The Secret Sauce of a Successful Social Media Campaign


The comic Dilbert initially took off because Sarah Gillespie, the very first editor, was married to a real-life Dilbert – an engineer from IMB who wore short-sleeve white button-up shirt with pens in the pocket.

Sarah could relate to the cute drawing like no one else at the time – all other syndication companies rejected Scott Adam’s work.

Dilebert robots in management


I am, of course, not discrediting all the hard work Scott Adams performed, I am just omitting it for the purpose of this particular blog. You can read more about this story in his book or blog online.

For the first few years, Dilbert had a lot of trouble getting any large metropolitan newspapers to pick it up. You really need your first big paper on board before the rest risk to invest with you.

This is very similar in career and business – once you have a big name on your resume or website ‘clients’ page it’s astounding how many people want to work with you. Thankfully, this is not true in dating and no one asks you to pull out your ex’s portfolio for evaluation of your relationship worthiness.

One day an employee of Boston Globe , whose job included suggesting new comics to senior management, went on a holiday with her husband. She was driving. Her husband was next to her. And so was the Dilbert sales pack. The husband picked it up and started to laugh. She didn’t enjoy Dilbert herself but trusted her husband. The Dilbert’s Boston Globe sale was closed.

Dilbert’s sales in western United States were really low which was a bit of a mystery to the cartoonist himself for some time. Later he’d learnt that the sales rep just wasn’t a comic’s fan and so he kept the Dilbert in his suitcase showing other comics to the papers. One day, on the road, he died of a heart attack in a hotel. A new sales rep loved Dilbert and sales sky rocketed since.

Why am I telling you all this?

Online marketing, including social media, is lot like our offline world.

Over the course of my work with different businesses, big and small, I’ve noticed that overall expectations {of online marketing} are something along the lines of becoming the today’s Gilbert within the first 3-6 months of getting on Facebook.

It’s a great marketing tool, everybody says, so where are my sales!?

Marketing The Marketing 

I believe, marketers like myself, are partially at fault for the slightly distorted reality causing the expectations to hurt.

There is a reason for it though.

If you knew that there was a Giant Aubergine in space that started all the life on Earth and tried to share the amazing knowledge with everyone {given you have proof of some sort}, it is possible that people will think you’re crazy because the common knowledge that there is no space or Aubegines and Earth is drifting through the vacuum of water. I know, crazy, but stick with me for a moment.

If your strategy is to tell everyone how stupid they are because they are not willing to listen to your evidence {you know you are right!}, chances are you’ve lost your audience and now put into a mental institution.

However, if you understood why the no space theory is popular {lack of education? authority? parasite in their brains?} appealing to the believers’ feelings and emotions, you could deploy a long term strategy of gaining trust and swinging votes.

Marketers call themselves gurus and claim to know where the fountain of youth is and how to easily get there. We use many strong and smart words such as ‘ROI’, ‘attribution models’, ‘engagement rate’, ‘business growth’ and ‘sales’ next to ‘online’ and ‘social media marketing’ aligning the two somehow making them synonyms.

This is, of course, what marketing is in itself – creating the context prospects can relate to {or at least understand}, using the words they value and getting everyone excited about the upcoming work together – this is what Dale Carnegie would call persuasion. Although sounds like a dirty word to some, this is what we all do all the time trying to get your partner to go to your parents’ house on Sunday instead of watching that game, trying to get your boss to approve a new strategy, get your kid to brush their teeth or a new client – to trust your business.

Making it Happen

Online marketing, especially social media, is lot like our offline world.

Out of 2 billion people on Facebook, what are the odds that the right prospect notices the right content on one of your channels while being in the right state of mind to engage with it and form the right kind of bond with your brand right when you posted it or when it was served to them?

Nobody likes these odds {they are not so good} so we are trying to beat them by studying the right prospects, designing the right content and paying Facebook to show it to more of the right kind of people – it all increases our odds.

The Dilbert’s humble beginning seems to contain a chain of lucky event. However, it is only true if you are the type of person who sees luck everywhere. If Scott Adams didn’t put it right there in front of us we might have continued thinking that this was his pure genius that made him a famous cartoonist. Again, I am not discrediting his hard work or talent, I am merely pointing out that there is a lot more that goes into a successful social media strategy than just a few sponsored ads on Facebook.

A Goodie Bag 

A few things a marketing guru might have are their experience, connections, knowledge of the systems and tools and fearless desire to test and try. Marketers will know where to find the data required, will use their past experience to deploy social media marketing campaigns, their past experience will guide them enabling swiftly to adjust or change the course entirely when and if required. Marketers know the right tools or at least know where to find them or who to ask for help. Gurus or not, marketers have the focus and the passion that others are ready to pay for.

There are a few moving parts – people, mainly, and their feelings, emotions, desires, circumstances, beliefs and attitudes.

The more precise your targeting the more control you have over moving parts; however they will always be moving.

Show Me The Light not Your Shiny Butt 

I am a firm supporter of this crazy idea of nurturing your online following and working on becoming their friends.

If you start your marketing planning from your following and work it backwards you are more likely to deploy a more successful campaign than if you continue putting your business first. Your business is the solution to one (or some) of their problems; however you are not alone, unless you are living in Russia in 1985.  Often it is not about having the best solution but being a friend who people trust and prefer over others they don’t know so well.

Although Scott Adams didn’t know that Sarah Gillespie’s husband was a real-life Dilbert {so it wasn’t his marketing strategy} and it is not legal {or ethical} to kill a sales rep who isn’t doing his job well; on social media, you are able to work your odds up by giving your followers what they came for.

You are, of course, welcome to waste time showing all the amazing benefits and awards your business has or you could be working on showing that you care about people who are watching you.

I am not discrediting the value of your business’ benefits or award – both are crucial to building your authority in the space. However, these are not your prime marketing tools. No one likes a show off. So show your goodies somewhere people can access them easily and direct your effort to understanding and servicing your prospects.

What would this look like in terms of content you’d ask?

There is a very popular marketing strategy – fear.

You know the narrative:

Do you have your funeral insurance sorted? Will your children have to come up with crazy amount of money in a short period of time if something happens to you? Do you want them to be miserable? 

Maybe not in these words but you know what I mean.

When you are in your business, there is a very strong confirmational bias towards your own product so your marketing often steers towards these crazy stories.

Instead, focusing on a positive {aka making your prospects feel good} and happy outcome of dealing with your business can be a better alternative.

Let’s use our imagination.

The story goes… a happy family of three generations are dining on a sunny veranda. Everyone is laughing and smiling and drinking lemonade. Little children are running around. Elderly parents give a gentle warm look to their grown up daughter, they pass an evelope to her, holding her hand gently continue to warmly stare in her eyes, saying ‘thank you’. The daughter gently smiles back. Younger kids rush into the scene, they are hugged by the grandparents and everyone is smiling once again. A small one-liner appears on the screen revealing that the ad is about funeral insurance.

The grandparents funeral policy in the envelop is merely assumed by the viewers. They took care of their future funeral and thanking their daughter for taking care of it all when the time comes. Their gentle looks and touches make us feel warm and safe. The gestures also imply mutual understanding between the elderly parents and their adult daughter which is understood {and most importantly, felt} by the viewers.

There is no mention of the funeral policy provider (or even funeral), no papers signed, no people in suites, no sad faces, no fear… this is almost like a dream.

You take your viewers through a sweet dream making them wonder if maybe they should look into {insert your business here} as well. At the end of the day, what a lovely family it was, right.

I chose funeral insurance for my example above because it is a sensitive industry. If you are far from such trade, your story should be a tone easier to design. Think about your prospects {and customers} first and your products will shine and business grow.

Whether you choose to tell your story though social media, radio or newspapers is up to you. This is the matter of deciding on your tools.

What I really want you to remember is that your social media strategy will need to line up with your branding, PR and your business core mission and messaging.

Any business deals with people whether you call yourself B2C or B2B, people are paying you money for your products and services.

People also go on Facebook and enjoy news, cat videos, neighbors garage sale selfies, Taylor Swift’s new video, ex lovers’ check-ins, etc. If you are going to distract all that be prepared to offer something of value to them in return.

A few social media updates I think you should check out:

What is Branded Content on Facebook and Instagram and should you do it?

My interview with Margo Aaron: Digital Marketing is a Human Science.

Facebook’s Removing The Ability to Modify Link Previews.