In the popular game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the contestants, stuck on a question, can use one of three ‘lifelines’ to try to get to the right answer. One of these is to ‘ask the audience’ where the people at the live filming of the show answer any question asked of them using a keypad. The contestant can then choose to follow the wisdom of the crowd or not. After 15 years of the show, the ‘ask the audience’ success rate is between 91% and 92%, compared to a 66% success rate for the ‘phone a friend’ lifeline where the contestant can phone someone they know for advice. In the US the host of the show claimed a 95% success rate for ‘ask the audience’.

This is a rather unscientific demonstration of the power of the crowd. But it makes an important point, which is that when a crowd is involved, they are unlikely to be wrong. And this is the great thing about social media. If you reach a critical mass of popularity (as beautifully described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point) where a big enough crowd adopts your product or service, then your marketing job becomes much, much easier as your customers tell other people about what you do or make and they themselves adopt it and tell their friends and so on…

However the crowd can also detect a fraud from a long way off. Businesses that try to ‘game’ the system and find a way to apply a fake veneer of credibility or desirability to what they do or make, will quickly get found out.

In fact the best thing that you can do, if you do not have something genuine to talk to your audience about, is say nothing. A backlash on social media or even a complete lack of engagement is almost certainly worse than no engagement at all. But better yet, find something or someone in your organisation to focus your social media on that will genuinely engage with your target audience – something that they will not see through because there is nothing false about it.

Obviously doing something genuine and real can be hard work. But that is why the audience appreciates it. And let’s face it, if you are getting a 95% approval rate, it has to be worth it, right? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you can always ‘ask the audience’.


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