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The 20-to-1 Rule of Social Media

Want better results from social media? Stop selling and start giving.
The 20-to-1 rule in social media marketing
photo by Steven Depolo

"Trust Agents"

In the inaugural issue of Build, we presented a list of the top 100 leadership blogs, courtesy of Frode Heimen’s “Never Mind the Manager” blog. Number two on Heimen’s list was the blog of leadership expert Michael Hyatt, where we recently found a gem of a post on social media strategy.

Hyatt has developed what he calls the the 20-to-1 rule, a convincing and refreshingly unscientific take on how to make Twitter and Facebook work for you:

Chris Brogan posted a video review of his new Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 carry-on bag,” writes Hyatt. “I happened to be in the market for some new carry-on luggage, and Chris is someone whose opinion I respect — especially since I know he is such a road warrior. I immediately went onto the Eagle Creek Web site, found a local retailer, and bought one that afternoon. (I love it, by the way!)

“Chris wasn’t trying to sell me. He wasn’t engaged in marketing — at least, not in a traditional sense. He was simply being helpful by sharing something that he believed was valuable. And, because I trust Chris’ opinion, I took his advice and bought the luggage he recommended. This is how social media marketing works. You have to jettison the old interruption-based, traditional marketing model. It just doesn’t work any more.

“But Chris wasn’t asking me for anything. In fact, he rarely asks for a commitment from his followers or blog readers. Instead, he faithfully gives to his audience, day after day. He practices digital generosity. As a result, when he does ask for something, his followers and fans respond.

“This phenomenon is what I have come to call the 20-to-1 rule. It represents a ratio. It means that you have to make 20 relational deposits for every marketing withdrawal. This isn’t science. I don’t have any hard, empirical evidence to prove it.

“But I have observed that if you just keep asking people to do something — buy your book, come to our conference, sign up for our cause — without making adequate deposits, they will begin ignoring you. Eventually, they will unfollow you and disconnect from your updates.”

Hyatt admits to a lack of empirical evidence, but there is social media research buttressing his arguments. In an MIT Sloan Management Review article called “How to Get Your Messages Retweeted,” authors Arvind Malhotra, Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra and Alan See offer this key finding: “Humanize your brand. Show that you are about more than just selling products.”

This conclusion goes hand-in-hand with one of Hyatt’s opening lines: “Chris wasn’t trying to sell me.”


If you enjoyed Hyatt's 20-to-1 rule, you'll really love his post, "How to Become a Twitter Ninja in Less Than 30 Minutes a Day." Hyatt has more than 110,000 followers, and adds 73 new followers per day.

Chris Brogan is President of Human Business Works, helping "(mostly larger) companies with customer acquisition and community nurturing." He is also the co-author with Julien Smith of a book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust (Wiley, 2010)

The MIT Sloan Management Review article on "How to Get Your Messages Retweeted" is just the latest in Professor Arvind Malhotra's oeuvre on topics such as social media and digital innovations.

Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra was quoted recently in the Charlotte Observer about how increased debit card fees are unlikely to cause customers to leave their banks. Both Malhotras are professors at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

As for Alan See, he is CMO and Vice President at Berry Network, Inc., a specialized marketing agency and a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. Sports fans will enjoy his blog post, "8 Steps for Building Customer Bonds", which uses the annual Army vs. Navy football game as a jumping-off point.

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