Social Media and Ant Colonies

Dozens of articles are written daily about ways that businesses and individuals can leverage Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, and other social networks.¬†Many of these articles assume that one-size-fits-all when marketing on social networks. But for every individual or company that has successfully marketed on social networks, numerous others fail – even when supported by vast marketing budgets and expensive consultants. For example, Cisco tried to imitate Old Spice’s viral social media campaign and nobody noticed.

Why? And what do ant colonies have to do with social media and social networks?

Ants are fascinating insects. E.O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler, in their 1991 Pulitzer Winning book The Ants, described an ant colony as a superogranism Рa vast social network. The ants in the colony communicate with each other by following chemical trails left by other ants.

(Photo by aristeos)

In one sense, the strategy for success on social networks is not vastly different from the chemical trails that ants leave to guide other ants. Companies can leave digital “trails” by connecting users with each other and by engaging users in a dialogue with and about the brand. Old Spice successfully did this in their recent campaign.

If people were like ants and followed “chemical” trails, it would be easy to predict the success or failure of marketing efforts.

People are not like ants. People aren’t “programmed” to follow digital “trails” in the same way that ants follow the chemical trail left by other ants.

There are vast opportunities on social networks. They don’t all revolve around widgets, fan pages and viral videos. If you’re developing strategies to market on social networks, consider how you can differentiate yourself from others, not just in form, but in substance. Bring something new to the conversation. Find a different way to engage your customers. Develop a unique voice. Challenge yourself and your consultants to build new “trails” – like Old Spice did in their campaign – and not to merely recycle those left by others. Don’t feel compelled to do something merely because others are doing it.

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