In Social Media, Being First Is Often Key to Success

We recently did the first-ever sponsored Tweet-a-thon for one of our clients, NCM Fathom Events, and their event A Powerful Noise. It was the first time just sending a tweet generated a donation from a third party, and it went extremely well, with more than 2,800 Tweets rolling out in 4 days.

Since then, there have been several cases where we’d like to do the same thing again. But we haven’t, because in all likelihood it would not be as successful as the first. Why? At this point in social media marketing’s life, roughly half the blog chatter is about what you’re doing, while half is about the fact that you’re doing something new.

Case in Point: Twittering Live Surgeries

Here’s an example that illustrates the point. In February, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit decided to live tweet one of their surgeries. It was a first, and it generated a lot of excitement in the blogosphere, on Twitter and in the news. @henryfordnews on Twitter so an explosion in followers. Overnight, they went from 491 followers to 999 followers overnight and to 1,133 followers in 3 days. Today, less than 2 months later, they have 2,032 followers.

A little more than a month later, the folks at Sherman Health in Chicago copied the idea. Their Twitter stream makes it clear that they promoted it heavily to local media (a smart idea, since in-town media love to localize stories about national trends like Twitter), and they saw an increase of 286 new followers within 3 days. They started at 799 followers and grew to 1,085 followers 3 days later. So, despite a bigger base, they got less traction. Why? The idea had been done before–the Twitterati didn’t get excited about it.

  • Henry Ford, going first, saw 130.75% lift in Twitter followers in 3 days.
  • Sherman Health, going second, saw only 35.8% lift in Twitter followers in 3 days.
  • In other words, the first mover did 3.65x better than the second.

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Strategy Changes

First mover advantage is well-established in all kinds of marketing. But with advertising and public relations, it’s what’s IN your ad or press release that gets you noticed. In social media marketing it’s also HOW you do things that get you noticed.

Those who are clever and get it right, like Henry Ford, benefit the most. Those who copy, like Sherman Health, may benefit, but they won’t see the same level of ROI as the leader. Our clients periodically ask, “Can you show me the results of someone who has done this before?” It’s not a bad question in marketing generally, and it’s still not a bad question. Just understanding that, at least at times, it’s much better to be first is the key.

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  • Alex
    Posted at 15:59h, 06 April

    First, how do you know that the second surgery didn’t increase the interest in the first surgery? Secondly, how is this statistically significant? It’s an anecdote (one) surrounded by a bunch of statistics, to make it seem more “scientific”. What other examples do you have?

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 17:16h, 06 April

    Alex, how could the second surgery, which occurred more than a month later, have increased interest in the first, which was by then long over? The first one experienced the large lift I mention well before the second was conceived.

    Secondly, I didn’t say it was statistically significant. But you see this a lot in social media. For example, the “25 things” Facebook meme was wildly popular and then copied by many other similar memes, none of which got traction like the original.

    Hope that helps, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t use the term statistically significant or scientific in my post.

  • DawnTrenee
    Posted at 18:06h, 09 April

    I have to agree with you that being first in social media is always going to get the best results. Of course I have been teaching my boys that you don’t always have to be first, now I will have to teach them in sm you need to be first.

  • M
    Posted at 17:36h, 13 April

    Interesting analysis. A few things to point out: You are right that doing something first increases interest, but it’s never a bad idea to take something that has been done before and make it better. And I’d hardly call an increase of 35% in followers plus local media coverage unsuccessful.

    Did you follow these surgeries? Henry Ford’s have been meant for a medical audience…they told the facts of what was happening. They included some video, but it was minimal. Sherman’s was much more interesting, with images, more laymen descriptions, video attached, and it was expressed throughout that the purpose was to educate people who may be future hysterectomy patients.

    While Sherman didn’t end up gaining as high of a percentage of followers, I don’t think they were ever going to. In February, they had only 174 followers. They did a live-tweeted tour of a new hospital they were building, and thus gained the base of followers before their surgery, likely many of the same as the Henry Ford followers: people interested in new uses of healthcare marketing. Gaining these types of followers doesn’t benefit either hospital in any way, except making them thought leaders in the marketing arena. If the Twittered surgery were the first Live Tweeted event Sherman had done, they likely would have started with less followers and gained a larger percentage (likely these healthcare marketers), perhaps closer to Henry Ford’s event, even though it wasn’t the first time it had been done.

    I’d venture to guess Sherman ended up with more hysterectomy patients, or at least inquiries, because of the number of questions they were getting and the media coverage after the event, which I’m sure we’d all call a “success.”

  • Jeremy Martin
    Posted at 14:56h, 14 April

    This is a great example of how social media makes for an even playing field. This same type of buzz happens on digg and other social sites. I have a friend that had the same type of thing happen with a press release that eventually got picked up by a major Los Angeles newspaper. Opportunities are out there, it is just about being in the right place at the right time.

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 21:25h, 14 April


    I’m curious as to why you didn’t leave a link saying who you are. Do you work for Sherman? If so, that’s cool and all, but why not say so?

    If you look back at the post, I did not say it was unsuccessful. I said it was LESS successful than HFH in terms of generating buzz and attracting followers. This is true both in terms of percentage basis and in raw numbers.

    Success can be measured by many ways, so Sherman may well call this successful. But they did do it second, and it did get less buzz because it was not an original idea. That’s the only point I was trying to make.

    Hope that clarifies it a bit.

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