Google+ is remarkably resistant to traditional brand marketing methods. There are specific reasons why this is and anyone involved in marketing should be aware of the reasons. Before we even get to them however let’s look at some of the basics on how information flows through a network.
When a message is sent through a network it starts off from a single point (let’s call that the Point of Origin or PO for short) which goes out to the immediate circle of friends that surround that PO (let’s call this now 1st degree connections).
A social network is by definition “a gathering of individuals into specific groups” where people can interact not just with friends but also with friends of friends. This allows a message to go from 1st degree connections to friends of friends each of whom is connected to one of our friends (let’s call this 2nd degree connections) and, through them reach a user through a friend and one of their friend (let’s call this a 3rd degree connection).
This increases the reach of the message by exponentially amplifying it through the simple act of sharing or interacting through a plus one (provided you have your settings set to allow your friends to discover content in this fashion).
To illustrate the power of the approach a study carried out by the Department of Science and Information of the University of Bologna showed that in a social network where the average number of friends per person is 51, a piece of information that propagates through it will reach over 355,000 people and when you factor in the discoverability of the information through search the total number will be over 65 million.
Before we get too excited the way more pertinent question has to be what is it that can potentially stop a piece of information from flowing through a social network?
The same study showed that it only takes some of our third degree connections to not see the message or not be online to produce gaps in the propagation flow of our information through the network. Using the language of virology those who are isolated from it are considered inoculators who basically stop the piece of information from spreading.
All of this is important because in any marketing campaign that uses Google+ it shows that what is important are not just the number of direct connections of each individual but also the willingness of the participants to work to overcome the gaps in the social network that are naturally produced by the inoculators.
In plain speak the harder people work to spread the message the wider it is seen and the further it travels.
Three Basic Ingredients to Marketing in Any Social Network
This reduces the successful social network marketing formula to three key ingredients:
1. Points of Origin or Flash Points through key figures (let’s call them influencers). Influencers are important because they have a large number of 1st degree connections and this allows the message to be seen widely in the very first instance.
2. A resonance of the information with the influencer’s connections. This is important. We have seen that in order for a message to flow through a social network and overcome the natural barriers created by inoculators that stop it in its tracks it requires impetus. This means work by the connectors to actually promote it. Unless the piece of information (which in this case is a marketing campaign) resonates with their sense of shared values or expectations, this is unlikely to happen in any number sufficiently large to create a viral spread of the message.
3. An amplification of the signal by other influencers. We get so very few marketing campaigns or posts that go viral that it is worth noting that unless the message is picked up and amplified by other influencers it is unlikely to travel very far through the social network.
The #Kraftycooking Campaign
So how did the #Kraftycooking campaign go? Well, to begin with the initial ingredients were all there. The campaign was intended to test how a big brand might use Google+ to reach a wider audience. Kraft was picked because it is not very prevalent as a brand through Google+ and the results were going to be relatively unpolluted by other efforts. The #Kraftycooking hashtag was unique and the group of influencers willing to work to promote it in waves was part of the initial test group.
There are two key points here that are critical. First, the test nature of the campaign changed the dynamic governing the resonance of the information with each influencer’s immediate network (our 2nd important ingredient). Second, the influencers gathered to help promote this campaign were already disparate as a group, connected through their friendship and interest in social networks and marketing in Google+ rather than food. This is important because it introduces an advantage over how the information is spread. Namely by starting off with such a diverse base the possibility of the marketing content going viral was increased.
So, How Did it Go?
The Flash Points were provided by Chef Dennis Littley and Ronnie Bincer and the original vehicle was HOAs. For the purposes of the week-long effort (January 7th – 15th) the metrics used to establish success were the popularity of the hashtag, the engagement level across the platform in the number of posts, and the total number of views. Deeper engagement was calculated by way of comments which are also used to determine sentiment for the brand.
Beyond the requirements to be creative, use Cracker Barrel and Cheese (and the #Kraftycooking hashtag somewhere in the post) and have fun there were no other restrictions imposed. This allowed for some novel creativity in user-generated content.
Martin Shervington brought the broader community together and managed the campaign at this point.
Here is a quick overview of the content:
The #KraftyCooking hashtag trended on Google+ within hours of the campaign getting under way.
The campaign also generated over 6,000 pages in Google search based on the hashtag here.
Pages indexed in Google search lead to a citation-effect rise in rankings for Kraft brand products. They also increase the overall visibility of the brand in Google search encouraging both serendipitous discovery and helping it surface in more, relevant search queries in future.
Ronnie Bincer’s post on the campaign, currently is at the #1 slot of Google search for the search query: “Kraft Cooking Campaign on G+” with the #3 slot occupied by Chef Dennis Littley
Geographically the campaign involved countries where Kraft products in general and Cracker Barrel Cheese in particular, were available. This focused the campaign to the UK and the continental United States. Interestingly there was overspill activity, given the very public nature of the G+ platform, to Africa, South America, Indonesia and The Philippines. As a point for further study and speculation this approach may make brand testing and/or preparation of the ground for bigger campaigns cheaper and easier by raising brand awareness through social media use in countries where traditional media still holds sway.
At its broadest funnel the campaign generated 3.5 million views on G+ alone. There were 454 traceable hashtagged posts within G+ over the week of the campaign. Some produced as many as 57,000 views while others as low as 204. The number of potential views was calculated using a sampling method of 17 randomly selected posts. After normalizing the average by getting rid of the two highest and two lowest posts in the number of views an average figure of 7,504 views per post was arrived at. The actual number of total views may well be higher.
Its view generation on search and through individual blogger efforts was not tabulated for the purposes of this exercise.
There were 454 traceable, #kraftycooking hashtagged posts in G+ within that timeframe. Just over half of them (56% a.k.a. 258) contained a link in them leading to a blog post which featured a recipe and mentioned Kraft products (Cracker Barrel Cheese in this case) in some context.
There was a close correlation of +1 activity to comments signifying a high level of engagement that becomes deeper the moment we also factor in reshares.
At the height of the campaign had achieved tremendous post velocity with a new hashtagged post appearing every 6.9 minutes between 7th January and 9th January.
What did we learn?
In terms of lessons the success of the #Kraftycooking campaign and its lingering visibility in Google search for the hashtag show a number of key insights:
Brand marketing cannot happen in a vacuum where the brand tries to go it alone. It really needs to develop a network of trusted influencers that will help it spread its message. This requires work in order for the relationship to really work.
Influencers are key because they act like Trust Agents. Without them a marketing message cannot overcome the naturally occurring inoculators that stop the flow of information from flowing through a social network.
Impetus is required. The marketing message has to have values that go beyond the simple marketing of “buy my stuff”.
Reinforcement is necessary. In the #Kraftycooking campaign the ‘marketing message’ was picked up and reinforced by the participating influencer profiles because they were already involved. What’s more, their involvement and the nature of the campaign (i.e. a test) convinced others to get involved. Any marketing campaign will have to work out its reinforcement points carefully in order to continue the momentum.
Key to all this, of course, are the values we have always known drive Google+ and, really, the semantic web: Trust, Identity, Authority. They made the whole thing possible in the first place and we could argue that a brand that does not have them in place will fail to engage even when its strategy is valid, anyway.
Thank you to everyone who trusted us and got involved in this community campaign.