WTF is “Social Share of Voice”?

McKayla Maroney is not impressed by Social Share of Voice

McKayla Maroney is not impressed by Social Share of Voice

There’s a sneaky tendency in social media marketing circles to misappropriate terms from other areas of marketing, and pretend that they are the same thing. We’ve probably all been guilty of it at some point, so this isn’t so much a criticism as an observation. Here’s a case in point:

In traditional marketing terms, a brand’s Share of Voice might be defined as its share of advertising weight within its competitive set. It can be used as an input in the planning process — for example, to decide on the likely most effective timing for marketing activity.

Whereas in social media terms, a brand’s Share of Voice is nothing more than its share of category brand mentions. If you’re interested, here’s a post from social media listening tool Radian6 that neatly sets out the commonly-accepted Social Share of Voice process.

To put it differently: Share of Voice is something brands (through their own efforts) achieve, whereas Social Share of Voice is something that they have thrust upon them.


Social Share of Voice (we could call it “Share of Mentions”, I suppose) is most often used as an outcome: I’d hazard that it’s a performance indicator on a majority of social media marketing programmes, possibly even your own. It’s crept into more than a few of mine.

I bring this contradiction up to remind us of the key challenge faced by traditional marketers in Social Media:

The Key Challenge of Social Media

Brands are no longer vying for Share of Voice with competitive brands , but with the people formerly known as “the audience”

In communications terms, the “democratising” effect of social media means that brands’ voices may be drowned out by those of their advocates or detractors. A brand community manager addressing a complaint in a third-party public forum speaks with no more (and even perhaps less) authority than any other contributor.

In social media, Coca Cola’s $2.9bn version of their brand truth is no more or less compelling than any one of their individual brand-mentioners.

If we take this Social Share of Voice hoo-hah seriously, it would seem that Brands must abandon the hopeless project of “speaking with one voice” and instead do something new.

Perhaps brands need to recruit choirs of public voices to sing in harmony with their own.

Because as it turns out, that is the key opportunity of social media.

The Key Opportunity of Social Media

People are more interested in what their friends say about brands than they are in what brands say about themselves. Finally we may have a way to manage this at scale.

Much it gratifies me to contradict the wooliness of social media orthodoxy, social media marketing has very little to do with the careful accumulation and management of “fans.”

Instead, it has everything to do with reaching through a brand’s consumers to talk to their friends (or “social graph”.) Why?

Our primary job is to get into the News Feed

What is the job of social media marketing planners? I’d argue that — at its simplest — it’s to get (back) into the news feed.

Here’s why. If we strip social media marketing back to its first principles, people are sufficiently entertained by, gripped by, and engaged with stories that are shared by their friends and broader social graph that they will spend many hours of their active media consumption on services like Facebook and Twitter. And — fortunately for us — they are more readily persuaded by the conscious and — more importantly — unconscious signals they receive from their social environment (“people like me”, “friends”.)

Another principle (perhaps a second principle?) might be that — when a mass market audience is confronted by the information overload of the internet — the “surfing” metaphor gives way to the “gossip” metaphor.

This changing media behaviour often has the effect of filtering out brand messages. Our job, as I say, is to get back in there.

What is the best way to get into the news feed?

There are several ways we can cut through into the news feed. In order from least to most efficient, here are three:

  1. Accumulate subscribers, earn the right to appear in their newsfeeds through the careful optimisation of post content and timing
  2. Pay to place (Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr — among others — are developing what John Battelle calls native advertising formats that let us do this), or
  3. Use people’s existing social behaviours as a channel through which we can reach a wider audience with an “endorsed” brand message.

I’m most fond of the third option; but it’s the hardest one to get my head around.

 So why are “Fans” important?

Returning to an earlier theme, another term that social media marketers have misappropriated is the concept of a “fan”. When we first started talking about fans half a decade or more ago, fans were a real thing; they could be identified by their fan-like behaviour. That’s no longer true.

These days, fans aren’t fans: they’re just subscribers. Or “followers”. We need to stop thinking of them the way we used to; instead we need to think of them as we might do RSS subscribers (remember those?) or email newsletter subscribers.

 Alright, Mr Pedantic: why are followers important?

Why do followers matter? Not because they buy more. As one client pointed out in the middle of a proud post campaign analysis session, “Even if all these people went out tomorrow and bought another [unit] it wouldn’t make a difference to our P&L.”

Followers matter because they can be used as advocates.

The Social Media goal is advocacy, not engaged fans.

If we can’t convert our fans into “moments of advocacy” then we’re doing it wrong. That’s just (inefficient) CRM.

More on that in another post, I think.

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