I would like to start by saying that this could possibly be the most important post I’ve ever written, at least to the readers that haven’t given it much thought. The problem is that personality is hard to change, and it’s not efficient for someone to tell you that your personality stinks. Sometimes there is one person who can reach you though. Someone you respect enough to listen to; someone that is compelling enough to make you think for yourself. I doubt that I’m that person for you, and a friend or family member that fits this role today may betray their influence in the future. Instead, I just want to tell you about the history of evangelism and community, give you some insight, and leave the rest up to you. Ultimately, you need to make the big decisions when it comes to your own actions. I don’t want credit for that because I know that if I have to take credit for making you better, it’s not going to happen. You need to own that, and all the accolades need to end with you.
The social business model has taken off lately with the continued popularity of Facebook and Twitter, as well as the shift to mobile technology bringing social media ever closer to the point of sale for retailers. There are lots of businesses realizing both growth and profits that are directly attributable to their social marketing campaigns, and an online presence has almost become a mandatory requirement for doing business with the public.
While the social business model has increased in visibility and viability, and has evolved to encompass the incredible communication tools that we’ve inherited, it isn’t a product of Facebook like many people would have you believe. Its genesis is more closely tied to earlier marketing campaigns that dealt with product evangelism. Personal computing technology has little value if very few people own a personal computer. With very few people creating things, the high cost of software development becomes prohibitive. That’s why marketing is so important in the technology sector.
Metcalfe’s Law and Critical Mass
Personal computing, and especially the Internet, is entirely dependent of the network effect and Metcalfe’s Law, which basically says that the value of a network increases as it adds more users. To become viable, traffic and usage needs to reach a critical mass. Early technology companies including Microsoft and Apple used enthusiastic evangelists to increase the enthusiasm in others – who in turn would spread the enthusiasm across their own networks. Some of the most popular evangelists who were denied the use of modern digital networks in their quest for the network effect were Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, and Alex St. John. Even Steve Jobs and Vint Cerf (the Father of the Internet) could primarily be considered evangelists above all else.
The Internet itself creates a whole new dynamic and retains a surprising level of intimacy. The ability to respond to content and interact with everyone who consumes that content is crucial. Online forums offered users a place where they could respond to all types of media in a given niche. When the people who were creating that content were accessible and responded back, they immediately became a preferred alternative to columnists and writers who enjoyed their monopoly of the discussion in magazines and newspapers.
You’re the Evangelist Now
Social Media Marketing is based on the idea that given enough of the correct stimulus, average users (and especially prolific users) of social networks will become an evangelist for your product on some level. Their reach will become your reach, and the network effect enters into a positive feedback loop as their connections become customers, and customers go on to become evangelists in their own right. We’re tapping into the trust that consumers have in their friends. Users see it as taking back influence from dishonest conglomerates. Since companies now have to worry about the scalable voice of social media, they tend to focus on product quality, customer service and creating a positive user experience.
At a basic level, we’re all evangelists for something. Whether you are trying to get your neighbors to vote for a political candidate or you’re trying to talk your spouse into paying some attention to your more human needs tonight, we’re always trying to elicit favorable responses and sentiment from other people.
Charisma has been a prized attribute in certain leaders since even before recorded history, and becomes even more important when your marketing needs to affect the decisions of others. Several other attributes such as intelligence, beauty, wisdom, empathy, personality, humor, and communication skills can play in to an individual’s charisma, but does not guarantee that people will like you. Charisma can’t be measured or calculated, and it’s really hard to learn or teach (but not impossible). What can’t be denied is that some people are predisposed to being adored by others. Even more than other natural talents, charisma is a holistic sum of other attributes.
It doesn’t matter if you are the most knowledgeable person in the world, if you’re not nice to people then you ruin your chances of affecting decisions. Influence is based on respect, reach and charisma. If you’re not likeable, people would often rather buy an inferior product than to further your agenda. We all know people who masterfully inspire community engagement; the people who make you want to listen to what they have to say. The truth is, there aren’t that many of them, and it doesn’t take a ton of charisma to be a successful evangelist.
The sheer number of people online means that just about anyone can connect with likeminded people, exploit their assets, and keep from alienating every single person you have an interaction with. That’s all it takes really; if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, some of it is going to stick.
However, with such an expansive opportunity for connection you would be well served to make someone who does have charisma your chief evangelist, or work on improving your own communication skills. Considering that even a small online presence can generate 10,000 unique visitors every month, just by increasing your influence by 5 percent you will have a stronger effect on 6,000 people this year. If that 5 percent increase translates into sales of a $1,500 computer, you’ve just added $9 million in sales. Evangelists are even more effective at handling customer relations and media presence.
The Golden Rule
Finally, treat others as you want to be treated. This is the simplest and most effective mantra you can ever adopt. First impressions matter (maybe too much), and you have to win everyone over individually. Just because several of my friends like you doesn’t mean I will by default. If you’re moving into a public role that deals with a community (like so much of social media will), you’re either going to learn these lessons beforehand or learn them the hard way. When it comes to an organization’s reputation, there isn’t much room for hard-way students. Lay your pride to rest, and let every member of your community operate as an equal.
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