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The Oxpecker and the Hippopotamus: A short fable about Social Media



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The Oxpecker and the Hippopotamus: A short fable about Social Media

Post by Alex on Thu 05 Jul 2012, 9:27 pm

As a company, when planning your marketing outreach, it’s always good to try to tell your story in a narrative. Sometimes that’s quite difficult to maintain; you must try to pace yourself and perhaps have some stories or news in reserve in case you run a little dry.

The explosion in social media however has dramatically helped re-shape the ability for businesses of all sizes not just to tell stories, but to gain instant feedback from their customers, and either respond by re-shaping the customer experience, product or service they deliver, or explaining more about their objectives. It’s not just about telling stories, it’s about making stories. Whether or not it enhances customer loyalty in the long run is unclear. What it does absolutely do is provide businesses with a better way of enhancing their customer service and, at the same time, enabling a customer to get a more transparent understanding of whether or not they want to be a customer of that company.

As this post is all about narrative, here’s a little story about using social media and making sure that your business remains in control of your relationship with those customers you’ve cultivated on social media. Think of it as a modern day Aesop’s Fable, if you like.

In the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa lives a species of bird called the oxpecker. Whilst its origins are not completely known, it is thought that they are related to an ancient line of mockingbirds and thrashers.

Interestingly, oxpeckers are absent from the driest deserts and the rainforests. They live in the middle ground where they forage for food in unusual places. Their distribution is restricted by the presence of their preferred prey, specific species of ticks, and the animal hosts of those ticks. Many people connect the presence of oxpeckers with hippos, thinking that there’s a mutual relationship between then.

The oxpecker bird can regularly be found sitting on the back of large mammals, not just hippopotamus, and feed exclusively off their backs, but not exclusively on ticks. Oxpeckers also feed on the earwax and dandruffs of mammals and it is suspected that this is parasitic behaviour by the oxpecker rather than for mutual benefit. Indeed, some oxpecker hosts are intolerant of their presence; elephants and some antelope will actively dislodge the oxpeckers when they land.

What on earth does this have to do with social media and customers, you may be wondering? Well, there are three things to note.

Firstly, people only seem to remember that the oxpecker sits on the hippopotamus, perhaps because it is the largest animal that they regularly feed off, when in fact they do feed off other mammals.

Secondly, that their presence is an annoyance to these animals, not a mutual relationship as was once thought. Oxpeckers are parasitic, perhaps not delivering the value to the animal that was once perceived.

Thirdly and finally, once they’ve fed, oxpeckers go back to their own nests, usually holes in trees.

Rather than a moral to this story, we can look to nature to learn some lessons in survival.

As a small business, marketing yourself online and trying to feed off other people’s marketing, be lightweight, agile and feed off a few large internet mammals like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Don’t rely on one big online monster for your free lunch, pick and choose your hosts; sometimes smaller animals (more niche networking sites) can be more rewarding, as the larger ones might be crowded.

Always be aware that you may be an irritation to your online host and that you might be thrown off at any point, leaving you with the requirement to find your customer base elsewhere. Rules can change quickly, and all of your hard work in generating content, likes, follows and fellowship can be quickly lost with a virtual shrug of the shoulders.

Don’t forget, online mammals have a lifespan too and operate in a brutal theatre; there’s always a predator or competitor of some form or other that’s either larger, higher up the food chain or faster than they are.

Finally, always, always have a bolt hole online that you can call home, a place that you own and control where you can be found. Don’t rely on sitting on the back of large mammals, least they get eaten, you end up homeless and your customers no longer know where to find you!

Source: Telnames (see here)


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