When marketing in social media, try making serendipity your goal – instead of clicks, likes, followers or leads.  

When Did ‘Social’ Become ‘Media’?

I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but it bears repeating:

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn weren’t designed to be media properties.

They were actually designed as a modern replacement for old-school social networking platforms like bulletin boards, discussion forums, Usenet, and IRC chat.

That is, their primary function is to help people connect and engage with each other, to interact, to learn, to entertain and to socialize – not to browse through professionally-produced media (or ads).

We’re Doing This Wrong

But that’s not how most companies treat social “media” today, is it?

With few exceptions, the tactics we use to reach customers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are just adaptations of broadcast advertising methods designed for mass media.

For example:

  • display ads are replacing the newspaper and magazine ads of the 70’s
  • viral videos are assuming the role that sitcoms played in the 80’s
  • Facebook pages are substituting for websites developed in the 90’s
  • recruiting and renting ‘influencers’ is just a form of online affiliate marketing, developed in the 2000’s

The vast majority of “impressions” that reach people on Facebook and Twitter today are still the same-old “shout at me” display ad variety. Or worse, they are meaningless time wasters – like this experiment that went off the rails:

Coca Cola Australia’s social experiment goes flat


My point is that the marketing methods we use in social media haven’t changed all that much – but they really need to, if we want to leverage the communication power of these networks to their full advantage.

But if mass media-style marketing isn’t gonna drive traffic and sales, then what’s a marketer to do?

Should we borrow the old-school tactics used to market stuff on bulletin boards, discussion forums and IRC?

Well, YES – that would be GREAT place to start.


Learn from the Pros

Forum marketers know how to generate new business from social media.  It’s worth taking a few notes on how they do it.

Forum marketers tend to communicate in a peer to peer, one-on-one fashion with group members almost all of the time. They have a real name.  They talk to people.  Address important questions.  Help them, if they can.  Tell a joke if it’s funny.  Share interesting photos and video clips that only they could produce.  And of course, sell stuff.

Most importantly, the way they sell is quite different than the way we market on Facebook today:  they seek to generate moments of serendipity with their target customers.

Um, what did he just say?



Photo credit- Amos Nachoum / Handout

Photo credit- Amos Nachoum / Handout

Wikipedia defines serendipity as,

a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it.

Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Serendipity is that special win-win moment that happens when we truly understand our customer and his problem, and we know exactly how to help him. Our customer receives exactly what they were looking for, without any effort, and without even thinking about it. He’s truly surprised at his good fortune.  “Cool!”, he says.

Serendipity is the type of consumer experience that great brands are built upon.

So here’s the point of this post:  used correctly, social media can help you create moments of serendipity for your customers, too.  

I say this because social media connects people and organizations together around the interests, problems and solutions they care about. And, it’s a really efficient way to share information, advice and help with your market.

But how can a marketer create moments of serendipity in modern social media – in a systemic way?


Science, Chance or Art?

Let’s put some meat on the bones and look at how old-school social marketers leverage a discussion forum I love, the LotusTalk Forum, to create serendipitous moments that drive real revenue for them.

Let’s say you are a Lotus dealer who is tasked with generating traffic and sales from “social media”. How would you go about marketing your dealership and your inventory on a semi-anonymous social network like a discussion forum – or Twitter?

Well, you might want to:

share your top personal experiences

tell a joke

solve a problem

share technical information that only a Lotus Elise expert would know

or offer a hard-to-find item on a need-to-know basis

This is old-school social marketing, and it works.

Yes, the scale of forums is much smaller than Facebook, but the principles and methods are sound.

The central premise here is that you must be real, you must be part of the conversation, you must seek to help people solve problems as your primary objective.

Once you have achieved this social marketing zen, then selling becomes serendipity for your customers.


“Old School” Rules of Social Engagement

For more than 20 years, successful “social marketers” have relied upon the following best practices to generate sales from social media:

  1. Learn where and how your customers talk online.  Not just about your products and services, either.  On modern networks, look for groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and hash tags and keywords on Twitter (NeedTagger offers a third option).  There are thousands of forums and specialty social networks, too.  Creating your own community or Facebook page might also work, but it’s risky.
  2. spend days or weeks monitoring discussions before talking, i.e., listen carefully.
  3. Mix it up.  Engage in conversations regularly, often in ways that have nothing to do with selling or marketing products/services to anyone.  In other words, participate as a human being.
  4. Understand and respect the rules of the group.
  5. take time to build genuine relationships with people – and enjoy them!
  6. don’t take things too seriously; have fun.
  7. Actively look for needs that you can help with – whether they are business related or not.
  8. Interrupt conversations only when you can offer genuine value to the conversation.
  9. Always offer assistance with no strings attached.  Don’t, for example, send a prospect to a landing page to get a quick answer. Instead, share your email address, a price or a photo.  If they want a long answer found in something like an ebook or whitepaper, then landing pages are fine.
  10. after the sale, and with her permission, thank her for her business.

As you can see, creating moments of serendipity in social media is not an “art”.  There is a science to it.  A process, if you will.  It’s been done before.  You can learn how to do it, too.

Of course, in a few important ways this time it is different.  Social media is huge.  It is literally taking over the public’s attention.  Forums and IRC pale in comparison.  And there are content management elements in modern social networks that make them more media-like.

If you’re with me so far, then the biggest challenge for social marketers today boils down to:


Creating Moments of Serendipity at Twitter Scale

The volume of posts published in social media is doubling every year.  That’s why data mining, monitoring and engagement tools are important – they save you time and keep you focused on the conversations that matter.

In NeedTagger’s case, we help organizations detect conversations and expressions of need related to their content, products and services. We make it easier to approach, engage, follow and retweet people expressing needs, so a marketer can enter into a meaningful conversation with a prospect.

Other tools excel at helping large teams engage in a coordinated fashion, and still others excel at analyzing market conversations en masse, to understand what content and strategies make most sense.  All of these tools are about dealing with the enormous scale of social media.

Using tools to get more done with less is important.  But regardless of the tools you use, at the end of the day you must engage with people as a real person –  in your own authentic way.  And you must learn the rules of engagement – which are really not that new.


Serendipity: The Ultimate Goal of Social Media Marketing? by

4 Responses

  1. I loved this article. Precisely how social marketing should be and how I am approaching it. Thanks for putting this out there.


  2. It is serendipity that brought me to this post. This is precisely what I have been trying to tell people and it is why I love social media. I have connected to the most amazing people and I connect to them at the ‘right time’.
    Thank you for this post.
    All the best, Jo