Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seattle’s Social Media Marketing All-Stars Share Their Secrets

Social media marketing being the “it” topic among marketers in 2009, it is no surprise that the fall workshop and seminar season has kicked off with numerous events focused on social media marketing. Within a span of 10 days, no less than 5 organizations in Seattle (at least those I knew about) hosted events that brought together subject matter experts to share insights and observations on social media marketing. I was able to attend three of these and in general all of the speakers I heard and met were excellent and had powerful insights to share. To follow are some of the top takeaways from each:

Notwithstanding the fire drill that ensued in the middle of the presentations (literally), Seattle Direct Marketing Association hosted the first, and what in many ways was probably the best event, of the three that I attended. The speakers were not only informative, but each gave helpful case studies, stats and recommendations for tools, processes and tactics that really gave everyone in attendance a lot to walk away with—and put immediately into action.

Social Media as a powerful Customer Communications tool: Shauna Causey, Communications Director at Comcast Cable spoke eloquently about Comcast’s proactive efforts to engage and inform it’s “community” of customers through twitter updates. Using twitter as another communication outlet to enhance both customer service and community relations, Causey reviewed the benefits social media marketing played in offsetting potential negative repercussions for the brand.

Within minutes of learning of the outage, Comcast posted twitter alerts that immediately hit customer’s desktops and hand held devices and, throughout the several hours when service was down, Causey’s team sent updates throughout the day keeping it’s followers informed and thereby reducing the stress of customers -- and staffers-- effected by the outage. Causey also cited the benefits to Comcast’s bottom line: rather than fielding a spike in phone calls to Comcast’s phone center, Comcast was able to shift a meaningful a percentage of potential customer calls (there are over 700 followers for @WA_Comcast) away from the call centers reducing the diversion of man-hours (aka overtime hours) typically associated with a service outage response.

Causey also cited social media’s benefits in helping to quickly network with reporters and analysts who cover Comcast and keep them informed of activities at the company without having to resort to time intensive media briefings and traditional press releases. (side note: in all the workshops, the subject of social media marketing for B2B was always raised by audience members. While not referenced by this panel, Causey’s example of managing business contacts in her role in PR and corporate communications is a direct example of how B2B marketers can leverage social media. More below.)

Based on posts in recent days, Comcast has also successfully integrated social media marketing in its recruitment efforts helping accelerate pace of identifying qualified applicants and avoiding (or at least reducing) recruitment costs.

Messaging - Getting the right mix: Social media’s value on community are well suited to the core brand values of outdoor equipment retailer REI. Natalie Crain, Internet Marketing Manager, REI uses social media to “engage, participate, listen and respond” to its fans and followers on Facebook and twitter. The benefits to the brand are measured not in additional site traffic or direct sales, but rather in loyalty to the REI brand and creating evangelists among it’s members (REI is a Co-Op).

REI’s team of 10 digital marketing professionals (not all of whom focus on social media) enjoy broad support from senior managers to fulfill this mission. Crain’s instruction to her team is to provide fans and followers with a mix of messages that run about 75% “community focus” (recent twitter posts include information about weekend bike races, bag recycling programs, non-profit organizations, photo contests, etc) and 25% “brand and event focus” (eg: sales, in-store events, “deal of the day”, etc). The 75/25 messaging mix was echoed by several other speakers during the “trifecta” and appears to be a best practice among social media marketers regardless of the specific brand at play. With over 10,000 followers on twitter, clearly REI has struck upon an effective mix.

Be in the Relationship business: PCC Natural Markets is a popular local Seattle grocery business, but according to Ricardo Rabago, Social Media Specialist, “PCC is really in the relationship business. We just happen to sell groceries.” Using this credo, Rabago uses social media to maintain and grow the relationships it enjoys with its customers. Rather than pushing specific specials or offers, Tweets typically focus on recipes, meal suggestions and seasonal foods. A recent post on the sudden availability of Copper River salmon, a seasonal delicacy here in the Northwest, created an instant spike in sales. Leveraging geo-targeting capabilities in Facebook, PCC promoted an event at its Edmonds, WA store. Over a busy weekend over 7,000 people turned out resulting in 20% lift in store sales. For a recent kayak promotion REI used similar techniques to target it’s fans in the San Diego region and quickly sold out of the product.

Popular Third Party Tools: In a round up by Blake Cahill who served as an excellent moderator for the event, the panelists listed these as their favorite tools that help them manage their social medial marketing activities:

Twittersearch, CoTweet (manage multiple users on a single twitter account), Google Reader (to place twitter RSS feeds and archive up to 2 years of tweets), Radian6 (social media brand monitor and measurement), Tweety and Tweetdeck.

Why should you care? The next of my trio of events took me to the recently remodeled (lovely BTW) Hyatt Hotel in Bellevue, WA for an event hosted by my colleagues at MIT Enterprise Forum. The panel of assembled experts led of their discussion trying to answer this question.

Eric Picard, Advertising Technology Advisor to the Advertising Platform Engineering team at Microsoft Corporation succinctly stated “it’s where the conversations are happening.” Brands must participate, or at least listen, to these conversations lest they lose control of the conversation that ultimately craft perceptions and reactions to their brand. A simple example of how conversations influence brand and revenues, Picard cited the example of local restaurant Monsoon who clearly understand the benefits of social media marketing. Leveraging both the behavioral and geo targeting capabilities of Facebook, Monsoon delivered a display ad to Picard’s FB page. Intrigued, Picard followed the link. Expecting to be taken to a landing page or website, Monsoon had the display ad to its FB page where Picard could learn not only about the restraurant itself, but als o see first had the user generated comments displted on Monsoon’s FB “wall." Before he knew it Picard spent 10 minutes engaged with this brand and couldn’t wait to book a reservation for dinner where just a few minutes ago he didn’t even know he was hungry.

(Side note: if you need further evidence as a marketer as to “why,” do check out this short video. Maybe I’ve just drunk the kool-aid.
But if after seeing this video, if you are a marketer and are still asking “why?” let me know.

The Right Way & The Wrong Way: Jim Watson, Senior Vice President, Managing Director at Razorfish, shared with the MITEF audience one of the most humorous and engaging examples of brands who are getting it right. Entertainment Arts, publisher of the highly successful Tiger Woods PGA video game, was taken to task by a customer who thought it was humorous to come upon an episode in the game where Tiger Woods appears to walk on water to execute a shot during the game. Assuming it was an engineering glitch, the user videotaped the game “malfunction” (there some conjecture that EA intentionally engineered the glitch for humor and/or PR) and posted a video to YouTube titled “The Jesus Shot.” The video quickly garnered several hundred thousand views. Upon seeing the video, EA smartly recognized a viral media opportunity and produced the following video:

After posting a direct response” to Levinator25’s video above, EA’s version has received almost 4million views to date. Watson praised EA not only for the ingenious creativity in the response, but for also being saavy to the culture of social media and for not taking themselves too seriously. Short hand: humor sells.

Contrast EA’s saavy use of social media with the recent episode of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s attempt at using a corporate blog as a bully pulpit air (what many of his customers construed as) controversial views on the health care legislation in Congress. Customers were so incensed that they began organizing—via social networks--
boycott’s of Whole Foods stores. Picard points out that while Mackey has every right as a private citizen to air his views, his miscalculation was to pivot those views against the brand values of Whole Foods causing customers to revolt.

Moving the dial: Does having 3 million fans on Coke’s FB page really sell more Coke? Probably not. However, unlike global brands who often invest in social media simply in effort to be good brand stewards, small businesses have a much better shot at actually moving the dial on their business by leverage the power of social media.

In addition to the Monsoon example, Mike Weaver, VP New Business Development at MRM Worldwide, shared a case study about CAPCOM. A game publisher based in Japan, CAPCOM had insight to its customer passionate interest in the characters depicted in their games. Three months prior to the game’s release CAPCOM created several short videos that share the back story of each character and posted them to YouTube. 700,000 views later, CAPCOM had a sure hit on its hand creating lots of demand for the product among both existing fans and new customers. Larger brands certainly have success stories to share (Virgin America posting coupons on twitter to sell more seats), but agile small businesses can really make some hay with smart social media marketing programs.

Many Voices = Authentic: Brands often struggle with giving up control when considering social media as a forum for engaging with customers. Watson however cites Best Buy’s “twerpforce” campaign as both a willingness to forgoe control in pursuit of a higher objective: customer loyalty. By empowering it’s most knowledgeable experts to engage directly with customers via twitter to answer questions about products sold at Best Buy, the brand, gets the dual benefit of earning important social media “cred” while also offering customers value and utility. In contrast, a brand that doesn’t let go of some control doesn’t add much value and hence begs the question as to why deploy social media campaigns in the first place? Weaver used the example of CNN taking its own twitter feed and simply displaying as a ticker at the bottom of the screen during broadcast. “Where’s the value in that?” says Weaver.

Be willing to experiment: Implicit in social media marketing, experimentation means being open to making and learning from your mistakes. The last of the three sessions I attended culminated with a virtuoso performance from Jim Watson, of Razorfish . Using the expanded format of a keynote address to The Executive Network of Seattle, Jim shared case studies of brands that understood the terms of experimentation. In support of it’s “Code Blue” campaign, Coors Light built and released an iPhone app enabling users to send a “Code Blue” alert (aka text message) to all of their social media drinking buddies (aka young men) to meet at the local bar. While Coors designed a cool app with seemingly a lot of social-friendly hooks, what they misjudged was the app's lack of utility and as a result failed to generate a lot buzz.

Learning from this experiment, Coors launched a modified version of the campaign that not only provided the texting utility, but added social media functionality to include in the “Code Blue” alert information about which bars had the most ladies present. For Coor’s core audience, this added utility put the app on the map and beer in the belly.

The Coors project also served as an example for Watson to remind us that "
social behavior is nothing new, but the toolset is” and marketers should exploit the knowledge we have of consumer behavior.

During Watson's presentation he shared four guidelines that served as a coda in many ways for all the presentations I heard these last 10 days, for all marketers to consider when deploying social media:

1) Focus thinking on behavior and create opportunities for sharing, connecting and influencing. Levi's “Project 501” tied behavior (18 - 25 y.o, fashion-forward women’s interest in d.i.y. fashion) into a social media campaign. Results: 36% of the participants in Project 501 learned about the campaign through social media as compared to the 30% of participants who learned about the campaign through t.v. Moreover by exercising it’s social media chops, Levi's attracted a highy desireable audience segment to it’s brand – one they had previous difficulty breaking through to.

2) Do something worth talking about: Simply tweeting or launching a FB page doesn’t equate to success in social media. Virgin America is successful at attracting thousands of followers and fans because they are offering a truly distinctive travel experience.

3) Create utility: Whenever possible create something that people already like to do, and do it better, easier or faster. Nike saw that runners liked to listen to music when they run so they created Nike+ so consumers could have more utility from the products they were already interested in—and tell their friends about it.

4) Don't forget to listen: Success often comes from listening and then deciding how to respond. As referenced above, Whole Foods CEO might have gotten it wrong at first, but how the company responded to the crisis perhaps holds them in a more respected position by their customers.

What about B2B? With a room full of C-level execs many of whom operate in the B2B realm, one of the first audience questions Watson fielded was "What techniques could B2B marketers implement to take advantage of social media?" In essence Watson re-iterated the guidelines above, but submitted that B2B was not an area of expertise. Having successfully leveraged social media techniques in my work over the last several years in the B2B space, in the collegial environment of TENS, I offer some suggestions where I have seen results:

1.) Establish credentials as a thought-leader: Blogs, white papers and speaking engagements distributed thorough social networks, B2B marketers can quickly establish credentials as a thought-leader resulting (typically) in more qualified traffic and leads for your sales team.

Give generously:
Engage with social media communities not with the thought “what can we get from them?” but rather “what can we give today?” Offering your target audience real value (eg: recruiting tips, financial advice, guest blogging opportunities, white papers, tips, tricks, etc), interspersed with the occasional self-referential promotion will gain you not only followers and fans, but followers and fans who actually share your interests and therefore more likely to buy your product or service.

Less is more:
B2B is often about targeting the “right” prospects not the “most.” Identify social networks where your prospects live. LinkedIn’s powerful business networking utility, is often overlooked by marketers for it’s very effective capabilities of targeting groups and individuals who should be buying your product or service. Using the various search utilities in twitter, it is quite possible to cut through a lot of the noise we see on twitter and zero in on qualified, if not prospects, at least suspects and drive traffic to your site where they can further self-qualify.

Well, it was quite a 10 days. I’m certainly richer for it and already applying many of the tools and techniques these "all stars" so generously shared with me. This blog post is my small way of thanking them and paying it forward. Hope you’ll do the same.

What best social media marketing best practices are using? Please share your comments below.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer Journal: Thriving in Seattle

As Labor Day loomed this past weekend, I couldn't help but take stock of all the projects and activities that consumed my summer and my prevailing thought was “Wow! What a great summer!” In contrast the WSJ weekend edition plopped on my porch with a lead story by Joe Queenan that gives the summer of ’09 a thorough drubbing in his article “The Summer of Our Discontent”

While one person’s summer is not a measure of the zeitgeist, I feel compelled to balance the editorial scales and suggest to Mr. Queenan and his readers that one’s summer memories should not be tabulated nor defined merely by the sum of external events, but rather by the pro-active action and creativity of the individual.

In large part my summer was so enjoyable precisely because as the days grew longer and the temperatures raised ever higher, in parallel multiple strands of my life, work and interests (and those of my family, friends and colleagues) began to merge into a wonderful set of inter-related activities creating congruency between the personal and the professional and, as a result, all the more fulfilling. To follow then is my recipe for how I created a very memorable and thoroughly enjoyable summer:

Coming into Focus: Photography and Photographers

Photography was a thread throughout the summer connecting people, places and events. The summer kicked off with an evening I helped organize to showcase to buyers new work from mutliple photographers at the ASPP West Chapter meeting. The event not only re-connected me with working photographers, both current and former colleagues and old friends whose new work I had not had the privilege to see, but also awakened in me a dormant need to go out and create new images.

Frank Veronsky’s images of fashion and reportage in particular resonated with me. I was also struck by Frank’s generosity in launching digital photography workshops in his home state of NJ to support learning and creativity of student photographers and it encouraged me to think how I might do the same. I subsequently organized the first photo safari to document the Ballard Sunday Farmer's Market amongst some friends and fellow-photo enthusiasts who were interested in learning from each other on how to create better pictures and expand their range of photo taking skills.

The early results of this first outing are visible here. Given the success of this first initiative the group is now discussing the possibility of taking on a long term project that could result in a group show, website, book or ……

Projects, Inspiration and Pausing to Ask/Listen
A real highlight of the summer was having the opportunity to work with the team at Glow Images to launch a new image portal website at the HOW Design Conference.

A centerpiece of the product launch is the new Glow Images Marketplace which offers designers a new resource of professional stock photographs with prices starting as low as $1. Needless to say, given the quality of the images and the over 4 million fresh photos to choose from, the launch at HOW was a big success. But again, business aside, the most memorable part of HOW was the designers I met on the show floor, in the seminars, galleries and after-show parties. I wrote extensively about the show highlights in the Glow Images Blog.

Surrounded by literally a sea of some of the most creative designers on the planet, one could not help to be inspired to act, create, and deliver. Of the many inspirations were the creative variety of business cards I collected from designers I met at the show. After seeing what these creative minds were able to create with this humble medium, I took the initiative to avail myself of the services of and designed a set of new cards that feature a selection of my photographs. The feedback from folks I've given them to thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. If you see me, be sure to ask for one!

While spending a good chunk of the summer supporting the launch of a new website for Glow, I paused long enough to reflect upon the many decisions -- both strategic and tactical— marketers and business owners are required to consider when building a successful site. This question led me to a terrific set of informative conversations where I probed this topic with respected colleagues and new contacts alike.

Ric Peterson, a professional photographer and instructor at UW and Art Institute of Seattle has been diligently at work the last few months re-configuring his web presence. Over a pleasant lunch in Seattle’s Occidental Plaza, Ric shared his thoughts about the role of the web site as a lynchpin that not only does a good job communicating to customers the breadth and depth of his work, but as importantly, connects and optimizes traffic flow to and from social media sites where Ric is an active participant.

As you might expect, since re-launching the site this summer, Ric’s strategy and investment is paying off with a 5x increase in traffic resulting in more work and opportunities coming his way.

Stewart McCullough, owner of Montana Banana Website Design and Development, provided some terrific advice in what it takes to succeed on the web: Keep it simple.

Through his own example, Stewart owns the domain and launched a web-based business built around this common, yet very engaging product.

Easy navigation, simple graphics, and concise descriptions make for a very effective e-commerce experience. A strong reminder that in the drive to innovate, simplicity is an oft forgotten virtue that adds tremendous value.

And then there was BING!
When Microsoft launched bing their new “decision engine” I was immediately taken with the simple, yet effective design of their home page. I was especially pleased to see photography play such a central role in establishing a unique brand identity for bing.

Far from the sterile (and I would say boring) all white interface of Google, bing offers users a daily dose of dazzling photography and engages visitors to scroll over quick facts and figures about the particular place depicted. On bing’s first week after launch, I was delighted to see several images featured from the collection of friend and collaborator Danita Delimont.

Even better still I was delighted to see the relevant results I was getting from my searches.

As advertised, bing delivers more than search results, but often reveals relevant facts and related resources that I find of added value.

E.g.: Earlier this summer I searched bing for directions to a recital hall to see my daughter’s dance troupe. Not only did bing retrieve accurate driving directions for me, but alongside the directions, displayed a list of nearby restaurants, shops and other services. Anticipating that we might be hungry after the performance, and not being familiar with eating establishments in Shoreline, WA, bing suggested several restaurants, along with user comments pulled in from yelp, and voila! we were off to a terrific dinner after the show. Firefox’s open source community quickly released a bing toolbar widget and now bing is my default “decision engine”.

Moreover, as a marketer and buyer of online advertising, I was also delighted to see how quickly bing drove traffic to the websites I was managing giving me yet another channel to affect customer acquisition, promotions and branding.

You can take it with you!

While launching Glow at HOW I was thrilled to see another client I’ve been working with this year generate new business creating viral videos for Microsoft.

The creative team at VMCreative did a fabulous job taking a fairly dry and arcane message (helping IT managers understand how Windows 7 Virtual PC will run legacy apps smoothly) and turning into a heart warming story.

Check out the latest work from VMCreative and pass it on!

The Enterprise Strikes - Again
After a successful engagement serving as team mentor for a dinner program on the "Future of Advertising" with MIT Enterprise Forum last January, I was asked again to lead a team to put on a dinner program tentatively titled “The Future of News Gathering and Distribution.”

During the closing weeks of the summer, this project has put me in touch with executives and thought leaders from media and technology companies all focused on bring to reality the future of news. For a preview of the complex set of issues facing news organizations today, take a look at this thoroughly engaging discussion presented by the Aspen Institute:

There is almost no business sector or demographic that will not be impacted by the changes taking shape in how we gather, distribute, share, and consume news. If you are in Seattle, mark your calendar for November 18th . This is gonna be a good one. More details on speakers and out issues summary in the weeks ahead, but suffice to say kicking off this project is yet another milestone that makes this summer one for the books.

But all work and no play...
In between crafting and executing marketing strategy, consulting projects, site launches, conferences, event planning and work, work, work I was not going to let this once-in-a lifetime Seattle summer (beginning in May we had 92 consecutive days of sunshine) get away from me. Fortunately, I managed to get out to enjoy the weather and achieve some personal milestones that really make this summer one to remember:

Going Low
I set a goal at the beginning of the season to consistently break 100 – my low round this summer was 94. Most progress was the short game and getting the drives (more) consistently in the fairway. Oh and let’s not forget the inspiration Tom “Terrific” Watson provided all golfers at this summer’s British Open.

The Great Outdoors
Thanks to my daughters, the last few years I’ve re-kindled my love for camping. Not the bring along the RV/trailer, but real roll-out the sleeping bags, put up the tent camping. Well, okay so the cooler was in the back hatch of the SUV a few yards from the campsite. Inspired by my dear friend Carlos' visit to Seattle, we set out for the Olympic Peninsula for a long weekend camping trip with our friend Tom. The weather was gorgeous and nearly matched the impeccable scenery that typifies the Great Pacific Northwest. But it was the camraderie of good friends, taking pictures and creating new memories that ranks this excursion really high on my "all-time buddy trips" list.

Beaching it
My idea of vacation is put me on a beach with warm water and sunny skies. Few places deliver on these criteria than the Jersey Shore. Add in a group of loving family and dear friends and I had a perfect week of pure relaxation.

Family, Friends and More
As I said at the top of this post, ultimately what made the summer of 2009 so very special was the co-mingling of work and pleasure with family, friends and colleagues. This summer I was blessed with an abundance of all. Here are just a few of the smiles I managed to capture along the way.

Add into these highlights, a July 4th parade and neighborhood block party (the 52nd annual) Bastille Day celebrations, lazy weekends at the pool, Julie & Julia, great books ("The Looming Tower" "City of Thieves", "Free: The Future of a Radical Price"), BatMitzvah celebration, recording three-hours of video interviews with my parents, numerous barbecues, making home made blackberry jam from handpicked berries and, did I already mention lots of really fun golf?, together with friends and family, we created one heckuva terrific summer.

Sorry Mr. Queenan that summer was such a disappointment. I respectfully disagree.