We are only now beginning to understand the workings of the hive mind. Tens of thousands of bees function as unique individual agents and yet manage to work in perfect harmony to build a vibrant community. As new findings emerge about the workings of bees, ants and other social super organisms, they will no doubt provide insights into how we (among the most social of species) can build communities both in the real and online worlds.
But here's what we already know. An important factor driving the success of the hive community is the clear division of labor. Each female worker bee takes on a different role depending on the phase of her life. During the first third of her life, she nurses the queen and the brood. She then moves on to processing food. Finally, she functions as a scout bee, where she leaves the hive to search for food and also find potential venues for new hives during the swarming process.
Online advertisers can learn from the hive mind as they look to build thriving brand communities online.
Before anything, they must attract the right kind of high-intent, engaged user to the community; i.e., connect with the worker bees while steering clear of the drones.
Second, they must engage the consumer in a number of relevant touch points. Just as the worker bee spends time processing food, people need time to process information. This helps them learn and process information about the brand in a way that is meaningful to them -- be it articles from the press, informational brochures, coupons or comparisons with the competition.
Eventually, like the scouts, consumers will go out into the world and evangelize your brand to new audiences, thereby expanding your social hive.
In short, a successful social marketing strategy will deploy a multi-pronged approach: run the right kind of acquisition campaign, follow it with a sophisticated email/CRM engagement strategy, and watch it grow.
Of all the different kinds of online advertising, performance advertising is uniquely suited to finding the user with high intent. Think of the person who is searching for your product category, or signing up for your ad. That's the person you want in your brand social community. Once you have this user, you can send her or him the resources he or she might need to learn about your brand and spread the word.
There are already a growing number of marketers who are using different elements of this common sense approach to social marketing.
Before starting a social marketing effort, marketers would do well to ask a) Do I have the right people? and b) Do these people have what they need to learn about the brand and spread the word?
By following the tried-and-tested hive approach to community building, they might just be able to unlock the social marketing puzzle.