How many brands can you really be a fan of?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2012
How many brands can you really be a fan of?

You Like it, but do you really want a relationship?

To better understand social media, it helps to look at social relationships, through the eyes of an anthropologist.  In his research, Robin Dunbar discovered that because of cognitive limits, we humans can maintain no more than 150 relationships.  What does Dunbar’s Number mean in the age of Facebook fans and Twitter followers?  And how does this number affect brands competing for fans?

Gary Vaynerchuk (entrepreneur, social media expert and author of The Thank You Economy) addresses these issues in a compelling video.  By all means, watch the video, or read along for my riveting synopsis (bonus: mine comes without the distracting sound track.)

Gary V. starts by analyzing a mobile app called Path, a social network that lets you share pictures and videos.  Path uses the learnings of Dunbar’s Number: it limits your network to 150 friends.  They discovered that even within this “limited” circle, the more friends you accept, the less content you share.  As people go outside a narrow group of close friends, they start filtering or restricting.

Friendship Graph

Social media reality: The more friends you accept, the less content you share.

We know that people limit their sharing beyond a close group of friends.  How will they act with brands?  What is the commercial Dunbar Number, and how can brands build a real relationship with Facebook Fan pages?  Gary V. argues, “This is the future of marketing.”

In the early stages of Facebook, brands thought success meant getting people to Like them.  But it’s not enough to get people to merely Like your brand.  You have to work harder to engage with your audience because there will only be a handful of brands with a real relationship: “3-4-5-6 brands.”  And the way Facebook works, brand updates will only go to those consumers who engage with the brand.

Some takeaways: Getting consumers to Like your brand is just a first step.  If you’re going to be in the small circle of consideration, you need to connect deeper.  There has to be an emotional connection, or as Gary V puts it, EQ over IQ.

Stay tuned.  The commercial Dunbar Number will be one of the most important issues in social media, and business overall, for years to come.