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Popularity: the perks of pursuit

September 10, 2012


[Part 1: Popularity: the shiniest metric of all]

Popularity is power.

Our country runs on popularity, at every level from city council member all the way to the President of the United States (overlooking the Electoral College). Winning these popularity contests means controlling the government.

We spend a lot of time, money and brain power trying to make our brands popular. Being well known and well liked in the marketplace can mean bigger profits and less risk in the long run.

And we even spend time trying to become more popular online. Digital popularity has tangible benefits for people and organizations, but it can disappear quickly and lead us astray.

Let’s examine the upside to a large following …

Popularity lends an air of credibility. As much as we like to think social media democratizes all voices, not all are perceived as equal in authority. Lady Gaga is the queen of Twitter, with more than 29 million followers. Even if weed out the potential fakes, that still leaves more than 8 million followers.

When she tweets, many take it as gospel truth, even if others see her as a mere pop star.

That phenomenon may speak more to the rise of celebrity culture, but even us nobodies can grow a sizable following in social media and in email and blog subscribers. I’ve met many a mom whose opinion on anything from child’s backpack to luxury sedan carries considerable weight in her digital tribe.

Her expertise may be the foundation, but her popularity gives her substantial credibility among her peers.

Popularity extends message reach. We buy ads that will see the most traffic, whether online, in print, on a billboard or with viewers. Using a popular medium can translate into a bigger audience and, of course, a bigger bill from higher advertising rates.

It also makes it much easier to promote a cause. Marketing expert Mitch Joel has leveraged his popularity on his blog to raise money to fight cancer. In more than 3,000 posts, he has asked for something only three times. So far, he has raised nearly $9,000 from starting with a goal of $2,000.

Cultivating a bigger digital audience means spending less effort on getting a message out, whether it’s a product launch, a 3-day sale, a survey about consumer trends or a simple exercise in brand building. But it also means carefully crafting the right message. The bigger the audience, the more perfect that message must be.

Most of my digital friends keep up with me through Twitter, so I spend several hours a week crafting my tweets. I put care into those compact messages because I want them to reflect on me well and to share as much information as possible to help others.

Making those tiny statements as polished as possible ensures that they will be read, contemplated and shared. Thus, reach.

Video: U2 in an iPod ad

Popularity gives a halo effect. Having tremendous popularity makes someone cooler, taller and sexier. OK, maybe not, but they do get better treatment.

In “Steve Jobs” [aff. link], the popularity of the iPod makes for a tremendous marketing tool, not just for the device, but for the content in the iTunes Store and even for Macintosh computers.

The portable music player was so popular, it even flipped the celebrity endorsement model. For generations, movie stars and musicians hawked products for tons of money. Agencies and brands sought out popular icons to bring goods to the public.

The iPod’s promotion with Bob Dylan brought the legend a new, younger generation of music buyers who discovered him through the campaign. When U2 lead singer Bono realized this, he asked Apple and CEO Jobs to appear in the iPod commercial. For free. (The deal eventually included a percentage from the sale of limited edition U2 iPods.) Other artists also volunteered to be in the ads to get that halo effect: more sales, a hipper image, younger fans.

That halo extends to digital popularity, too. Bigger audiences can help spread the word, but they can also forgive mistakes, defend from detractors and gather information. (Crowdsourcing fails without a crowd, no?)

Chasing popularity can reap great rewards. In the end, the quality of followers matters more than the quantity, but no one says we can’t have both.

Photo: Scott Mucci (CC)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 9:35 am

    An even more surprising example of the use of “popularity” to fund a cause (and much larger $$$) is Matthew Inman, who has used his site The Oatmeal to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of weeks for Cancer Research and Wildlife Preservation. He’s done this not once but twice, most recently raising over $800,000 in less than a week for the Tesla museum in New York.


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