The Power of Social Gravity

Social Gravity

Jeff Cann, Former Contributor

This post originally appeared on iMedia Connection.

GravityThere’s an irony inherent in modern marketing — when you’ve done your job well, it actually becomes less necessary. You are no longer initiating tons of interactions with your customers, because they’re initiating them instead. This is the concept of social gravity, and you can see it exemplified by a number of the brands we love — Zappos, Hubspot, and Apple.

Social gravity isn’t a new concept. The term that was coined in the Harvard Business Review to refer to those companies with such strong brand followings that it feels like they’re pulling customers into their orbit. The opposite of this would be brands who are shouting on social media and still can’t get customers to give them the time of day. For every one company with social gravity, there are 10 who fall into the latter category.

Social gravity hasn’t actually changed over the last few years since the idea was introduced; the hallmarks of a brand which exemplifies the concept remain the same — providing value, utility, and an environment for community to thrive. What has changed are the data and science used to approach the subject.

So how does a brand develop a high degree of social gravity? The top five things marketers can do to up their social game are:

Take advantage of the opportunity technology provides to be dynamic (think Google’s Doodle). Interactivity is a great way to create stickiness.

Arguably one of the most overused words in social, “engage” is really just a fancy way of saying talk to your customers in all the channels they want to use! It’s overused, sure, but it’s impossible to overstate.

Your company is the sum of all the awesome people who work for you. Share the story of the people that make you special. Customers like to interact with real people they identify with.

Provide value
The golden rule of social gravity. Draw customers in by providing value to their lives in the form of helpful, interesting content, insider information, deals, or community.

Be a good corporate citizen
When your customers feel like you’re giving back to the community you share, they feel good about engaging with you.

They key is to build a community centered around value and utility. One of the earliest and most successful examples of this is Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter. The site provides valuable (some might say essential) information and an environment where parents and expecting parents can learn from and ask questions of the community.

BabyCenter has been very successful extending engagement across apps, social media channels, and e-mail. The fact that J&J’s association with these properties is subtle makes the pull even stronger. The content and the platform unlock the opportunity, but the community itself drives the experience. Their customers, in other words, are doing the heavy lifting for them.

So, you might be wondering, how can social data help brands increase their social gravity?

The power of data science and the social graph lies in offering brands powerful, efficient ways to grow community size and engagement. There are three core dimensions where social intelligence can drive community engagement and growth:

Community mapping

Successful marketers don’t just understand the demographics, behavior, and preferences of their own online community; they have insight into the broader networked landscape. When we look at conversations around the Fitbit, for example, we can clearly see the natural communities that have formed around the Fitbit ecosystem, some of which Fitbit is already connected to, some of which they are not. By understanding who these communities are, what they are talking about, and who the connectors are, Fitbit can dramatically increase its reach and spread.

Topic mapping

Groups and subgroups often connect around specific topical themes and the more relevant a brand can be the better. Going back to our Fitbit example, clear communities have formed around the Fitbit’s use in sports versus daily casual activities and sleep. Understanding the dynamics and interests within communities makes for deeper relationships and more targeted communications. Finding the highly connected, topical influencers and engaging with relevant content and value can spark activity, like increased reach, retweets, reblogs, and the like.


Influencers have always been an important part of any brand’s strategy, but the conventional tools available have now evolved. Context is key to understanding an influencer’s impact on the subject in question — regardless of followers, a person may be well regarded in the field of sports nutrition but have little influence when it comes to cars. A second key element missing from traditional influencer tools is the idea that certain people can regularly spark and drastically accelerate the spread of content.  By analyzing the spread of content through networks we can now identify who these people are. With the vast amounts of data available today and the significant analytics capabilities of today’s tools, there’s no reason for brands not to understand the context of their influencers and to target the most influential among them.

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