Chuck Ross

Attention Marketers: Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Customers, But What Your Customers Can Do for You. Secrets of Social Media Strategy from Harvard Square. ‘What Would Zynga Do?’

Oct 6, 2011

Where are your customers today? With more than 800 million users, Facebook is a good place to find a chunk of them.

In fact, says Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, an associate professor of business administration at the Havard Business School, if you add up all the people who use social platforms online, it tops the number of folks who have email by about 200 million.

Dunno if I totally buy that, but OK, we get the point.

Next, Piskorski clues us into what most of us are doing on Facebook. We’re stalking people, he says.

About 35% of us spend our time with profiles and people we know. Another 35% of our time is spent with profiles and people we don’t actually know.

Another 9% of our time on Facebook is spent monkeying with our own profiles.

Add to that 8% of our time adding content and photos.

And that same amount of time spent adding or deleting friends.

Doing all of this adds up to a whooping 95% of what we do on Facebook.

So Mr. and Ms. Marketer, Piskorski says, when you try traditional advertising on Facebook, no wonder so few people click on your ad.

No wonder that when you build a page on Facebook promoting your product or service, so few people come to it.

We’re not interested. We’re too busy with ourselves and our friends (and stalking those who are our friend’s friends).

The problem, Piskorski says, is that you’ve likely got some digital media strategy in place, but you don’t really have a workable social media strategy.

I learned all of this at the annual conference that’s a must-attend for the marketing brethren in the cable TV industry. For years it was called the CTAM Summit. This year its name is The CTAM in New York Conference.

Last year I noted that this conference is the smartest one we attend all year.

And so it is again this year. What Char Beals and her CTAM team are able to accomplish, seemingly routinely, is the presentation of thinking that’s outside the bun. This flows from the top—Char is almost an obsessively forward thinker. A good executive is one who wants to implement best practices. A great one is always searching for what will be the next best practice. That’s Char.

Not to leave you hanging, let’s get back to how Professor Piskorski says marketers can develop a workable social media strategy.

First, he instructs that marketers need to adopt the mantra “What would Zynga do?”

Zynga is the wildly successful game developer that has given us the social network games FarmVille and its even more popular successor, CityVille.

The key point about the Zynga games is how they encourage people to cooperate and communicate with each other.

That’s the “bingo” moment, the Oprah “ah-ha.” Ask not what you can do for your customers, but what they can do for you.

And, oddly enough, the key word of the new social strategy is exactly the same as the key word in any really successful sales strategy throughout history: relationships!

You want to develop closer relationships with your customers and potential customers who are on Facebook. Then, think of a clever way (ah, there’s the rub) for your customers to help you increase sales or awareness (or whatever your goal is) by becoming more involved with their friends. In other words, if you can get your customers to strengthen THEIR relationships with their friends—which they want to do—in a way that also helps you meet your goal, you’re golden. And you’re getting your customers to do this for you for free to boot!

Piskorski then connects the dots to some real-life marketing examples.

One is an application on eBay called Group Gifts. As Piskorski explains it, one uses one’s Facebook info to sign up for Group Gifts, which then also loads into Group Gifts all your Facebook friends. You then decide for which friend you want to get a gift.

In the example Piskorski gives, he decides to give one of his Facebook friends—his sister–an iPad for her birthday. He decides how much he wants to contribute to the gift and Group Gift then asks his Facebook friends how much they want to contribute to the gift. The rest of the work in actually purchasing the gift and getting it to the recipient is done through Group Gift as well.

The service has been a boon to eBay. The price of an average gift is five times the average eBay sale. The cost to eBay—nothing—just the connection to Facebook.

Another example Piskorski gives is American Express, which offers its customers such deals as going to the Whole Foods site and spend $20 they’ll get $5 back. Amex then invites its customers to post this same offer on their Facebook pages.

In both examples, Piskorski says the key is getting your customers to interact with each other and helping people to commit to one another. In the process, you can get them to do something for you.

Basically, what you want to do is figure out something that’s unique about your product and then find a way to use that uniqueness as a way to encourage people to somehow get together.

OK. Mr. and Ms. Marketer, there you have it. And you didn’t have to attend CTAM to find this out.

But what I’m not divulging here are the other great marketing tips myself and my fellow CTAM attendees are learning this week.

So next October, when the CTAM annual conference hits Orlando, make it your business to attend. I get no money for plugging this.

What I do get from CTAM is a swelled head…from the new knowledge with which I’m getting bombarded. And that’s a good thing. #


  1. Thanks for sharing! I appreciate learning those insights.
    Q – Is the conference mainly about marketing or cable TV? In other words, if I’m not in Cable TV but starting up a coaching practice for people in entertainment, in your opinion, would I get much value? Tks. (I’m sure others would like to know as well.)

  2. Hi Ruth. Good question. Seems to me that one of the objectives of the conference is to find innovative marketing ideas and processes from outside cable and share them with CTAM’s cable-centric audience. So some of the sessions are geared in this direction. Some other sessions feature cable marketing executives sharing with other cable folks their best practices. To decide if this conference is worthwhile for your specific needs, I would suggest contacting CTAM itself–their home page is at http://www.ctam.com–and talking with one of its staff members.

    Chuck Ross

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