Two days before Christmas, my wife lost her wedding ring. She was distraught. In a desperate bid to find it, I turned to what I know best and asked my social media networks for help. And it provided compelling evidence of some of the things I’ve been telling businesses over the last year or two.
But before we get to that, let me explain the circumstances that led to my wife’s ring going missing.
Michelle takes a weekly pole fitness class and had put her ring in her bag while she was exercising (rings can damage the poles). She left the studio and walked across a green to where her car was parked, as she always does. But when she emptied out her bag at home, she discovered a hole in the bottom…and no wedding ring.
Having turned the house and the car upside down, a chunk of Christmas Eve was spent scouring the area around the dance studio with a friend, who kindly came out with his metal detector. But to no avail.
Just after Christmas we were able to search the inside of the studio thoroughly, and to repeat the metal detector sweep. Posters were put up, we asked around the businesses next to the studio and did anything else we could think of. But again, no joy.
And so, out of desperation more than expectation, on the evening of December 28th I sent out a couple of tweets and a Facebook post asking people to share some information on the off chance that someone might find the ring.
It was a long shot. A very long shot.
Pls help Twitter! My wife lost her wedding ring & is devastated. Pls RT this on the off chance that someone finds it pic.twitter.com/BLgF9x9bax
— Paul Sutton (@ThePaulSutton) December 28, 2015
Within a couple of hours, my message had been retweeted over 300 times and shared on Facebook over 100 times, the vast majority of which were from people I’m not connected to and don’t know.
By midday the following day there were over 700 retweets and 250 Facebook shares. More importantly than the numbers, however, was that on both channels my message was reaching the right people; people local to us. Michelle reported the loss to the police and the officer she spoke to said to her: “I’ve seen that on Facebook!” Same story at work when she mentioned it to someone she spoke to on the phone. “You’re famous!”, they told her.
The local press then got in touch, wanting to help out by running the story in the next edition as an appeal to anyone who may find it. The reporters (two of them, independently) had seen the tweets.
The ‘campaign’ (such as it was) gathered pace and, as I write this, there have been over 1100 retweets of my messages and over 370 Facebook shares. I’ve had helpful suggestions of things we could do, offers of help from people who have contacts in the immediate vicinity and, bizarrely, even a conversation with former Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader about it:
What can we learn from this?
1. Humanity is alive and well. After a troubling year where, due to the violent extremism of the minority, many started to question whether goodwill to all men was on the wane, this perhaps provides evidence that we still have a collective capacity for empathy. In a very small way, this incident is heartwarming.
2. I’ve said to many businesses over the last year that social media users are just people, and that people respond to emotive content. If you want your content to move (and you really should) then you need to play to emotions such as pride, joy, surprise and awe. Or in this case, compassion.
3. Alongside that, while I’d love to believe that 1500 people have shared my plea for help completely unselfishly, I’m not naive enough to believe that’s entirely the case. Reciprocal altruism, where we expect something in return for the kindness we show to others, even if that’s something as simple as looking good, is as alive and well as empathy. In social media, businesses have to be prepared to give in order to receive.
4. Contrary to the opinions of some, it is entirely possible to reach niche audiences through social media if your message is relevant enough. In this case, my audience was tiny; people who’d visited a specific area within a single town within a few days. I couldn’t search for people who’d walked their dog on the green or visited one of the properties in the business park, and yet I managed to reach some of them.
5. 1500 social media shares for one piece of ‘content’ is a big number. It sounds impressive, and I know many marketers and business owners who’d wet themselves if they achieved that. But shares, just like followers, are vanity metrics. They don’t necessarily mean anything at all. To close the loop you have to measure what really matters to you, whether that be conversions, leads, sales or, in this case, getting a wedding ring back.
So does this story have a happy ending?
Alas, no. Not at the moment it doesn’t. Despite all of the positivity, help and kindness we’ve been shown, we haven’t found the ring. Like I said, it was a very long shot.
Michelle is devastated.
I can replace her wedding ring, but it won’t be the same. We’ve been through an awful lot in the seven years we’ve been married and there is a lot of emotion, sentiment, memory and significance tied up in the platinum and diamond band I put on my wife’s finger on September 25th 2008.
In social media marketing terms, the ROI of the ‘campaign’ is zero. And maybe, at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing of all.