Ripple6 is a Gannett company that provides both publishers and brands with a range of social media tools. For Proctor & Gamble's Rouge Magazine site at www.rougemag.com, Ripple6 built a closed community ("The Salon") where invitees from the P&G mailing list could converse about beauty regimens generally as well as a specific product P&G was promoting. One of the aims of the project was to find advocates and activate them outside of this closed community.
According to Ripple6 CEO Sang Kim, a number of analytic tools can be used to identify potential brand cheerleaders. "What was cool is that one of the things you could see was peer helping," he says. "Someone would say that they had tried something and it didn't work, and then someone else would chime in and say that they had experienced the same thing and here is how it worked better for her. That is clearly an advocate -- someone who doesn't just say this is great but actually shows you how to get greater value out of the product." In other words, the conversation revealed a behavioral gesture the brand would want to enlist: the propensity to reach out and advise.
Ripple6 has a social analytics engine that also applies many variables to conversations to ID key players in a community. "It is not just how active and how vocal you are, but when you post, how much impact does it have, how big the user's own network is," says Kim. In some sense you evaluate a person's potential as an advocate not by their behavior but by the behavior of those around her. Ripple6 has "Ripple" tools for content sharing that it also analyzes. "When they say something, what is the biggest ripple effect?" asks Kim.
He argues that this approach to analyzing conversations and leveraging advocates is in contrast to the typical tag and track model of behavioral targeting. "In a social context it is almost relationship targeting," Kim says. You aren't using a clickstream or a tracking mechanism to put an ad in front of the user. Instead you are using conversational behaviors to identify the strongest, most influential members and then letting them define and optimize the network. "They actually are targeting through word of mouth," he says. "They know the product and they know the network. They actually are targeting through their network who should get what message."
To achieve this word-of-mouth power among community influencers, the marketer has to engage the middle steps. Once an advocate has been identified, simply slamming them with messages or product to spread around is a mistake, Kim finds. "You really need to embrace them and communicate with them first."
In a closed or branded community, the advocates can get special access to the product and the company. Then you can give them the tools to recruit. In the case of the P&G program, "it was a very explicit viral program. The goal was to actually have the advocates bring their [external] network into the community."
By giving the brand cheerleaders tools to email invitations to friends, it put the word-of-mouth process into a fully digital, measurable loop. "We will know how many people actually rippled the material, how many they rippled it to. We can measure how many people opened the email, how many click through, how many registered and ultimately how many adopted the product," he says. Kim adds that as a rule in programs like these, virally distributed emails render response rates that are multiples higher than any standard blast to a list. In a larger sense, a brand like P&G can leverage a community like this to understand what share of its email lists represent real brand advocates and what their viral value is.
Ripple6 is also taking the social analytics engine and turning it on itself, asking its own groups at partner MomsLikeMe how and where they wants brands to approach them in social settings. "The most important patterns we have seen is that the context of the social network has to fit the brand," says Kim. While traditionally, behavioral targeting program re-target users out of context, socially based brand interaction must fit with the setting. "We have tons of threads that say when I am in this community I don't want to do that, because I am here to do this," he says. "But if I am in MomsLikeMe and I am into crafts, then I want this company to come in because we are already talking about it. The conversations in communities almost act as a compass for what brands should participate in those communities." Brands not only have to be in the right place at the right time, but on-point.