Can You Have Sale Before Scale in Social Media?

Yesterday I was having a really interesting conversation with a company that is new to social media. Like most smart companies, they are struggling to understand this new space and determine the ROI of their investment. And like most companies that are new here, they keep trying to move directly to sale even though they haven’t invested in scale. Why? Because they are used to launching campaigns that take off and show results immediately versus launching today only to see any real results months from now at best.

I don’t blame them, it’s a common carry over from an advertising driven marketing mindset. The problem with the approach though is that advertising has inherent scale built into the channel. You buy the scale (lots of eyeballs) when you purchase an ad, spot or maybe a direct mail list. So because you know a lot of folks will likely see your message, you can move directly to sale — and most do.

But social media is different. It does not come with scale. You launch a Fan Page or create a Twitter handle or maybe even create a blog, and you have no scale. You have no fans, followers or readers. You have to build it. You have to invest in relationships and provide real value to build your scale. Now I guess you could go directly to sale — and many companies do — by promoting your offer of the day or a new product or service you are launching. But honestly, who is going to know? If you have only 1,000 fans and a couple of hundred followers on Twitter, how many of them will be online when you post and actually see that great offer you just put up? And if all you do is post offers, how many will continue to bother to listen to you anyhow?

No in social media, unlike advertising, you have to give to get. You have to invest in relationships whether it is building a fan base, followers on twitter or readership of a corporate blog. You have to provide real value in the form of helpful advice and tips, humorous posts that brighten the day, or just really good conversation. Once you do that, folks will value you, follow you, pay attention and likely… tell a few of their friends. And that is when you start to get scale.

And this was the heart of my comments yesterday and pretty much every time I have this conversation with a company entering or thinking about entering social media. You can get great ROI from this space but you won’t see it right away. No, the first indicator of success in social media is gaining scale. But not just any scale mind you — engaged scale. Sure you can buy followers but the ones I’m talking about actually @you on Twitter and drop comments on the Fan Page on Facebook and read your blog. That’s what I mean when I say scale.

And lastly, folks always want to know when they can move from just focusing on scale and start focusing on sale. To which I’m afraid I must say, depends.

But what about you? What do you think? Can you go directly to sale and bypass investing in building scale? And is there a magic number at which point you can add sale into your scale efforts?

photo credit: jurvetson

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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