6 Things “The Social Network” Can Teach Social Media Marketers

When you run a social media agency, you pretty much have to see “The Social Network” the day it comes out. Now I’m not sure what in the movie was truth and what was fiction, but it’s a good film.  After I saw it, I was wondering what messages, if any, could be applied to social media marketing. So, without further adieu, here are six lessons the movie teaches. No real spoiler alerts, unless you’re unaware that a kid from Harvard programmed a social network that got popular, then other people sued him for “stealing” the idea.

1) Online lives forever. Information spreads.

The Social Network MovieWhen Mark blogs about how he developed FaceMash (pre-Facebook) and his ill-fated relationship with his girlfriend, his blog wasn’t all that important. But when FaceMash got big, so did Mark’s blog, and that wasn’t so good for him.

This, to me, was somewhat analgous to Nestle’s debacle on Facebook, where sarcastic replies to a small crisis turned into a serious crisis.

2) Focus on the end result.

“Getting into social media” is not a business objective anymore than “building a website” was Mark’s objective. You see throughout the film that Mark is completely focused on the end result and not letting monetization kill it before it had a chance to become what it was destined to become.

Similarly, when you don’t focus on the key performance indicators (KPIs) of both your overall social strategy and any campaigns you want to implement, you’ll drift and your results will be compromised. I know this sounds very 101, but time after time we see pressures to make choices as we go that don’t align with the KPIs. The best brands fight those impulses and get better results.

3) Take something people already like to do.

When I used to do PR, I learned that convincing a reporter to include you in a story they already planned to write was much easier than convincing a reporter to write a new story for you. In the film, Mark is focused on replicating offline behaviors online. He saw how people set up groups of friends and want to keep them relatively contained. He saw the interest in meeting new people and wondering if he/she was single or not. And he built a site that mirrored that.

Similarly, when brands take an action that their target audience already wants to be involved with they’re in a much better place than if they try to “convert” people to their way of thinking. Consider this: it is much simpler to convince someone to play a game with you if they already want to play that game. If you have to convince them to both play a game they’ve never heard of AND play with it you, you’re not going to do as well.

4) Act quickly, iterate quickly.

If you’re to believe the Winklevoss twins (and having seen them speak at a conference a few years ago, I’m not ready to do that), Mark stalled on the Harvard Exchange project because he knew the first mover advantage was powerful. I don’t know if/how/why Mark stalled anyone, but the first mover advantage is powerful. The first person to launch a particular type of social media marketing campaign gets more exposure than the second, in part because of the novelty.

Too many brands go through too many iterations and approval cycles. When they do that, someone more nimble beats them to the punch. When that happens, you lose out on the first mover advantage and, sometimes, the ability to be topical. 

5) Exclusivity is a powerful motivator.

The one thing everyone in the film seemed to grasp was that exclusivity and inclusion were powerful. And when we’re working with bloggers, one of the reasons a blog participates with brands is in part because they are flattered to be asked and recognize that the fact that they were asked heightens their own credibility. As a result, if you ask everyone to participate, you’ve asked no one. You can’t have an insiders club, for example, that is open to everyone.

Think about how well this works for beta launches for Gmail and other sites. The question of whether you can even get in the door can be a motivator.

Do note that this is not a good strategy for mass appeal social campaigns that rely on social spread, but for certain tactics like blog outreach, it’s an important part of the psychology.

6) Ideas are cheap. Execution isn’t.

Winklevoss twinsThe Winklevoss twins (or Winklevi) had an idea that they took from Friendster and MySpace. And then got mad when Mark allegedly took it from them. But the fact of that matter is that execution is the differentiator.

Why does one video contest succeed and one not? Why does one cause campaign fail and one succeed? It comes down to execution. You have to get the idea exactly right and then the details of that idea.

Did you put the share button in right place, is the functionality in all the right places, is there a compelling reason for sharing, do you have the right calls to action post share, do you get that social feedback loop just right? That’s the hard work.


Long story short: It’s easy to talk about doing social media marketing, but it’s hard and getting harder to get it right. You’ve got to be quick and you’ve got to be focused. And you have to execute on a program that effectively builds your brand while connecting with your audience, all while compelling time starved folks to market for you. It’s a challenge.

But if you don’t come out of “The Social Network” feeling like hard work, smarts and drive can be pretty powerful, I think you may have missed the major theme of the film.

Can you think of any other themes that came to mind when you watched the film?

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  • Evan Phan
    Posted at 10:34h, 31 March

    sweet article Jim.

  • Evan Phan
    Posted at 10:34h, 31 March

    sweet article Jim.

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