The digital world last week was awash with the story of Santiago Swallow, a popular 140 character guru with tens of thousands of followers and a Kred influence score of 754 out of 1000. He was also, it transpired on Wednesday, entirely fictional.
Santiago Swallow was the creation of entrepreneur and Belkin general manager Kevin Ashton who, in a tell all article published on April 17th on Quartz, found near instant fame at the cost of only $68 (much of which was spent purchasing the initial 90,000 fans).
Twitter have of course suspended his account, and his equally faked Wikipedia article has been deleted. What this digital experiment does raise again is the issue of genuine success on social media, and ultimately whether the pressure placed on marketing execs to grow communities will lead them to do in practice what Ashton did in his experiment. Certainly it wouldn't be unprecedented.
But fear not marketers. There are plenty of brands who are killing it on social by following some simple rules that they commit themselves totally to. The top three of these are:
1) Find, Follow, Track, Engage
Don't try to be a celebrity. It's not going to work. If you are only following 300 people chances are you're savagely limiting the number of people who are going to follow you in return. On the flipside, don't follow purely at random. Using some related search terms, or more advanced social tools, you can quickly identify people most likely to want to interact with you.
As you're following, start to tracking conversations, not just about your brand but particularly about issues related to it. If you can show that it's a real person behind the account who is interested and interesting then you're going to get followed and will undoubtedly gain credibility along the way. Whatever you do, don't just use your account to publicise your latest money off offer.
2) Content is King
Particularly with the explosion in the number of always on, always connected potential customers in the marketplace, there is an explicit need for content that they can consume. The nature of that content varies from that which is directly related to the product (a fashion company doing a â€˜top 10 fashion tips for this season' for example), or alternatively content that has little to do with what you are trying to sell. It's often this second category which works surprisingly well, and certainly which makes readers more open to reading content directly related to your business. Think of it like a funnel, where at the top you are trying to grab the interest of uninterested people, and at the bottom you are driving them to your website or your store. What pushes people down that funnel is a feeling of conversation and community.
3) Bring the Funny
Never underestimate the power of humour. Obviously this works better in certain industries than others (I'd be interested to see an example of someone trying to sell me into an ISA with a good gag), however for industries such as retail the content that you create and distribute, and the engagement that you participate in, shouldn't get too heavy. Give creative freedom, after training in things like acceptable tone of voice, to the staff manning social channels and creating your blog posts. For doubters take a look at the O2 UK Twitter account for how it should be done.
I'd love to hear your success stories or otherwise, and do feel free to add more points to the three that I've started with.