Meet the Social Marketing Startup Behind eBay, Marc Jacobs, 20th Century Fox

Many forms of media are passive. People watch television; they read newspapers; but on social media sites, they talk. That’s why marketers can’t just broadcast a message to reach their audiences on the social Web – they need to get in on the conversation.

Recently, brands like eBay, Marc Jacobs, and 20th Century Fox have turned to a social media experience platform called BumeBox to get their customers talking about them on Twitter. Here, BumeBox CEO (and former Zappos employee) Jon Fahrner explains how to host a branded social media event.

Fahrner’s last venture, an online fashion boutique called Moxsie, made waves when the buyers started tweeting previews from fashion events and letting their customers vote on their inventory. “Moxsie was a spark of what I’m doing now,” he in a phone interview.

Founded in May 2011, BumeBox also uses social media for “taking exclusive events and making them inclusive,” said Fahrner. During Fashion Week in New York City, the company created a Twitter conversation around Marc Jacobs’ live runway show. People who weren’t able to attend the event could still catch glimpses of the designer’s new line and talk about it through a special Twitter feed embedded on the Marc Jacobs site.

Fahrner calls his platform “the anti-widget” because all of the events are well-branded and don’t take users outside of the site to participate. “The problem for brands is that if you offer them a widget that’s the same as a blogger’s, they’re not going to want it,” he said. “They need to have something highly personalized.”

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, the online auction site eBay needed a way to make a widely-celebrated holiday seem more personal. “Everyone has a mom,” Fahrner pointed out. So eBay invited five mommy bloggers to moderate a Mother’s Day chat party where the shoppers could talk about their moms and get gift ideas.

Using the hashtag #ebaymom to direct the conversation, the company encouraged conversation by asking open-ended questions, showing videos, and offering incentives like tweeting @ebay during the chat party for a chance to win a $25 gift card.

The live chats have worked well for eBay during other holidays like Valentine’s Day and at events like the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach.

BumeBox reported that in past events, more than 75 percent of the tweets referenced the eBay brand, eBay product, or the intent to buy; the remaining 25 percent were questions or conversations among peers. During a a chat about toys, for instance, there was a 30-plus tweet thread that mentioned over 40 board games.

BumeBox caps off the conversation once the event is over, but the results are saved in the archives for reference.

Community management is another important aspect of hosting live Twitter events. During the chats, BumeBox uses an algorithm to moderate comments that are offensive or off-topic. The algorithm can also weed out spammers by analyzing all the profiles and blocking the ones that look suspicious, like active users who don’t have any followers. “Spammers don’t live long,” Fahrner said.

For 20th Century Fox, BumeBox followed the cast of Titanic 3D down the red carpet at the premiere in London.”Where’s Leo?” the fans in the Twitter box demanded to know when DiCaprio failed to show up for the event – and some weren’t that polite about it. Fifteen years after its first release, the Academy Award-winning film has some die-hard fans.

But companies should use the filters in moderation. “The smart brands understand that negative feedback is necessary,” explained Fahrner.

He cited the time when Zappos first offered its signature free shipping (both ways) on all orders. “We were so worried that people would abuse it,” Fahrner recalled. “But most people don’t have the time or the energy to do it.”

Even with clear branding and careful moderation, the Twitter chat will – and should – take on a life of its own. Said Fahrner, a good Twitter event captures the “mood, feeling, and nuances of the community.”