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Evolutionary marketing - Tribal, viral and mobile

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There is a lot of discussion about how social media will play out from a mobile perspective, and how marketers in particular can monetize and leverage social media for real revenues and brand influence in the future. There are those, such as Umair Haque from Harvard Business Review Blog, that believe social media in its current form is a bubble with very little in the way of real income - in effect creating relationships that are not as robust as others would have you believe.

As we start to see massive adoption of smart or App phone handsets, the promise of potential migration of social media onto these platforms are hailed as the real future of 2.0 with endless possibilities. When we throw Augmented Reality and Geo-Tagging into the mix, those who are pro social media envisage an interconnected semi-virtual community where purchase decisions, social grouping, real-time collaboration, even political lobbying are all enabled by mobile 2.0. Neither Haque's lukewarm perception of 'thin-connections' or more upbeat assessments of the impact of AR-enabled social media are completely accurate because a key ingredient is missing in the assessment of the viability of mobile social networking.

The real question businesses ask is how do you make money out of social media? We have seen social media give a voice to customers, empowering them to either individually or collectively influence policy, pricing or strategy.

The flawed logic by Haque and others is that you need to define your social 'network' through a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter and that the voluntary nature of participation in these networks does not always guarantee quality relationships that can be leveraged commercially. The fact is that there are social tribes that exist that are a great deal more powerful than defined networks established on social networking sites (SNS).

Everyday when we use our mobile phone we are participating in social behavior that is a great deal more natural and powerful than those established via SNS. Every time I call a friend or business contact, SMS or MMS my friends, check my email, or use mobile internet based communication tools, I'm forming social connections that look just like those you'd see on Facebook or Twitter, but are made up of extremely strong connections with my most intimate and trusted contacts and colleagues. These are extremely powerful natural, social networks that transcend programming and platforms - they are the networks formed by our day-to-day interactions in real terms.

CDRs or Call Detail Records are the day-to-day transaction data recorded by mobile network operators to enable accurate billing on your mobile bill. These CDRs contain all of the information required to map social interactions within tribes with substantially more accuracy than an online social network.

By data mining CDRs and seeing the natural connections between mobile users, strong network activity can be observed. Within these networks exist natural influencers of the tribe, key influencers or as Gladwell calls them connectors. By targeting these key influencers with targeted messages that are group sensitive, marketers could reach the entire group via the viral network effect.

None of this is really happening effectively today because we are either still broadcast advertising, relying on sketchy CRM databases not informed by analytics or are using demographic, tag or keyword association in weaker social networks online.

Viral social networks

Key influencers are high value targets for initiating viral network campaigns

As an illustration a small start-up in Australia, QMani Analytics, has recently demonstrated a platform they call tribefinder which can identifying the tribes contained within a mobile network operators CDR pool. But the key to success on the revenue side is matching other profile information from an enterprise CRM system, or from customer behavioral analytics (like credit card usage data) and filtering CDRs to create better tribal models. Then we need intelligent marketers who can create compelling viral offers that we can roll out via MMS to a key influencer so he or she can send it on to their valuable network. The best key influencers, of course, should also be great advocates. So once we identify these guys we should service the pants off them so they feel inclined to support our viral efforts (although they won't recognize them as viral campaigns hopefully.)

For network operators converting pre-paid to post-paid and preventing churn will be a handy by-product of tribe marketing. For retailers, banks, and other service organizations, however, we are talking highly targeted mini-segment offers that will have a massive acceptance rate. Cheaper than pretty much every current media platform, and magnitudes more effective at conversion, tribal marketing via natural mobile social networks is nothing short of a revolution in customer connectivity.

The real challenge is not the technology. Tribefinder's analytics engine is not rocket science. The real challenge is for companies to understand the shift in marketing dynamics. For almost a decade now traditional broadcast media has been in decline. Marketing to tribes requires a completely different skill set than is on offer in most organizations today, but it is a key part of our future in reaching and retaining customers.

Tribal, viral, mobile - they are your future if you are trying to reach customers.