A little village of 900 million

by Kate Enright


“Our fan page has 1 million Likes”, if you’ve ever heard this and thought, that’s pretty impressive, you’re not alone. We have all come to regard high figures like these as the holy grail of popularity, especially those of us who run social media sites. We are impressed by a page’s fan-base or a brand’s follower numbers or pin stats. But, what does it really mean? Is there more to it than just collecting figures, more than simply rolling up the counter? Or are these numbers a good enough indication of  what to expect as regards custom and loyalty?


Matt Rhodes, Strategy and Planning Director at London-based social media agency, FreshNetworks, thinks that we are missing the point completely and not thinking about what is really important in social media (and for the record, Matt hates that term). I agree completely. Let me fill you in on the back story.

Von Bismark was lucky enough to be invited to Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation for eTail event in the Irish embassy in London last week. Matt Rhodes gave a speech on using social media to benefit your business, and I think it is one that impacted most people in the room. This is not simply because Matt is an engaging speaker, which he is, but it was because he was saying something different, refreshing, yet obvious. He says he doesn’t care how many likes your fan page has, how many followers you have on twitter or how many times you have circles you’ve been added to. What he does care about is how you utilise the key data on these social platforms to your advantage. His pet hate it seems is when clients express their desires in terms of followers e,g, “We want 1 million facebook followers.” “Why?” he asks them, they invariably don’t know. They want them because they are told it is the key to being successful in business, and it isn’t. He’s right; the number of “Likes” on your page means nothing if you aren’t making the most of the data available from the people behind the numbers.

Twitter has 500 million users, facebook 900 million, Pinterest 11 million, Google+ 170 million, LinkedIn 150 million users. All that information, all those people, all their likes, all their interests, all their connections are there for the taking and we’re not taking them.

Matt began with a little story that I’m going to recount for you now.  He introduced us to the charming story of his grandfather and his shop in a little village in northern England. His grandfather, he said, kept a shoe box, the shoe box full of little cards, and on each card there was a name.


Little snippets of information about each member of the small local community lay in the box. The man knew only some of them well, and plenty of them not at all, but it was this box that made him the most successful business man in the town. He knew how to keep people loyal, by getting to know the important details of what they liked and needed and how each of them were connected. Take this small village and compare it to facebook where we have “Likes”, connections, locations and other key data on over 900 million people all over the world. And it’s all stored in a…rather large shoebox… sort of.

Matt’s granddad used the information he had by catering to his customer’s key needs and wants. When Emma Watson was ill for example, he would have her groceries (minus cheese) delivered to her house on Thursdays by someone she trusted – Maria. Emma could rely on him to do this for her, she felt he knew her, she trusted that the job would be done and be done right. What more needs to be said?

Amazon US have adopted Matt’s granddad’s thinking here, on an enormous scale. In July 2010 they began utilising the data on the 900 million people that use Facebook, in a different way, through accessing their likes and their friend connections they decided that they could make much more accurate recommendations and cater to people’s needs at just the right times.


When you connect your Facebook account with Amazon in the US, your Likes are assessed, and therefore they can provide you upon login with much more accurate recommendations based on both those Likes and your previous purchases. But it doesn’t end there. Facebook friends that have also connected their accounts will show up and their Likes will be assesses. This means that when it is your friend’s birthday and you log in to Amazon, you will be told, you will be given personal recommendations, and if they have already bought an item, don’t worry, they’ll let you know. Click deliver and your friend will have their gift in a couple of days.

So what have amazon done here? Well instead of using Facebook as solely an advertising tool, which they do – their fanpage has 5,364,067 likes, in case you’re interested – they used APIs available through Facebook to improve the user experience on their own ecommerce site. It is a step beyond physically filling out wishlists, nobody does it, and let’s face it, when was the last time you looked at somebody else’s? They tell you what you want, what your friend’s want and when you should buy it. It’s genius and it’s how we should all be using social content.


So what next? How can we monitor social content in brick and mortar stores as well as online stores? We know that the key to knowing what to buy and when to sell is to know your customers buying patterns, but these patterns can change by a factor of weeks every year, and always differ by geographical location. Weather is always a factor, but if we have learned one thing it’s that we cannot rely on that to be stable! So where else can we find out what people want, what they are talking about and what they need? Yes, social networks. Keep track of customers’ tweets, pins and posts to find out what will sell best both online and offline. Dig deeper, block out the noise and find out what people are saying about the product you sell. Are they talking about buying new laptops for the start of the school year in June or September? Are they discussing their summer wardrobe in March or June? Trends have to be monitored or you are in danger of falling behind by not having the right stock at the right time.

An infinite pool of data lies at your feet. Take a dip and see how it can benefit your business.