As the number of social media users continues to climb, many companies are looking beyond simply establishing a social presence — and are seeking to “get social media marketing right.” The prospect of free, yet effective viral marketing recommendations from consumer to consumer is very appealing — but often elusive.
Through an analysis of the success of 751 social media marketing campaigns involving Facebook apps, we investigated the social sharing mechanisms that encourage consumers to share information about a product with their friends. What we found is that there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution for social media marketing. Instead, companies must tailor their social media marketing strategies to fit their products. In particular, useful products benefit from different social media marketing approaches than do fun products such as games.
On social media platforms such as Facebook, the design of the social sharing mechanism intended to encourage consumers to share viral messages is crucial. Consumers can learn about their friends’ interests in several ways: via publicly shared timeline messages, via direct private messages or from the “about” section of their friends’ personal profile pages. When designing the optimal social sharing mechanism for Facebook, managers must make four decisions:
Reach vs. Relevance
A social sharing mechanism can either rely on broadcast messages or target friends individually. Choosing one over the other involves trade-offs between greater reach on the one hand and higher relevance of the shared message on the other. The majority of the Facebook campaigns we studied favored broadcast messages (64%) over individual targeting (36%).
Choosing the Right Social Sharing Mechanisms
The optimal design choices for social sharing mechanisms for utilitarian products are different from those for fun products.
Strangers vs. Friends
In social networks, most information sharing occurs between direct friends. On Facebook, consumers can also reach second-degree contacts with whom they have no direct connection through comments posted on their friends’ timelines. When designing a social sharing mechanism, managers must decide whether it should be targeted at friends or second-degree contacts who may be strangers. Whether recommendations from direct friends are always more influential than recommendations from strangers is an open question. However, of the Facebook campaigns we observed in our study, only 7% were aimed at strangers.