Genghis Khan and the dawn of social marketing

The first social marketing campaign was launched on the backs of horses with short legs carrying thousands of members of the feared Mongol Horde – whose digital handle today, no doubt, would be ‘the Hordsters.’

Genghis Khan kicked off his social marketing campaign after defeating the neighboring Naimans clan in 1190. His first official action as the Chief Marketing Overlord of the newly conquered was to create a new language (Genghis was a brilliant linguist who actually created a new language) so all clans could converse and exchange ideas and recipes for ways to boil, bake, grill, cure and saute the local fare. His progressive leanings also prompted him to insist on religious tolerance, a move intended to keep the many sects in his growing empire from murdering each other over whose god was real.

The new mother-mongol tongue and a sense of shared purpose (kill anyone that doesn’t join us, like Facebook) brought all these new roommates together and allowed them to function as a cohesive and somewhat cordial society. It was the real secret to his empire-building success. That and the mongol horde’s unrivaled ability to hit targets with an arrow while at a full gallop.

Over his lifespan his 9-tail yak standard was staked across more territory than any empire in history, including that more flashy, fabulous one based in Rome. Most impressively, it endured for several hundred years. The only way that could happen is if his multitudinous clans were united by a common mission and a common language. Social marketing. Basically, the flat organization of the Mongols outperformed the top-down org of the Romans.

Social’s Prime Function is Retention

The best of social marketing becomes a powerful loyalty program.  It’s usually not a terrific traffic generator on its own. But as Genghis liberally shared captured booty with everyone in the tribe – as opposed to adopting a Noriega-style of hording – thriving social networks engage the members and share … everything. With every new connection between one person and another, the links multiply and bind the members tighter and tighter to the tribe.

As you build your community be sure to open it for all to enjoy and, with clever, simple tools, encourage them to contribute original content. Give them easy access to other sites with similar missions. Give them free, relevant and useful content. Give them fun mobile apps. Give them free archery lessons. Give them a reason to keep coming back and to recommend it to their very valuable friends.

Genghis is famously quoted as having said, “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”

Some may call that callous and cold. I call it the art of picking a lane. The guy knew what he wanted to be and never varied from his vision.

Figure out what it is you are, create a rich environment for everyone that loves your widget to come and celebrate the awesomeness of that widget, and give them infinite reasons to spread the word.

One last note: Genghis was a stickler about analytics. He always did an accurate post-campaign body count. But as removing heads and stacking them for the bean counters to add up was a heavy, laborious task, he had his minions lop off an ear and toss it into a sack. Ears all weigh about the same so he just assigned a body count to a specific sack-weight of ears. The Mongol lesson? A campaign isn’t half as effective unless the metrics are all in place.

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