The ROI of Social Broadcast
In 1920, radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh began the first commercial broadcast in history. Ever since, major brands have been selling their wares by transmitting messages over wide audiences. It has been, and remains, the most powerful weapon in the marketing arsenal.
One of the big benefits to the emergence of social media is that it brings that same opportunity to small businesses and even sole proprietorships. Social broadcast is not free, and it’s certainly not easy, but it can deliver impressive results.
One who has been successful with this approach is my friend Pat Gallagher, a painter who lives in Louisville, Kentucky and has used social media to broadcast himself to the insular artistic communities which are disperse and far removed from his southern home.
Pat’s Social Investment
Pat puts forth a significant amount of time promoting himself online. He says he spends about 5 hours a week, or about the same time it takes to create one of his paintings. As his work usually goes for between $500 and$1000, we can put the investment at something like $25,000 – $50,000 per year.
Most of that investment goes toward status updates on Facebook. Sometimes he gives links to a new painting, but usually they are about whatever is on his mind. His updates are sometimes heartwarming, often outrageous and, more often than not, a little bit goofy.
He also has a fan page, and a web site, Pat Gallagher.org. While none of this involves much cash, the investment in time and effort is substantial. However, for the little guy, those are often the resources that are most readily available.
The underlying gist of all of this activity, or as agency account executives like to say, the “USP”, is what Pat likes to call his journey.
It’s a great story. Pat was an unruly kid, often in trouble (which, in truth, is how we got to be good friends in the first place). Later, he became a late night radio DJ for a big station in Philadelphia. Then he met his wife, got a regular job as an HR executive and moved to Louisville.
One day while on a business trip, Pat was drinking whiskey and sketching on a pad in a hotel bar. A collector noticed him and encouraged Pat to pursue a career as an artist. With his wife’s support, he decided to make the leap and quit his day job.
How He Actually Sells Paintings
Pat has three primary sales channels:
Individual sales: Sometimes when Pat posts a painting on Facebook, someone will see it and want to buy it. He also gets direct sales intermittently from his web site.
These sales are obviously welcome and lend themselves to a fairly simple ROI calculation. However, if Pat depended on this sales channel he really would be a starving artist. His social media efforts wouldn’t be worth the bother.
Public shows: Pat can do much better with public shows, like this one at the Muhammad Ali cultural center. a major venue in the champ’s hometown. Not only can he sell paintings at public shows, but he gets publicity from the events as well. That leads to more friends and fans on Facebook who Pat can reach out to with his daily status updates.
Pat isn’t a professional marketer, so he doesn’t formally track the effect of public shows, but he does have a good sense that his friends, fans and page views on his web site do spike after a big show.
Private Showcases: Here’s where Pat sells most of his work. Wealthy and influential people will host private showings of his art in their homes. The potent mixture of alcohol, money and social pressure gets people’s checkbooks out faster than anything else.
These, of course are mostly the product of relationships he builds up, and certainly social media is partly responsible for his success in this area. However, the way it works is far from straightforward.
The Media Multiplier and Network Pathways to Influence
Social media is a godsend to people like Pat that opens up possibilities that were unimaginable even a decade ago. MySpace, of course, got its start as a place where bands could publicize themselves, so the medium has a long history of successfully promoting artists.
However, mass media still reigns supreme. A good newspaper article or interview on radio or TV is what sends the numbers on his site soaring and wins him fans on Facebook. Those numbers are important because, as social network theory tells us, somewhere in that multitude inevitably lies someone with a weak tie to someone else with real influence or even possibly a real live network hub.
Pat’s a world class networker and he understands, better than most, the chaotic nature of social networks. All of the talk about short heads and long tails is misplaced. In reality, both interact as part of the same ecosystem.
As I’ve written about before, truly influential people are most influenced by the people around them. Through his Facebook fans, shows and showcases he meets people who know other people who know still more people.
It was through one of these unlikely chains that Pat even sold a painting to Barak Obama. We really are just a few handshakes away from the President of the United States.
Winning Share of Synapse
In the final analysis, there’s little sense in Pat optimizing his ROI by analyzing each one of his social updates, shows and showcases and attempting to determine conversion rates. He’s not looking to win share of market, but share of synapse.
People build emotional ties to Pat through the power of his art and the story of his journey. By getting his story out there, through a combination of social and traditional media he wins a place in his consumers’ minds. Through his daily status updates, he encourages those neurons to keep firing and they strengthen every time they do.
Through shows, showcases and attending other events (he even got a coveted invite to one of those swanky inauguration parties) he cements those neural pathways even further. Eventually unlikely prospects turn into loyal followers and ultimately Pat Gallagher evangelists.
That’s where Pat’s efforts really pay off. Actions rarely produce significant ROI, but patterns of activity do. Whether you are an artist or managing a major business, it takes consistency and persistence to build a great brand.
The most important thing about any journey is that it takes you somewhere worth going. Where is yours taking you?