Harnessing the Gravitational Pull of Social Objects to Create Word-of-Mouth

David Johnson VP, Partner, 3GEngagement

Posted on March 9th 2012

Harnessing the Gravitational Pull of Social Objects to Create Word-of-Mouth

What are social objects? A social object is a conversation piece that inherently generates conversation and action around itself. A social object can be just about anything, it can be a news piece, a cause such as ending world hunger, a passion such as the love one has for their favorite football team, or even a lifestyle such as surfing.

A great example of a social object, one that we are all familiar with, is the iPhone. Have you seen the number of forums and groups dedicated to iPhone owners? There are thousands of them, all based around the iPhone, and there are literally hundreds of conversations going on right now about them. I’ve seen conversations happen between complete strangers surrounding the ever present device and its many apps.

All social objects have 3 things in common, they are:

  1. Conversational: people want to talk and have conversations with other people connected with the social object.
  2. Brings People Together: people want to be around other people that are connected with the social object. They feel part of a community, that they belong with each other.
  3. Talk Worthy: people feel the desire to tell other people, who may not know about the social object, so that they, in turn, become part of the community.

When a person, place, thing or idea has all three of these things, it will grow bigger due to rampant word-of-mouth and the growth of community. There are two main types of social objects out there. The first is the actual brand, businesses such as Nike and Apple, Ford and even open source software such as WordPress. All of these command attention and get people talking, each one, in and of themselves is talk worthy and they bring people together.

Most business don’t have a strong enough brand whereas their product or business demands the kind of attention that really gets people talking. In that case it’s best to take a look at the product or service they sell and figure out what their customers are interested in, this is the second type of social object, one that already has an engaged community around it, let me give you an example.

Recently, I had the pleasure of consulting with a company called Magna Manufacturing, who manufactures and sells EPS foam based products, such as their LoBoy Foam Cooler. Most of us are familiar with those cheap, easily broken foam coolers but what Magna Manufacturing brings to the table, with its Loboy brand, is something totally different. Their foam coolers, while a couple dollars more, aren’t easily broken at all, in fact they have a few images on their site of a truck resting on the tops of these coolers, needless to say their product trumps the competition. So, how would we use the idea behind harnessing the power of social objects, around a product that people don’t put much thought into? Easy, we take a look at what the coolers are used for and we identify with the ways they are used. In other words we ask ourselves three questions:

  1. What social causes can be supported by the use of our EPS foam coolers?
  2. What lifestyles are supported or made easier through the use of our EPS foam coolers?
  3. What are our customers passionate about that relate to the use of our EPS foam coolers?

It’s in the answers to those question about social causes, lifestyles and passions that help us to identify a number of different social objects, that we are able to connect around. Let’s go ahead and answer them now so that you get a better idea of how to discover your own social objects.

What social causes can be supported by the use of our EPS foam coolers?

Since Loboy coolers are stronger, more durable and don’t leak, Magna Manufacturing can donate a few hundred coolers to the Red Cross for domestic disaster relief. If you’ve ever been in a disaster area (I was during Hurricane Ivan and Dennis in Pensacola Fl.) you know the importance of ice and keeping things cold when there is no electricity for weeks at a time. So, Loboy can connect with groups, which there are hundreds of, that are dedicated to helping people in the U.S with disaster relief.

What lifestyles are supported or made easier through the use of our EPS foam coolers?

Fishing can be both a lifestyle and a weekend hobby, for those that it’s a lifestyle for, they are a tight knit group that loves to talk fish! Since Loboy coolers are made for life and not just the weekend they are a perfect complement to a fisherman’s already wide repertoire of equipment. I remember going finishing with my grandfather growing up, each week we would stop by the bait shop, grab some ice, along with a foam cooler or two before heading out to sea. Usually, at the end of the day the coolers were either leaking or broken and we would just throw them away.

What are our customers passionate about that relate to the use of our EPS foam coolers?

Easiest question of all to answer… sports! People are passionate about their teams, game watching parties and tailgating! There are many ways to connect with this social object, one that comes to mind would be to throw a tailgating party and invite people for free to partake of all the grilled goodness with cold drinks available in Loboy coolers!

It’s important to note that when connecting around social objects that you don’t use it as a way to pitch your product, rather as way to connect with, and become part of the community, by giving to it, not taking away. By connecting with the passion, cause or lifestyle related to the use of your product or service you are better able to identify with your customer and thus influence both new sales and word-of-mouth like never before. Remember, a social object is inherently talk worthy and if you, as a business owner, are able to promote the cause, passion, or lifestyle that your product or service promotes then you are well on your way to becoming synonymous with that particular social object. In other words YOU become more conversational, talk worthy, and gravitational.

In a future post I will be discussing how to connect along side a social cause, in the mean time, what are some social objects that you envision your business connecting around?


David Johnson

VP, Partner, 3GEngagement

Next to my family and my faith, social marketing is my passion. I blog about how business and social purpose intersect in order to grow your bottom line.

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