One of the most powerful techniques for getting your message spread in social is one rarely talked about. I’m talking about the social ramp-up.

‘Ramp up’ is originally a business term for when a business see a sudden but anticipated market increase. When you’re involved with online- and tech startups, you often hear them discussing what different online services or networks are ‘ramping up’ at the moment.

But what is this online phenomenon? And can it be used for PR purposes?

The answer to the question if it can be used for PR is, as we shall see, undoubtedly ‘yes’. But the topic for discussion here really is if we should — or if this is a ‘black hat’ practice?

How Social Ramp-Up Works

You have all seen these ramp-ups in action and you have all been part of at least a few. But we rarely put words to what exactly is going on at the time.

Let’s say you find a new cool service on the web. You sign up, using for instance Facebook- or Twitter Connect. But the end-game for the service is to have you coming back, again and again.

How to accomplish that?

If the service sends you an email, begging for you to come back, telling you about new features and functions, new deals, campaigns or coupons, few people reacts positively to this in relation to how many that actively unsubcribes, places the sender in their spamfilters or simply decides that they don’t like that service anymore.

However, we do love ‘social signals’, i.e. when a friend of ours either interacts with our content or simply asks to become a friend, follower or fan.

This is the way, for instance, I remember to stay active on services like FourSquare. My inner narcissist gets a little bit happy every time they send me an email, telling me that someone has decided to start following me. I click to see who it is (and to approve the request) and there I go, opening up the app, again and again.

The ‘Add All’ Bomb Mat

Now, with access to many social graph clusters, the service can offer me a view of which of my Facebook- or Twitter friends that have already signed up and allow me to “Add All” in one clean sweep.

There’s three clever things that happens here at once:

1. The email send-out to all of these existing users isn’t chronologically decided, it’s based on a social event (me clicking, that is).

2. The service pushes me to target existing users, so they can get into the habit of using the service (by confirming new friends and followers). This tactic is much more powerful than to ask users to share to non-users.

3. When an existing user gets an email from the service, the warm fuzzy feeling of being socially popular makes it feel as if the email was sent from my friend, and not from the service.

Ramp-Up With Care

As a PR professional, I love the idea of us being a profession that works in the earned space. But when it comes to online ramp-ups, it’s just as much about clever tactics and pixel perfection as it is about the core message, the brand promise and the actual usefulness of the content.

In essence, I would say this:

Yes, we should all learn to leverage these powerful ramp-up tactics to enhance our digital PR strategies. But we must also stay strong and advise against it if we feel that we’re abusing people’s social graphs for new content and platforms that doesn’t really deserve it.