3 Social Marketing Communication Methods: When & How to Use Them

Marketing is often divided into three types of communication: One-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many. To a great extent, these have evolved in sequence, changing as communications technology evolved. But that doesn’t mean that we have arrived at a single best solution.

Charting the Past and Present

marketing-many-to-manyAt one time, most marketing consisted primarily of one-to-one communication: Traveling sales representatives made the case for their product on a one-to-one and door-to-door basis. One brand of beauty products was so well known for exploiting this sales channel that the medium itself became the basis of a marketing slogan: “Avon calling!”

As mass media evolved, marketing moved into the one-to-many mode with print and later broadcast advertising. New developments in technology allowed marketers to reach millions with a single campaign that involved popular publications along with radio and television advertising and sponsorship. Even the World Wide Web began as a one-to-many medium, in which site owners produced content for a mass audience, but frequently did little to interact with that audience directly.

Now in today’s Internet, many-to-many marketing has come of age. Social networking and viral marketing enlists the assistance of customers and other contacts to spread the word in ways that one-to-many marketing never could.

Media for many-to-many communication include blogs, wikis, online forums, file sharing (including photo, podcast, and video sharing sites), as well as the usual Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn networks. Although word-of-mouth marketing has been around since the beginning, the web has expanded that power exponentially.

Reversing Evolution

Today, you can still find marketers debating the relative merits of one-to-one vs. one-to-many vs. many-to-many marketing. But the reality is that marketers can’t afford to favor one mode over another. Instead, the savvy marketer will exploit all three, working backward on the evolutionary scale starting with a many-to-many campaign and ultimately ending with one on one.

To understand how this approach would work, consider a common case, that of a webinar to promote your service or product.

  • Phase 1: Many-to-many. Start by promoting the webinar on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You might also want to post a promo on YouTube and promote it in a relevant blog. To maximize efficiency, use tools that let you automate some of these processes such as scheduling Twitter posts and post on multiple networks at once.
  • Phase 2: One-to-many. While many-to-many communication spreads the word about your webinar, the webinar itself uses the older one-to-many mode with the speaker addressing whatever audience you’ve been able to muster. Afterward, report on the webinar on your website. Post it on YouTube and related sites. Follow up with a newsletter to your contact database, recapping webinar highlights and reinforcing its message. In all cases, of course, you include links back to the related page on your own site.
  • Phase 3: One to one. Reach out to individual attendees. Send them a personalized email. Schedule a follow up meeting or demo with a sales representative. Take time to meet new prospects face to face. And continue to nurture longtime customers to ensure their continued loyalty. One-to-one marketing doesn’t mean each contact has to be a one-off. But the more you can customize your message for individual contacts, the more they will feel your personal touch.

5 Tips for Using the Right Communication Method

Savvy marketers use all three modes of communication. But how do you know the right time and the best way to use each? Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Align communication mode with purchase stage. To achieve maximum success, align the communication mode with the stage of the prospect in the purchase. For example, prospects in the early stages of the cycle are less likely to respond favorably to one-to-one communication, while prospects in later stages of the purchase cycle will more likely require that personal touch.
  2. Align communication mode with channel, tactics. Not all communication methods are appropriate for every channel and marketing tactic. For example, although you can certainly call each of your leads to personally invite them to a webinar (one-to-one communication), an ad on your site or a mass email (one-to-many communication) would be much more effective and smart. On the other hand, some channels allow for multiple communication methods, and you should be leveraging all of them. Example: Use Twitter to reach the masses (one-to-many and many-to-many) but also DM specific users (one-to-one communication) when appropriate. Choose the mode of communication on these channels that will most efficiently achieve your goal.
  3. Align communication mode with goals. As a rule of thumb, one-to-many is best for generating awareness and building your brand, many-to-many is for word-of-mouth and building reputation through referrals, and one-to-one is for driving purchase decision and eliciting action.
  4. Let the prospect choose. In many cases, you can and should offer all three modes and let the prospects decide which one suits them. For example, you might post and promote an engaging YouTube video that includes a number to call for one-on-one details. When you make all three modes available, prospects will use the ones that suit their personality, taste and stage in the purchase cycle.
  5. Use tools that make one-to-many look and feel like one-to-one. Personalized emails are already a mainstream tactic used by most marketers, but the development of marketing automation tools in the last few years let you do more than just put the first name of the prospect in the email. Use visitor and lead intelligence tools to tailor the messages you communicate based on the prospects’ profile and behavior. Use re-targeting services to stay top of mind even when prospect leave your site. Use Facebook insights and Twitter’s promoted products platform to leverage many-to-many methods in the most personalized way possible.


In the hype over social media marketing, it’s easy to overlook the advantages of older approaches. A smart and thorough campaign will start with many-to-many marketing, but not end there. Following up with one-to-many promotion and one-to-one sales and nurturing to ensure the greatest coverage for your message and ultimately the best bang for your marketing resources.

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