Category Archives: Planning

Fixing Abercrombie & Fitch: how socially intelligent research can reconnect them with their customers

Our last blog post talked about ‘social intelligence’ as “a new life skill for brands”, and focused on Abercrombie & Fitch as retailer desperately in need of some.

But over on Twitter, @AlexPearmain had a question for us: “What would you have them DO?” A very good question! And, being a bit of a fashion brand nerd, I couldn’t resist working out the answer.

That is, if Abercrombie was closer to their customers they’d have seen this coming. Here’s how research could help them get back together.

Defining the problem

So Abercrombie have faced global negative press – headlines like, ‘Thin and beautiful’ customers ONLY: How Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t want ‘larger people’ shopping in its stores.

But this discussion is led by adults, people outside A&F’s target demographic. Maybe their customers think differently?  Marketer Nicola Carter argued in the Guardian:

“A&F’s target audience are the cool kids at school, primarily teenagers. If Mean Girls is to be believed, members of this cool clique are thin, attractive, and prepared to protect their position – even if that means picking on the fat kids. It sounds like A&F’s positioning as a cliquey brand that likes to exclude others (especially the bigger boned) will be just great for that group’s filters.”


Some adults’ opinions certainly do matter to Abercrombie & Fitch: those of investment analysts, the people influencing their share price. That share price is well below 2011 levels, and below the heights reached in 2005-2008. Finance sites report their stock as a sell recommendation, and rising up the ranks of the most-shorted. Analysts’ comments continually talk about Abercrombie ‘losing its cool’ and failing to keep up with trends. So A&F need to do some serious repositioning work to fix that problem.

But worse, the evidence is strong that Abercrombie’s target customers are indeed being put off. Sales fell 13% last quarter. And Abercrombie are having continuing problems with inventory, which strongly suggests they don’t know what customers want, when, in which stores and in what quantities. Consumer tracker surveys back this up: sentiment about the brand is down.

Meanwhile, Florida 18-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe has set up a petition with 78,000 signatures calling for an end to their size discrimination. And their Facebook profile is a mess:

Abercrombie & Fitch criticism on Facebook

Our brief

Put Abercrombie & Fitch back in touch with its customers.

Recognise a grain of truth in the offensive things its CEO has said in the past - “Candidly, we go after the cool kids… A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

So Abercrombie seeks to be an aspirational brand. We can work with that.

Thing is, it’s out of touch with what’s aspirational among its core audience.

It also needs to learn about how aspirations have changed. What’s aspirational in a difficult economic climate? Is ‘aspiration’ even as relevant to Millennials, or are other values in the ascendant? And how does Abercrombie evolve its white preppy aspiration model in an America that’s rapidly becoming majority-minority?


[Source: The Black Ivy, project by Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumb of The Street Ettiquette fashion blog]

Our research approach

So we’ve been talking about “socially intelligent research” a lot recently at FACE – now here’s a chance to outline what this might look like in practice.

1. Participation is continuous with teens’ existing digital lives

Why this is socially intelligent: An immersive research experience gives deeper, more accurate insights. We can also use passive data collection from social media to gain insights at scale to validate – and extend – our thinking.

What this looks like:

  • Research tasks take place on Pinterest and Tumblr – sites they’re already using. We don’t want essays about what teens find aspirational – we want them to show us visually
  • Chats and video hang-outs through Skype and Google Hangouts
  • All already mobile-optimised – completely essential for this age-group

Doing research that fits with teens’ digital lives also means integrating the data created by their social media activity. We’d do this in two ways:

1. Social media brand tracking to capture what tens of thousands of people think about the brand, not just our direct participants. These insights can be fed into the research community as questions or tasks – or resources we invite them to reflect on. This way we triangulate our insights and build much more robust conclusions.

2. Integrate teens’ digital activity into our community as a data resource. With their permission, mine their Facebook activity, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, YouTube and other media use.  We get more accurate data – what they actually say & do, not their recollections of their behaviour. And the participants are of course incentivised for this data sharing and get to focus on the more fun and creative tasks.


2. Teen participants as co-creators, not research subjects

Video has to be central to this research – we’re talking to a generation making YouTube videos, Instagram video, Vine and Snapchat. It’s also a great way to deliver stories and on-the-ground narratives in a digital way – cutting down our research time and costs.

So we’d propose to use video in many of our tasks:

  • “Auto-ethnography” and narrating their experiences
  • Interviewing friends
  • Involve a couple of particularly video-literate participants in editing and producing final videos, aggregating the group’s submissions

Key to an ethnographic model is inviting self-reflection – that is, never disrespect your research participants by assuming they’re not capable of analysing their own behaviour. Teens can be some of the most self-aware people out there in terms of thinking through social & group norms and how they modify their behaviour to fit. Given that we’re talking about what’s aspirational, it’s crucial to bring this social reflexivity in.

We’re doing that with the video ethnography methods – but we’d also involve our participants in the research analysis process and test our insights with them. They are co-creators and the ultimate judges of our brand positioning outputs – if it can’t pass our teen test panel, it’s not yet a solution for Abercrombie.


[Source: How To Be An Explorer Of The World by Keri Smith]

3.  Immersive experience for brand stakeholders

Why this is socially intelligent: Research needs to work as thoughtfully with the needs & cultures of our clients as we do with our participants. Abercrombie’s a fashion company: 100-slide Powerpoint decks won’t help them change.

What this looks like:

  • Video outputs strong emotive communication of the overall message. We’re trying to reposition a brand – it’s got to work at gut-level if it’s going to succeed.
  • Video is also more shareable around the company than a PPT
  • Moodboards on Pinterest and Tumblr provide a lasting and visual resource, helping designers and stylists keep in touch with their
  • Final delivery involves face-to-face interactions with our participants – e.g. in-store walkthroughs and workshops. This brings the message home to Abercrombie execs in an immersive and unforgettable way


So that’s an outline of how we’d help Abercrombie get back in touch with its customers and return to being a brand teens want to wear – and buy – again.

Most of the project’s run digitally, meaning it’s faster, cheaper, and able to cover more of Abercrombie’s customers and markets. It combines the scale of social media research with the deep ethnographic insights of qual – because here at FACE we don’t believe these things are exclusive. And it produces rich visual, video and immersive outputs – no Powerpoint required.

Socially intelligent research, using social data, to turn brands into ‘social businesses’ able to tap into all the ideas, creativity and resources beyond their walls. That’s our vision.


Liked this thinking? Follow Jess on Twitter (@hautepop), get in touch ( or hear her talk about how Gangnam Style went viral in our webinar next week.

The Insight Innovation Exchange Summarized Using Online Buzz

Face CEO Andrew Needham and US Office Head, Philip McNaughton, were at the Insight Innovation Exchange conference in Philadelphia earlier this week. I could not attend, and I was rather disappointed. While I know I have work to do, I still wanted to see Andrew and Philip present on Socially Intelligent Research and catch up on the latest industry buzz.

So I hopped on Pulsar TRAC and started a simple search looking for mentions of the conference and its hashtag (#iiex), similar to how we tracked Le Web two weeks ago. This way I could gather the digital buzz, and that’s the next best thing to being there.

Using Pulsar TRAC I was able to gather all the mentions o the conference. Granted, total volumes were only around 1,500, but that’s not the point. The point is that using Pulsar TRAC’s ability to parse the data, I was able to see what ideas presented got people excited, what articles were shared, and who I should be following on Twitter.

Day 1

People enjoyed the morning’s action-orientated presentations. Charles Trevail’s talk, “Inspiring the Future” was all about how to find breakthroughs in the face of adversity. When Jeffrey Henning summarized it on, the message continued to travel around the conference the rest of the day.

Day 1 Volume

Trevail was followed by Robert Moran, who kept the energy up with an emphasis on how the industry will look in the future. Apparently we’ll either be futurists, identifying trends, or doing “fast fashion” data analysis, looking at data in real time to facilitate improvements.

Ryan Smith went up next to talk about “Cheaper Faster, Better: How Technology Delivers ROI to Insight Organizations.” His focus on the importance of the researchers who make sense of the data and the continuing development of technology was well-received online.

Following Smith, Jasmeet Sethi from Ericsson spoke about being frugal, both by necessity and choice, in order to help spur innovation. This was perhaps one of the most buzzed about talks, driving mentions at the time and afterword with the sharing of the summary of it on

The afternoon’s online chatter continued where Smith left off. Two different speakers, Seth Grimes and Zachary Nippert, had a very similar message: big data is only as good as it is useful, and we need tools that will help us make it useful.

Day 2

Day 2’s online buzz was focused more around behavioral economics with two keynote speakers, Mark Earls of “I’ll Have What She’s Having” fame and John Kearon of BrainJuicer driving most of the online chatter.

Day 2 Volume

The ideas that resonated were, again, that we need to focus on the people, not the technology. According to Earls, rather than focusing on the new technologies themselves, we should be focusing on how this new technology can enable researchers to identify how people are connected to each other, what goes on between them, and finally how things spread from person to person.

Kearon, in turn, discussed the role of emotion in decision making. He focused on the need to understand emotions and habits in order to understand how we make decisions. This resonated with the audience, probably at least in part because of such lovely quotes as the one below:

Kirk vs Spock

Using Pulsar TRAC’s bundle visualization, you can see that “people” – though not the most frequent keyword – ran through most of the other topics discussed online the rest of the day.

People in Conversation

Day 3

The first spike at 9 am focused quite a bit on Simon Chadwick’s talk on investment in market research. People retweeted the stats in his presentation, focusing on such things as a 141% increase in VC funding for MR, particularly in big data, mobile, and social media but not in traditional research at all.

Day 3 Volume

But perhaps the biggest driver of mentions on the last day was sharing links. During the entire conference, only 12.6% of mentions included a link, but on the last day, 22.7% of messages included links.

Links Visualization

The top shared links of the day were all summaries of presentations:

But who would I have met?

That’s all well and good, but beyond going to a conference to hear about what’s hot in the industry, I go to them to meet people. How could PulsarTRAC let me do that?

I used Pulsar’s ability to find influencers based on not just volume, but also engagement to reveal who I should be following online. After all, I don’t just want to follow people who are vocal – I want to follow the people other folk turn to.

From this list, the top 5 influencers I should be following out of the Insight Innovation Exchange are:

  1. @melcourtright, Melanie Courtright, VP of Research Services at Research Now, presented “Research Now and Experien: Bridging the Digital Gap” at the conference
  2. @Pspear. Peter Spear of Spear Strategy, “brand listener”
  3. @SpychResearch, Ben Smithee, CEO of SpychResearch
  4. @lennyism, Leonard Murphy, Editor-in-Chief of the GreenBook Blog and key conference organizer
  5. @AndrewNeedham, Andrew Needham, CEO of Face… I do believe I know this influencer


But what was it all about?

The conference was an interesting combination of technology and research methods. At first I was worried that we’d get side-tracked by sexy displays of technology, but it remained focused on how we can use technology to assist and augment our research and analysis. But while the first day was marked by excitement, the next two days saw lower online volumes as people got into the routine of going to panels. The panels themselves were very quick, mostly only 20 minutes long, so there was less to Tweet about for each speaker.

I wish I had been there in person – but seeing as I had work to do in New York, this Pulsar TRAC search was the next best thing.


Want to learn more about how you can use online buzz to follow content and conversations? Register now for our Viral Video Webinar: Gangnam Style vs Harlem Shake on 10 July!

3 Reasons Social Media is Different In China

By now brands know that they can’t just waltz into China and expect the same strategies they use in the US to work there. But too often this takes the form of trying to “localize” their activities by putting a Chinese spin on to plans originally created for Western markets.

This, I argue, doesn’t take culture seriously enough. It treats it as a problem of basic translation, as though the copy and digital channels can simply be swapped in to “Chinesify” a digital strategy, while the foundational insights and structural approach remain the same. But this doesn’t recognize what culture is.

Coke Blog Image 4

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined culture as “systems of meaning” and “the total way of life of a  people”. From linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that “the structure of a language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers and thus influences their thought patterns and worldviews.”

So designing a brand strategy in China has to start from this fundamental basis: meaning, thought patterns and worldviews. “Sina Weibo = Chinese Twitter” is not going to cut it.

In one of my previous blogs, I described how three Western brands are succeeding in China through deep insisghts into Chinese digital behavior and family relationships.

Here I look at more depth at digital content strategies, and how some brands – such as Coca-Cola – have succeeded.

Let’s look at how Coca-Cola uses online content in the two markets as an example.

Coca-Cola Mirage Campaign

In the US, Super Bowl ads are an attraction in and of themselves. So when Coca-Cola wanted to make an engaging ad campaign called “Mirage” for the football game, they went all out. “Mirage” was a choose-your-own-adventure style ad with three teams racing to get a Coca-Cola. After watching the set-up TV ad, Super Bowl viewers could then log in and vote on whom they think should win the Coke and even “sabotage” the other teams, unlocking more content.

Coca Cola Share a Coke in China

In China, Coca-Cola recently launched their “Share a Coke” summer initiative. In Western markets, this initiative takes the form of names on the bottles, but in China the names are substituted with nicknames like “cool dude.” The packaging campaign is combined with online activities, such as a Sina Weibo contest, search marketing ads on Baidu, and a campaign website. This campaign is all about community and the social aspect of the brand. It encourages people to literally share a Coke, or at least share content with each other. Meanwhile, the American campaign is competitive, pitting teams against each other.

Now, of course the two types of campaigns are different. One is a three month campaign for summer and the other is event-driven. But by studying how these campaigns structure their content, we’ll be able to identify some key principles of developing social content for China vs. the US.

Channel integration in the US… but channel multiplication in China

Our social media in the States is dominated by Facebook and Twitter. In the US for instance, 94% of US teens have a Facebook page and 24% use Twitter. The percentage on Twitter is rising, up from 16% in 2011. While there are plenty of other social networks in the US, only 11% of online teens use Instagram, 7% YouTube and 5% Tumblr [Source]. As Facebook and Twitter have developed, they’ve also built in ways to integrate content from other channels, with Facebook news-sharing and Twitter Cards bringing this content in-app. This further reduces the need for users to travel to other networks. Brands can concentrate on their Facebook channel and Twitter channels to reach much of the market in the States.

Not so in China. Chinese people are members of more social networks on average than Americans – 3.4 networks in China compared to 2.1 in the US. Part of this could be because each network has its own distinct purpose:

  • QQ/Qzone is focused on gaming, as is
  • Sina Weibo has most brand and celebrity activity (most like Twitter)
  • RenRen started by reconnecting school-friends
  • WeChat is for chat
  • Pengyou uses real names
  • Jiayuan is for dating.
  • Douban is devoted to interests and hobby groups, e.g. music & film

[Useful infographic and article]

Channel specific strategies in the US… but channel agnosticism in China

This network proliferation affects how brands have to structure their campaigns in the different markets. In the US, there seems to be a focus on making content fit the channel. This kind of strategy only works, however, because there aren’t really that many channels to focus on.

As part of the “Mirage” Super Bowl ad, Coca-Cola went ahead and made custom content for a variety of platforms, such as Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. They shot behind the scenes photos for Instagram and pre-recorded the race losers’ press conferences for YouTube.

In China, this simply wouldn’t work. You’d have to craft different content for both Weibos (Sina and Tencent) separately, not to mention all the other platforms. That’s a bit much, particularly when Western brands are still building their content teams for the Chinese market. Why not just be channel agnostic?

Amy Chen, Interactive Marketing Director at Coca-Cola Greater ChinaThis is Coke’s strategy in China. Amy Chen, interactive marketing director at Coca-Cola Greater China, described how it is important for a brand to remain platform agnostic, “If your communication is good, it doesn’t matter which social platforms you use to receive customer response.” [Source]

You can see this philosophy in action in the Chinese version of “Share a Coke.” On the campaign website, users can easily share content to both Sina and Tencent Weibo and they’ve used their TV ad in their Baidu search marketing. Content is not channel specific – it’s channel ambivalent.

Chinese internet users create more content than Americans online

There is more to this than the structure of the social networking landscapes in the two markets, though.

Chinese people are more active content creators than people in the US. In China, 76% of internet users are content creators, actively posting to social media. In the US, that number is just 25% (see more stats here).

Using that knowledge, let’s revisit how Coke approached the US and China again. In the US, the campaign focused on releasing new content and voting. Not sharing, and not submitting ideas. Yes, there was engagement – the audience could also choose to sabotage the other teams. But the focus wasn’t on posting, organizing friends, or inventing new ways to sabotage. It was a simple, though definitely fun, game.

Meanwhile in China, users on the campaign website are invited to create their own nick-names for their Coke bottles and share those with their friends. As part of the Sina Weibo contest, followers reposted the nicknames that caught their eye. Yes, this is low-level content creation, but it is content creation nonetheless.

Chinese consumers are more accepting of branded content

According to this study, 77% of Chinese web users believe brands with a social media presence are more attractive. Compare that to this research that says that only 15% of North Americans even trust posts by brands on social media sites.

This might be why Amy Chen also made a point to say that brands should nurture the trust they have from consumers. For example, not running a “win an iPad” promotion and to gain followers when you risk losing all those followers once the promotion is over. What she means is that brands should maintain their authenticity. This in turn will help them retain the trust consumers have in them.

Going back to the two Coca-Cola campaigns, then, there is a clear difference between the type of content consumers were asked to engage with. In the US, the content was actually a humorous story about three different teams racing across the desert. Yes, they were racing to get a Coke, but really people were engaging with the fun story. After all, the three teams were showgirls, cowboys, and badlanders. Maybe they should have added pirates and ninjas, but that’s still plenty of fun characters to play with. It’s branded content, but the story is not just about the brand.

Meanwhile in China, consumers were engaging directly with the Coke packaging, suggesting and sharing nicknames that they would put on the bottles. This aligns with another of Amy Chen’s points – putting the consumer on a level footing with the brand by having them share the common message. In the Chinese campaign, consumers are playing directly with the brand itself, co-creating the meaning. Unlike the American campaign, here the brand is truly center-stage as consumers design their own product packaging.

These three points add up to two very different pictures in the US and China. It’s more than just saying that they have different social networking sites in China than in the US. There is a very different approach to using social networks and engaging with brands in the two markets.

Some brands get it. Coke certainly seems to. In the US, fan engagement with the “Mirage” campaign surpassed expectations, topping 11 million. It’s still too early to tell if the “Share a Coke” campaign will achieve similarly stellar results in China, but I’m optimistic for the brand. They’ve put the effort in to understanding the Chinese social media landscape and consumer-brand relationships – let’s hope it pays off.

Key links:


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5 Reasons to Track How Content Spreads in Social Media – Even If It’s Not Yours…

So, you’re the brand behind a sensational viral marketing campaign, and you want to understand all of the nooks that your brilliant work reached. Of course you do!

(And we helped Irn-Bru do exactly that)

But why track content otherwise?

…if you think you already know your audience

So you did your homework. In fact, you designed the content strategy and seeded it from scratch. But what if your link caught on with an audience you never expected? Unless you track the dissemination, you won’t know about the people you didn’t know about when you started. You may not ever choose to spend money marketing to them, but making sure you’re not alienating them and maximizing their advocacy needn’t cost much—except incremental sales if you don’t take action. And if you do decide they’re worth pursuing as a new target population, then you definitely need to know more.

It probably goes without saying that you can of course also track which influencers and channels that you seeded were the most effective, so that your careful execution is even more efficient next time round.



How influencers shared an Irn Bru advert

…if your campaign didn’t get the traction you expected

What happened? By taking a step back and understanding the networks of people and movement of information, you can understand not only the flow—but also the blockages. Which bloggers delivered more than their fair share of dissemination and advocacy, and which should you not engage with again? Does the map of where you spent money align with where the successes were seen? Inspecting the ‘nodes’ (people, platforms, and channels) at a more granular level can help you fine-tune your model rather than indiscriminately chalking it all up to failure (which will almost certainly ensure you don’t learn from the mistakes!)

…if you want to understand ROI

By knowing who’s shared or come into contact with your content, you can also understand who has not been exposed. Measure purchase intent (or any other historical tracking metrics you might have) in these contrasting populations, and compare the differences.

FACE is currently pioneering a number of exciting methodologies that mix Social, Qual, and Quant approaches to get at these client needs.

…if you work in a highly regulated industry and aren’t permitted to market to consumers

Marketing is just information – and information is power. Or so they say, right? Understanding the knowledge and information that people hold is essential to industries like pharma and banking. Rather than asking about marketing content, instead consider, “How does information and misinformation spread?”, or “can I add value for consumers by sharing helpful guidelines, regulatory information, or other informative content?”

Content tracking isn’t limited to marketing content: I’ve tracked flu outbreak information with the CDC and WHO that has informed everything from where (and on what topics) individuals need more disease information, to whether emergency supply needs could be predicted based on knowledge of the early reach of information.

…even if you believe your target consumer isn’t the blogging type

If you honestly believe your target population isn’t contributing online – I might not agree, but on this occasion I’ll turn a blind eye – what about consuming content? Sure, not everyone is a ‘writes 3 blogs a night’ type person. But the modern affinity to referring to review sites is difficult to deny. When was the last time you booked a holiday without looking to Trip Advisor or bought electronics without reading some online reviews?

You’ve probably mapped out consumer segmentations and a consumer decision journey for your brand. What about accounting for the role that the online world now plays? Track content to understand how people at different consumer decision journey (CDJ) stages are consuming your content. How could you tailor your content to different segmentations or different purchase stages? How could you use content to understand and address the questions that consumers have pre-purchase, or to get post-purchase advocates to connect with those still deciding?


Don’t forget that probably 90% of our word of mouth, sharing, and influencing with others occurs offline. All the more reason you should maximize what you can control – and measure – online with social media content tracking.


Learn more about how Pulsar can track content in social media (as well as topics and audiences) at the website,

Interested in discussing how content tracking could work for you? Just drop me an email at, or say hello on LinkedIn.

Small Networks Trump Influencers

With all the talk about online influencers over the past few years, you’d think they were the holy grail of online marketing. Klout has made a business of it and many bloggers use sponsored posts to help pay the bills. But, the funny thing is, if you want to get the word out about your brand, product, or cause, influencers aren’t actually where you should be focusing your efforts. Let me explain.

Yes, influencers do help – I’m not going to deny that. Get Lady Gaga to tweet about your charity or fashion statement, and tons of fans will go out to investigate it. Want mothers to start using your diapers? Yes, try to get the mommy bloggers to write something up about them. But that tactic will only do so much. It leads to a spike in sales, but not a long-term trend. As a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, it’s limited.

Oprah Winfrey

This has been known in the publishing industry for quite some time as an effect of book clubs. An initial spike is launched by one large book club, like Oprah’s book club (she’d be your influencer), but the long-term trend continues as smaller book clubs pick up the torch and then those readers pass on the good book to their friends in turn.

This phenomenon becomes traceable as a long tail. It’s not just about the niche topic, it’s about the niche communities, of which there may be several for each topic.

We did a joint study with our sister agency Blonde not too long ago that illustrates this nicely. This study was actually where we developed the concept for the content tracking feature of Pulsar TRAC, our recently launched advanced social intelligence platform that pushes social media research beyond keyword tracking.

Meet Irn-Bru

Irn Bru

Irn-Bru is a soft drink that’s spectacularly popular in Scotland. So much so you wouldn’t be far off calling it the national Scottish drink. In fact it is one of the rare carbonated beverages to outsell Coca-Cola in any market.

Coming from such a position of strength in its main market, the marketers at Blonde decided to do something a little different when launching a recent commercial. This allowed us to demonstrate the power of small groups in spreading something – and even compare this with the power of influencers.

Releasing a Commercial

Blonde released this commercial by giving it to just one person: a regular young woman on Twitter who had won a competition. Rachel Orr (@larachie on Twitter) started out with just 153 Twitter followers – bang on average. Irn-Bru promoted her account and managed to increase her follower count to 329 – still not exactly Lady Gaga levels – before they gave her the link to the YouTube commercial.

But a few of those followers were “influencers”. Blonde encouraged some of Scottland’s top tweeters to follow @larachie with the incentive that they’d use this as a way to measure their influence. Some of these people included @AndrewBurnett, Head of Social at Yard Digital, and the band Bleed from Within (@bleedfromwithin).

After @larachie tweeted the initial YouTube link, the video reached 100,000 views in one day, led by her but amplified by these influencers.

Small groups trump influencers (at sustaining growth)

So, we have learned that influencers are really awesome at jump-starting an ad campaign. Likewise looking back to my book club example, influencers jumpstart sales. (Thank you, Oprah!)

But how do you keep those sales growing? This is where small groups trump influencers. Small groups, not big influencers, are the Holy Grail of word-of-mouth marketing. Sticking with our book club example, these key groups are the smaller book clubs, the ones that hear about a book from the big influencers and then bring it to people in their community, who then carry the book to another gathering or tell a friend who is part of another book circle, and so on. This is how something goes from an initial spike to a burgeoning trend.

We can see this play out online. In the microcosm that is Twitter, that Irn-Bru commercial continued to grow even after the influencers had played their initial role. Over the next 21 days, the commercial’s YouTube stats increased from 100,000 to 650,000 views. That’s about 26,000 people per day. This coincided with the commercial being passed around smaller, interconnected groups.

The visualization above  depicts not the number of shares or mentions, but the number of connections each account has with other accounts that have also mentioned the YouTube video. As you can see, quite a few are really small – those would be the small groups. Those are the ones that are apparently behind the growth in views for the next three weeks after @larachie launched the commercial.

Yes, the influencers were really helpful. Yes, they probably jump-started the whole thing. But the ones who kept it going, who probably got the video mentioned on the Poke’s Viral of the Day three days after the launch, were the small groups.

Here’s the difference:

  • Influencers: Contribute a big spike, good for a jump start and initial push
  • Small Groups: Contribute more sustained engagement and spread, good for the long term

Find content small groups can get behind

This commercial managed to appeal to many small groups because it was funny, original, and took creative risks. And, of course, because it was Irn-Bru and in Scotland.

This won’t always be the winning content recipe (especially if you’re not Irn-Bru and in Scotland). You need to find content that appeals not just to your audience, but which appeals to specific niches and communities within your audience – the more the better.

Once you do that, your content has a higher chance of spreading naturally – virally. You may still want to include some influencers in your release strategy, of course – It’s not an either/or situation. But if your content isn’t something small groups can get behind, it won’t travel.


In May we’re releasing a substantial new study into the dynamics of viral video. Sign up for our mailing list here to be one of the first to know.