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Spin Control

By Andrew Frank | October 08, 2008 | 3 Comments

The best way to predict the future is to create it!Quoteworld attributes this to Abraham Lincoln, although I’ve heard it attributed to various more contemporary luminaries from Alan Kay to Peter Drucker, both of whom appear to have said it often. In any case, here’s a present-day application of this idea: “the best way to predict the future is to seed it in the blogosphere.”

Which brings us back to our conversation about social media.

Opinions are mixed on the question of whether social media monitoring can predict the future, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone reading this will agree that informed participation in the blogosphere can certainly influence the future as determined by public perception. This, at least, is intuitive.

A less intuitive claim is that social media defies our instincts about large-scale phenomena. Intuitively we imagine huge structures, like, say, the global economy, to be like mountains: stable and slow-moving by virtue of their size. If nothing else, recent events have shown us that such structures are shockingly dynamic and volatile. Because of their extreme connectedness, they exhibit the so-called butterfly effect of chaos theory: large-scale sensitivity to small – even minute – changes.

This picture stands in sharp contrast to traditional media wisdom, which holds reach and frequency – the ability to blanket the largest possible audience with a message – as the keys to influence.

This leads to some key ideas about social media marketing strategy.

  • First, recognize that social media opinion behaves just like a global market: it can shift on a dime with tremendous impact. That’s why it’s both important and fundamentally different to deal with than mainstream media. Traditional analysis-and-response cycles are just too slow and too crude to be effective.
  • Next, understand that the origins of such a shift are usually obscure: some small group somewhere finds, for example, a rootkit in your copy protection scheme, and next you know you have a full-scale PR disaster on your hands. That’s why, when evaluating social media monitors, you need to insist on truly comprehensive coverage, not just sampling, of the social web. That’s a technologically demanding requirement to fulfill.
  • Finally, although the emphasis has shifted from talking to listening, engagement is key to both nipping potential outbreaks before they start to mushroom, and planting the right seeds in the right places to start the right kind of resonance. And resonance is the key: if your message does not resonate with your audience, it will quickly vanish – if you’re lucky. That means combining workflow with communication talent in new ways.

So, are today’s social media marketing solutions up to the challenge? Over to you…

Comments are closed


  • Tom O'Brien says:

    Hi Andrew:

    We used our social media monitoring tools to predict the election outcome. We even called the popular vote total. We predicted Obama 52%, McCain 46%. We were almost exactly right.

    We also have marketing case studies that show social media metrics as a leading indicator or sales.

    If you’d like to know more let’s chat.

    (I am posting this now because one of my friends here at WOMMA mentioned this post – how come you guys aren’t here? Everyone in this space is here!)

    Tom O’Brien

  • Andrew says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the comment and I do regret not having been able to make it to WOMMA this year.

    I think the ability of SMM to forecast sales with potentially unprecedented accuracy may be the most significant thing happening in media/marketing today. Talk about cost savings! Will follow up offline.


  • Andrew says:

    Also, didn’t David Rabjohns, MotiveQuest’s CEO, promise to shave his head on YouTube if their election predictions didn’t hold true? I seem to remember Blake Cahill mentioning this.

    I guess he now has ample reason to celebrate.