition, offering a four DVD prize pack (right). To see the promotion in its natural environment, click here.

The goal: Attract new fans to the Anthill Facebook fanpage, generate registrations to the Anthill newsletter, introduce new people to the Anthill brand — but only from members of Anthill’s target markets.

I offered to provide updates on what has ‘worked’ (and what hasn’t) in terms of technology, marketing fundamentals and, most importantly, the campaign’s viral effectiveness (i.e. it’s ability to self-perpetuate).

So, what viral benefits has this item of social media marketing achieved so far?

Hmmm… well… without beating around the bush… the simple answer is…

Almost none.

And here’s why.

Facebook competitions can prompt free publicity

The very exciting thing about social media is that it empowers participants to promote a campaign on your behalf. For example, any entrant is invited to tell their friends by posting a comment of their wall. It looks like this:


This is good.

Facebook competitions can ‘enforce recruitment’

By creating a rule, as part of the eligibility process, that requires entrants to also invite a prescribed number of friends in order to ‘win’, the ‘viral’ potential of a campaign can be further improved, operating as a kind of ‘enforced recruitment’ process, like this:


This is also good.

But getting the prize right is hard

This type of campaign can be very effective if the friends of participants have similar interests (i.e. enjoy business DVDs). In which case, their friends will also enter (perpetuating entries).

However, here is where our campaign reveals its first weakness.

Not everyone is interested in business DVDs (or perhaps DVDs, period – after all, they don’t sizzle quite like an iPhone or a holiday to Europe).

Quite simply, a prize of narrow appeal is less likely to attract mainstream take-up, undermining the viral potential of a campaign.

‘That’s not a big problem,’ you might say. ‘The solution is to provide a prize of wider appeal.’

However, to do so would undermine the goals of the campaign, by attracting fans, registrations and awareness from outside of Anthill’s target market.

And reaching the ‘Tipping Point’ is even harder

At the conclusion of two weeks (the time of writing this), our Facebook marketing campaign has attracted a measly 59 entries. This is despite our inclusion of the competition in our eNewsletter, our Facebook Fanpage and our Twitter feed.

However, while disappointing, this low number of initial entries is not, so far, my greatest cause for concern. And nor does it offer the greatest lesson.

What is the most telling aspect of the campaign is the almost non-existent number of ‘Friend Conversions’ (i.e. recruited entrants), despite the fact that, as part of the eligibility, the competition required that entrants also ‘invite three (or more) friends’ in order to ‘win’.

Quite simply, friends invited to enter have not been responding to their friends’ advice. So, in two weeks, what have we learnt?

Q. Was our initial audience too small?
A. Probably not.

Q. Was the appeal of the prize too narrow?
A. Possibly. But to broaden the prize may have undermined the targeted nature of the competition.

Q. Was the number of ‘required recruits’ too small?
A. Bingo! (I think.)

When a prize is of narrow appeal, an invitation is less likely to generate new registrations (i.e. Friend Conversions).

While a trip to Europe might be of interest to one in two (50 percent) of the initial entrant’s invited friends (interesting enough to prompt an entry), a business offer might only be of interest to, say, one in five (20 percent).

In hindsight, this ‘revelation’ is kind of obvious.

What would Malcolm Gladwell say?

The expression ‘Tipping Point’ means different things to different people. However, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s highly influential book of the same name, it now usually means “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.

In his book, Gladwell identifies three main rules that he believes trigger a Tipping Point. To quote my previous post.

In particular, he talks about what he calls The Law of the Few, whereby he attributes “Connectors” (people with a special gift for bringing other people together), “Mavens” (people we rely upon to connect us with new information) and “Salesmen” (charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills) as having the most influence over whether a message or product will ‘tip’.

But he also acknowledges that even the most persuasive, charismatic, erudite or connected influencer cannot influence the viral possibility of a dud message or product, something that he also discusses when talking about The Power of Context and The Stickiness Factor.

Without going into the detail of Gladwell’s opinions, it’s safe to say that this promotion, possibly due to the unremarkable prize, lacked a certain stickiness. Also, Facebook users are most likely visiting the social media platform for social reasons. Hence, the context might be inappropriate for the message.

Success is a multiple greater than one

So, what’s the conclusion?

It seems that any attempt at marketing with a viral component should have one goal in mind, irrespective of the sophistication of the tools used or the strategies employed, and this is it:

Generate a ‘Friend Conversion’ rate of greater than one.

In the context of Anthill’s offer, those people who attempted to co-opt the upper limit — 12 people — were usually successful in converting two. Those who followed Anthill’s instructions a tad too diligently —  ‘invite three (or more) friends’ — largely failed to cop-opt anyone at all.

In other words, the offer, the message, the ‘sharability’ of the prize and the number of ‘enforced recruits’ needs to be tried and tested, tweaked and re-tweaked, to generate one simple, measurable result.

It needs to prompt enough people, on average, to co-opt more than one additional entrant each. Once this ratio is achieved, the only ceiling is the size of the market.

Sometimes the only way to learn is to do. And the greatest lesson is often not to make the same mistake twice.

Wish me luck!