"mean girls" & social media: reverse engineering the popularity contest to work online

Most brand’s goals are awareness  –  which is synonymous with the world “popular”. Brands want to be popular. And in some sense, cracking the code to becoming popular can make doing marketing a bit like trying to win in high school. To succeed in being popular, people have to think that what you are doing is cool. Really – it’s not all that complicated.

It starts with trendsetters, just like it did in high school. These are the first people to try something new and dare to be different. But trendsetters don’t become trendsetters – if there is no “trend”! Trendsetters rely on “lemmings” to be copycats. If trendsetters are the content, copycats are the reach. 

Everyone has seen the movie Mean Girls, right? (Everything is applicable to Mean Girls…) When Janis and Cady first sit down and plan a way to get revenge on Regina George one of the key parts of their plan is attack the “army of skanks.” Without people to follow the “rules” set forth by the trend setters – there is no trend.

Trends build over time. What starts with an “army of skanks” or 3-4 dedicated followers can grow exponentially. A la Mean Girls:

The more we, as people, see something “getting popular”, the more we want to experience something for ourselves. And in the digital age, we make our experiences “visible” so people know “we’re cool”. Simply put, the best way to extend a trend, whether it be at the content level or the brand level, is to make consumers believe that sharing their experience on social media with your brand is “the thing to do”.

Take another more “real life” example – let’s say your best friend posts about a really epic meal he ate at a local restaurant. (My best friend does it ALL THE TIME.) Since you trust his judgment over any advertisement, you decide to check out the meal at the restaurant – and it’s just as amazing as you could have pictured it. You could just tell your friend, but more often over not, we choose to share the things we enjoy with everyone. So, you post about it to Facebook. There’s no real explanation as to why you are doing it, other than “because all the cool kids are doing it.” Now 3 more of your friends have seen it, trust your judgment, and try it out too. It started with one, authentic, non-biased, non-promotional interaction and has resulted in 5 new business interactions – all based no on advertising, but one user’s shared experience. One “trendsetter”.

That’s why “coolness factor” offline is sometimes impossible to measure in terms of conversions yet just as valuable if not more valuable, than advertising. How do you measure a personal thought and desire to try? There is no hard link from one users experience to the creation of other user-experiences, yet we know this phenomenon exists because most of us think it.

This is what I like to coin “virality” (I’m not sure if it’s a word, but I’m really destined to make it a word). It’s the growth of “word of mouth” and the creation of trends online that leads to offline action that has “im-measureable impact” for little cost and a TON of value for businesses. We as marketers can’t measure those thoughts but we know they are crucial in building a brand that is popular and increasing brand awareness.

It’s actually really easy to reverse engineer this for a brand. You simply need to create desireby making the experiences of your brand by the people, visible.

Step 1: Get people interacting with your brand. Offer free things or incentives for people just to experience the brand “socially”. Or do something to “social worthy”. To facilitate word of mouth, you aren’t worried about likes and followers. It’s not ABOUT building your network – it’s about accessing the network of the person having the experience. 10% off your check for liking us on Facebook does nothing – try 10% off your check for funny food pics. There are a thousand ways to do this, but the best way is to make some part of your brand photo-worthy if it isn’t already. Words are nice, but photos and videos are the next new thing – so accommodate for something that can be shared as many places as possible. Incentive this and invest in this just as much as you would invest in advertising – it will pay off in the long run. Personally, I would invest in the people passionate about my brand more so than I would invest impressing upon new people – but that’s just me.

Step 2:  Share authentically. Be grateful, not flashy. Interact, don’t pat yourself on the back and don’t promote. There’s a difference between saying, “take this person’s word for it!” and saying something creative and thankful about the people interacting with your brand. Re-share this where more people can see – re-sharing user-experiences humorously and authentically should be a big portion of your social media strategy that balances out your own personal promotion. And furthermore, invest in this piece too if you can – second to investing in the rich experiences though!

Step 3: Give it TIME. This is one the biggest takeaways. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, but if you keep trucking at it consistently, it will pay off. It took some of our clients at least 1 year before you could start to see the effects of all of the consumer sampling paying off in the amount of posts about the brand being generated across social media platforms but the best part? Is that “virality” can continue to grow regardless of whether or not input grows as long as people still have reasons to keep talking about you, they will do it for you.

Just as there are easy ways to get this right, there are also easy ways to ruin your reputation before you reap the benefits of this. It’s important to not force it and be natural in your approach. Forced posting, promotional words – anything to make a viewer question the authenticity of the recommendation will scar your brand. Let users have a unique and completely personal experience with the brand – not a forced experience. Be open to some negative feedback – it’s a cost. Be tactful and strategic in your word choice when choosing to re-share and be sure to strike by integrating these tactics into other tactics. Don’t only rely on this as your entire marketing strategy – if your fans are adding value to you, please find a way to reward fans by adding value to them.