Content Marketing and the Birthday Paradox

You’re standing in a line waiting for a content marketing seminar with 22 other people, and to kill time, the person behind you suggests making a bet: $100 on the fact that no two people in the line share the same birthday. Would you take that bet?

Most people probably wouldn’t, considering the probability that the chances of someone else in the line having the same birthday as them would be highly unlikely, and if they did take the bet, they’d lose $100. But what if you were to learn that the probability was as high as 50% of there being a birthday match, and you stand a good chance of winning $100 if you took the bet?

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The reason most people miss the answer is that, when we think of social groups, we tend to compare ourselves only to the group and base our reasoning on that perspective. But the bet was not about how many people you share your birthday with, but how many people share the same birthday. When all 23 individual’s birthdays are compared against each other, that factor makes for many more than 22 possible comparisons.

Content Marketing – Adding it Up

Consider this: The first person has 22 comparisons to make, but the second person was already compared to the first person, so there are only 21 comparisons to make. The third person has 20 comparisons, the fourth 19, and so on.

Adding up all of the possible comparisons (22+21+20+16+ … +1) comes to a sum of 253 comparisons, or combinations. This means that in the group of 23 people, there are 253 possible birthday matches.

The formula for calculating this number in a group of any size is (n * (n-1))/2, where n represents the master number of people in the group. So, in the case of 23 people, the total number of possible birthday matches is calculated by this equation:
(23 * (23-22))/2, which equals 253 possible matches.

So what does this formula have to do with marketing communications and content marketing strategies? The answer is related to one of the most powerful components of the social landscape: sharability.

This comes most into focus when you consider a brand social feed such as Twitter, and particularly one where individuals tend to express opinions or points of view about your brand, product or service. This has particular relevance for brands who have a customer service presence on social media. But even if you don’t have a formal customer service component in your social media setup, don’t assume that individuals won’t go to social channels to express their opinions about your brand or product, because they will. And if you aren’t monitoring your social channels and responding where appropriate, you should take steps to do this right away. Read this blog post with tips on how to effectively monitor your social channels.

Let’s circle back to the math and why this important for social marketing. Let’s say you notice that someone posts a Tweet on your brand channel expressing something negative about one of your products. For example, they had a poor experience with the product and hashtagged your brand and product in the negative Tweet.

Now let’s say you pick up on this Tweet and notice that the person who posted it has 45 followers. Your first inclination (and it’s not unusual) is to ignore it, with the justification that “it’s only 45 people … not a big deal.” But wait, when you think about the birthday paradox and do the math on this Follower count – considering the inter-connectivity of all the Followers, you find that there are almost 1,000 (990 to be exact) potential contacts (or points of influence) in this person’s network who may be impacted by this Tweet. Suddenly, that’s a much bigger deal!

And let’s say for illustration purposes that this person had 10 times the followers at 450 Followers. Still not huge in the context of Follower count in the Twittersphere. But run the math: That’s over 103,000 possible connections who could have seen, and been impacted, by the Tweet!

A Final Point About Content Marketing and Social Sharing

The goal with this post is not to strike fear in the minds of those of us who want to use social media to influence brand perception and positioning. Remember that what works with negative Tweets also works for positive Tweets – a positive Tweet about your brand by someone with 450 Followers can potentially reach over 103,000 people.

The goal is to learn to think of your marketing communications outreach and efforts from an IMPACT perspective, based on the sharability component of the social web. (See this blog post on putting a brand to work for more information). And if you can get good at monitoring and managing social engagement, you might find that it becomes your most valuable marketing resource, way beyond what Paid or even Earned (PR) coverage can do.

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.

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