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How to Win Friends and Influence People

What brands are doing for their social followers
  • September 10 2012

Making friends is easy. Keeping them? That’s the hard part.

That’s the conundrum facing many major brands as they move more and more of their marketing dollars to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and other social media platforms. There’s little doubt that interacting with consumers socially is good for the brands—at least when the interaction is positive. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. companies are currently using social networks as part of their marketing mix, according to eMarketer, up from around 70 percent two years ago. But with everyone jumping in to join the social conversation, what can marketers do to stand out?

Many brands already have succeeded in building a critical mass of people to follow them via social. On the extreme, Coca-Cola is by far the most popular brand on Facebook with more than 50 million likes, and products such as Oreos, Skittles and Pringles have upwards of 20 million Facebook fans. Its more typical for well-known consumer brands to have several hundred thousand Facebook likes—such as the 680,000 fans of Clorox or the 300,000 fans of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies—still sizable followings.

Now brands need to find ways to interact with these fans effectively. This is a whole new world of marketing where—at least for the moment—engagement trumps the short-term financial benefit. Marketers are working hard to crack the code of social communications, exploring ways to use earned, owned and paid media to find out what really works with consumers who follow their brands. Their goal, naturally, is to get consumers to activate and spread their brand message.

Experimentation can come at a cost. While there have been many successes, there have also been high-profile fails where the social conversation turned against a brand’s expectations. Consider McDonald’s #McDStories hashtag promotion which was deluged with negative tweets. Or the Facebook promotion to send the rapper Pitbull to the most friended Walmart store, which pranksters hijacked so the celebrity was sent to the outlet in Kodiak, AK.

All this raises the question of what being a friend of a brand really means. People are glad to interact with brands they like. But it is still a consumer relationship, not an actual friendship. “If you want to be realistic, there are not a lot of people who want to be friends with your brand,” says Frank Speiser, CEO of SocialFlow, whose software helps brands and publishers optimize when they serve up social content and ads.

In fact, many brands are finding that it’s less about how many followers they have, but who those followers actually are. It is more important for them to have a cadre of extremely loyal social media friends than an army of fair-weather followers. Those active friends are the most likely to amplify the brand message by sharing it with their networks. Plus, by analyzing the social graph of these consumers, brands are getting a more accurate picture of the likes and preferences of their most valuable customers.

“We are less concerned with likes and followers,” says Adam Kmiec, global head of digital marketing & social media at Campbell Soup Co.  “I’m more interested in the [consumer behavior] data we can glean.”

As a result, social media is becoming a more critical part of brand marketing budgets. According to The CMO Survey from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, social media spending accounted for about 7.4 percent of marketing budgets in early 2012, but within the year, marketers expect to spend 10.8 percent of their budgets on social. Within the next five years, social media will account for nearly 20 percent of marketing budgets, the study found.

Spending on social media advertising is expected to climb dramatically. BIA/Kelsey 2012 annual forecast estimates it will rise from $4.7 billion in 2012 to $8.3 billion in 2015.

But social remains an undeveloped marketing medium is search of sustainable practices. It’s not simply a matter of duplicating what worked in the past in terms of fan and follower engagement, since what worked a month ago may not work today. Which means marketers are continuing to experiment to discover tactics that both are effective and repeatable.


The Social Olympics

Few events have demonstrated the impact of social media more than the London Olympics. It wasn’t just to interact with athletes or share about the events. For sponsors, social played a key role in reinforcing their brand message and aligning them more closely with the event and the athletes.

Every major campaign contained some kind of social media extension that urged consumers to interact more deeply with the brands. Coca-Cola encouraged fans to share music videos. GE encouraged viewers to improve their health. Visa urged fans to cheer for their favorite athletes. P&G enhanced its “Thanks Mom” spots with online videos, tweets and content that the company contends gives it a better return that its TV ads.

Kellogg’s ran its first Olympic creative in 20 years during the London opening ceremonies. The “From Great Starts Come Great Things” spot—featuring swimmer Rebecca Soni—served as the centerpiece of a corporate branding campaign designed to engage consumers via social channels. In fact, according to analysis by AddThis, Kellogg’s had the second greatest increase in social media mentions during the games (behind yogurt maker Chobani).

“We viscerally understand that the idea has to be activated within the marketplace,” explains Jon Suarez-Davis, senior director, global digital strategy at Kellogg Company. “We need to get social to amplify and engage consumers and get their voice into the brand,” he adds. “The common currency is content.”

In general, Kellogg’s segments its social efforts around specific brands—separate Facebook or Twitter feeds for Rice Krispies, Pop-Tarts or Pringles, for example, all with their own brand voices and followings. But the overall strategy is the same, says Suarez-Davis. “We have three levers to pull. First, we respond to what consumers post. Second, we amplify the conversations they have with us by featuring them across different social platforms. Third, we incorporate what they say back into our digital paid media, such as putting an image someone posts into our display units.”

Kellogg’s, he adds, uses a paid/owned/earned model around all social efforts. It looks at social media platforms as owned media, and the conversations as earned. It then incorporates comments from earned back into its display ads, which the company believes makes its ads more likely to raise awareness and purchase intent, he says.

“To get to our ROI, we have to show strong results in using social platforms for our paid media,” Suarez-Davis says. “What we don’t have yet is a true ROI on earned media. Instead, we use a return on objectives such as the volume of followers or the quality of the engagement.”


Managing 2 Million Friends

Farmers Insurance Group has more than 2 million fans on Facebook, thanks, in large part, to a promotion it did a year ago with Zynga’s FarmVille game that helped it build its critical mass. Despite this enormous number of fans, Farmers is continually looking for ways to connect with its audience through small gestures that humanize the brand, since people don’t really think of insurance as a friend, says Ryon Harms, director of social media for Farmers.

“Insurance is a commodity,” he says “People don’t want to connect with a logo but with a face.”

Along those lines, Farmers used its Facebook page to share a photo from one of its agents of a sign he saw at a local baseball field that begins, “He’s just a little boy” and reminds parents to keep some perspective when watching a little league game. The post spread like wildfire, almost immediately generating some 15,000 interactions, half of which were shares. To capitalize on the popularity, Farmers had 1,500 of the signs printed and shipped out to fans who volunteered to post them at their local ball field.

Similarly, Farmers posted a photo of a casket company’s truck that had the message: “Don’t text and drive. Yours may be on the next shipment.” Within a week, the image received 100,000 likes, comments and shares. Harms estimates it reached 2.5 million people and will serve as the foundation for more conversation about the issue of texting and driving.

On Twitter, the company has been actively promoting the #Farmers5 hashtag to enhance the impact of its sponsorship of NASCAR driver ​Kasey Kahne. The goal, says Harms, is to give fans a stronger way to connect with Kahne—with Farmers as the conduit.

While none of these initiatives directly sells insurance, Harms believes they work for Farmers because “they strike a chord with our fans.” Farmers is not yet looking for a direct return on its social media investment, he says. Instead, “We’re in the process of trying to define the relationship with our fans.”

For Farmers, the journey to social media ROI won’t come from its corporate efforts, but from its network of insurance agents that sells its policies. Harms’ group has been working with these independent business owners to help them set up a social media presence that is more about local community involvement and personality than the benefits of insurance coverage. The strategy is straightforward: On social, marketing needs to focus more on the people who deliver the product and less on the product itself. “We have to teach the agents to be their authentic selves,” Harms says.


Creating Social Advocates

Method, a maker of eco-friendly, chicly designed household and personal care products, has long depended on advocates to get the word out about its slightly offbeat brand. So when the 11-year-old company started its first global brand campaign—Clean Happy—earlier this year, it launched it exclusively on social media channels with a media budget of $0 as a way to build word-of-mouth buzz.

“I don’t believe traditional media is dead, but we can’t afford to go there yet,” says Eric Ryan, Method’s cofounder and chief brand architect.

At the center of the campaign is a 90-second brand anthem video set to the song “Young Blood” from indie rockers The Naked and Famous; it features several bright and quirky images, including a drum and bugle corps dressed all in white, a skateboarder doing tricks in a giant sink, and a light installation made up of thousands of Method’s bottles. Monthly music videos showcase different Method products. All are distributed through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Method’s blogger network, and include links to offers on Method’s Facebook page. The campaign was created by San Francisco agency Mekanism.

The goal of the campaign has been to introduce Method to new friends and followers online and reinforce the brand identity and product portfolio with Method users. So far it has succeeded in broadening its social media base—in the first five months of the campaign, Method has seen its number of Facebook followers increase from 50,000 to 300,000, says Ryan. He expects that figure to hit 500,000 by the start of 2013.

Still, in a market where competitors like Procter & Gamble can spend $150 million launching a single product like Tide Pods, Method has to use social to create a multi-dimensional story that appeals to its core fans and can spread to new ones. “I wish we had their money, but that’s our reality,” says Ryan. “We have to make soap interesting. Our brand is experiential. It comes to life when it is about selling a better cleaning experience.“

That’s why social media can give a smaller brand like Method a leg up on its giant competitors, Ryan contends. “The brands we compete against thrive in a 30-second spot world,” he says. “Brands [like ours] that have stories to tell have an advantage [on social media].”

The key, explains Ryan, is to focus social media content on shared values and engage with followers in a voice that lets them know they matter. “I would argue that people who are friends [with our brand] are friends with our mission,” he notes. “Some people in our community are design fanatics. Others are environmentalists. We talk about what’s culturally relevant in their lives. If they believe in the mission, there are things we can do that others can’t.”


Gaining Insights

At Campbell Soup Co., social media is less about expanding its base of followers and more about what information it can glean from those it already has.

Kmiec, its global head of digital marketing & social media, sees the true value of social coming from the instant, honest feedback the company is able to get directly from consumers. “I would love to have large numbers of followers,” he says. “But I’m more interested in the consumer behavior and how they drive business results.” By engaging over social media, Campbell’s is able to better identify food trends, adjust content and ultimately focus its marketing dollars on what’s most important to consumers.

This will be critical over the coming months as Campbell’s introduces some 50 new products this fall. These include Campbell’s Go Soup—a new brand that is packaged in a microwavable pouch and comes in exotic flavors like smoked gouda, Moroccan chicken and coconut curry—and Campbell Skillet Sauces, all part of a broader product innovation initiative.

“We’re going to get instant social insights,” says Kmiec. “How they like the packaging; how they like the product; where they’re buying it; how they feel about the flavor profile; who are they having it with. We’ll know if we are hitting our mark, getting real-time social insights to validate our product launch. It’s the first of its kind at Campbell.”

“It’s such a progressive approach,” he continues. “We’ll be able to combine real-time insights with actual purchase behavior. That’s what we can only do on social.”