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One to One Doesn't Scale, And That's Okay

The internet has done a lot of good things for brand communications. Talking to and hearing from your customers has never been easier. But faster, easier communication isn't a one way street. You get to reach customers faster and easier, and customers get the same. Sounds great, right? But there's a threshold after which this trade off can no longer be maintained at a one-to-one exchange. The good news is, despite what many social media gurus will tell you, one-to-one dialog is not the holy grail of marketing communications.

Social media is a powerful tool for one-to-one communication, but it really only works that way for small businesses. Brands like Saddleback Leather who intentionally limit their audience and establish a premium position are primed to take advantage of using social media as a conversation mechanism. Larger businesses can't keep up with the size of the conversation, and so they really have two options: pretend to be one-to-one, or stop worrying about trying to talk to everybody.

Brands like Apple, Delta, Google, or Coke have no need to use social media to have conversations with all of their customers or potential customers; they're much too busy building better products, increasing awareness, and making sure their companies are ready for the future. These companies use social media to provoke conversations amongst their customers (customer-to-customer, not customer-to-company) in order to increase awareness. They also use social media to listen to the market, finding problems and opportunities in their marketing strategy and in their products. What they don't do is try to respond to every brand mention.

In between the small business and the mega-brands are a slew of mid-sized businesses who are also trying to figure out how to use social media. If you're not Saddleback Leather and you're not Coke, then there are still opportunities to use one-to-one conversations (customer support, rewards programs, expanding into new markets), but there is also significant value in letting your customers do the talking for you; whether you unleash a creative engagement to stir something up or simply monitor the pre-existing social media landscape, there are plenty of opportunities to benefit from the one-to-one conversations your customers are having without being a chatterbox yourself.

Written by Chris Allison on April 29, 2010

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nate says:

I agree, when we run social media campaigns for different businesses we find that once the core group is established that they do the talking for you. As long as our clients are pumping fresh content and material for their followers to discuss it just happens naturally. I do find that in some service niches this method doesn't work all that well, but it usually works with most product driven businesses.

Chris says:

Hi Steph,

I agree; if you can, then you should. I just wanted to clarify that A) pretending to be one-to-one isn't a good idea, and B) if the conversation around your brand is too big for you to reasonably keep it one-to-one, then there are still options.

Thanks for dropping by :)

In my opinion, if you're a small or mid-sized company you definitely need to try and engage with your customers one-on-one. In most cases you won't have an overwhelming response to social media. It's only a handful of companies that have an outrageously popular blog or Twitter account. Social media is a terrific way to build some brand advocates that will help do the work for you.

Written by
Chris Allison