What Are the Best Marketers Doing with Social Media?

What Have We Learned?

When marketers made their first steps into social media, there were some casualties. We did not fully understand why our customers were there, but knowing they were there was enough of a reason to pique our interest in being there, too.

We learned over time that social media was not another broadcast medium. Many times we entered these communities with a sales orientation, talking about ourselves and peddling what we had to offer. This approach was not well received. Our formerly passive audiences had evolved into active social networks and communities. People were not congregating online to hear our sales pitches. They were there to connect and to learn, not to be sold. We had to adopt a humble stance of learning with, rather than selling to—of being participants, not peddlers.

We also learned that social media is about conversation and mutuality—give and take. To have our fingers on the pulse of our consumers’ sentiments, we needed to listen as well as to speak. To be responsive we have to live on the network, not just check in occasionally, because discussion is immediate and can take place often. Because social media is a dialogue, engagement meant that we could not dictate the terms of our interactions; we had to be prepared to lose control of the conversation. This was a hard pill to swallow for many of us who were trained in the no-surprises school of marketing—and our corporate lawyers.

As new channels and devices emerged, we learned that people’s preferences can change overnight. If we wanted to be where they were, we had to follow their lead. In short order it became clear that each of these channels has a different purpose and personality. We needed to get to know each before jumping in, so we could have an appropriate presence.

As our customers became always connected, we came to understand that we would need an omnichannel experience to match their media consumption habits. To create a seamless and consistent customer experience, our social media efforts would need to be coordinated, driven by our overall experience strategy, rather than by specific channel strategies.

We learned that if our customers were pleased with us, they would share their experiences broadly. They would help us manage our reputations, augment our customer service efforts, and optimize our marketing and innovation efforts. On the other hand, if our customers were not getting the responses they needed from our other channels—sales or customer service—they would take to the airways and make their needs known there. We are still learning to manage customer issues quickly and publicly and coordinate our efforts internally to resolve problems before asking for a higher level of involvement from our customers.

We also learned that engagement requires that our brands be accessible and have a point of view to which people can relate. We needed to drop the formality and speak personally. Today, we are empowering people throughout our organizations to connect directly with our customers, balancing broader connection with simplicity and multiple voices with a unified brand message.

We learned the hard way about transparency, about being honest, open, and empathetic. We now know that where we manufacture our products, how we treat our employees and suppliers, what we pay our top executives, and how our activities impact the environment all matter. Whereas only a handful of years ago we balked about transparency, today our concern is whether we are being transparent enough.27

What Are Marketers Doing with Social Media?

Having learned a lot over the past decade, what are marketers now able to accomplish with social media? Plenty. Social networks and communities are robust digital vehicles through which we can interact directly with our prospects and customers across the entire customer experience journey. Social networks and communities serve different purposes, however.

Through social networks we can successfully build awareness, encourage simple engagement, and garner feedback. Conversation among these loose networks follows the pattern of comment and response, with social media managers largely fostering engagement. Communities, on the other hand, are more conducive to achieving more complex goals such as capturing insight, encouraging collaboration, and fostering advocacy. Conversation in these more stable and connected communities is multidirectional; when well nurtured by experienced community managers, these discussions deepen over time, creating shared value.

Build Awareness and Generate Sales

Social media is successfully being used for brand building. To build a following for its brand, the teen-oriented fashion retailer Wet Seal hired the highly popular 16-year old influencer, Miss MeghanMakeup, to create a SnapChat story—a collection of pictures—documenting her life the weekend before Christmas. Clad in Wet Seal gear, she snapped images of herself making cookies, hanging out, and playing with her dog. The result: 9,000 new followers for the company—it had 2,000 before the weekend—and 6,000 views of the video.28 Social is also being used to tee-up sales.

Social networks produce almost double the amount of leads of traditional advertising Click To Tweet

According to HubSpot’s 2013 Inbound Marketing report, social networks produce almost double the amount of leads of traditional advertising, telemarketing, and paid search. Of the 3,000 marketers HubSpot surveyed globally, 52 percent had sourced a lead from Facebook, 43 percent of companies acquired a customer via LinkedIn or a company blog, and 36 percent from Twitter.29 Every social network is getting savvy about sales generation. Observing that when pinners find something they like on Pinterest, they are often ready to act—a trigger—Pinterest has created rich pins to make it easier for them to do so. Product pins include real-time pricing, availability, and information on where the item can be purchased. Alerts let pinners know when items have gone on sale. Of people with Pinterest accounts, 21 percent have purchased an item after viewing it on Pinterest.30

Break News in Real-Time

Organizations are using social media to disseminate news. NASA broke the news “We have ice on Mars” and @NYTimes announced the appointment of an Argentinian Cardinal as Pope on Twitter. We learned of the death of Michael Jackson and the engagement of Prince William on Twitter. The Boston Marathon bombing was first described on Twitter; traditional news sources quoted tweets in their coverage. Twitter announced its SEC filing for its initial public offering and marked the moment when its stock—TWTR—began trading on the Stock Exchange with the tweet: #Ring!31

Enhance the Product Experience

Social media can augment our brand experience. To engage with its viewers, the producers of MTV’s television series Teen Wolf launched an eight-week game on Facebook that ran in parallel with the show’s second season. Players set out to solve a murder mystery using clues revealed by the show’s characters that players “friended” on Facebook. As they unlocked exclusive photos and video, fans gained a sense of intimacy with the characters and more in-depth knowledge of the show. The game engaged the show’s existing viewers and attracted new fans. It’s success directly contributed to the show’s renewal for a third season.32

Similarly, social media can put real names, faces, and Twitter handles on our brands to create a refreshing and authentic presence. The Washington Nationals baseball team (the Nats) posts every player’s Twitter handle on the Jumbotron when he comes up to bat, encouraging fans to connect with players. The Nats also encourage fans to place themselves in the Nats’ story by uploading photos of the #Nationals to its Instagram site and to tag themselves in the official panoramic game photos.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the favorite Tin Pan Alley song, “Take Me Out to The Ball Game,” the Nats ran an American Idol–style contest in which they invited fans to vote for their favorite local singing group to lead the crowd in a rip-roaring rendition of the song during the seventh-inning stretch. They also invited fans to create a Nationals-themed video of themselves and their friends singing what has become the unofficial anthem of American baseball.

Improve Our Customer Service

Companies use social networks and communities to augment their customer service efforts. Apple has myriad customer support communities that are organized around products. As Figure 8.2 illustrates, people are encouraged to their share tips and solutions with fellow Apple product users from all around the world in these social spaces.33 Similarly, the software company Intuit has a customer-service forum for its QuickBooks finance product. Members of the online community answer about 80 percent of user’s questions.34 User comments have been the source of numerous significant changes to its software.35

Figure 8.2 Customers Share Tips and Solutions in Social Communities

Many companies (32 percent) have established dedicated Twitter accounts to manage customer inquiries and complaints.36 Within the last year, 17 percent of Americans have used social media to resolve a customer-service issue.37 Expectations are high for responsiveness for companies on Twitter; 72 percent of customers expect a response to their complaint within an hour. If companies do not meet those expectations, 38 percent feel more negative about the company and 60 percent initiate “unpleasant actions” to express their discontent.38

How are companies doing? The average response time is 4.6 hours, although times vary considerably.39 Needless to say, given the responsive nature of social media, these delayed reactions do not go over well with customers. The tweets below tell the story of a disappointed customer’s experience after receiving a half-filled taco at Taco Bell.

Two weeks later, when he still had not received a response, he tweeted once again:

Joe has not been back since and he is not alone; 55 percent of people walk away from an intended purchase because of a poor customer experience. If we are going to have a social media presence, we have to be responsive. To see how it is done when it is done well, follow Nike Support, JetBlue, Chase Support, or Nokia Care, voted the most responsive companies on Twitter.40

Crowdsource Ideas

Social media is terrific for engaging our customers and crowdsourcing content. Anyone who has watched the commercials during the Super Bowl in recent years has seen what can happen when we spark our customers’ energy, creativity, and insight. Over 20,000 people submitted ads to Doritos’ “Crash the Bowl” contest during its first six years—that is a lot of engagement. The creativity evident in the submissions has been remarkable, and fun, resulting in some of the best ads aired during this top-dollar media event.41

The Canadian television series Continuum invited its viewers to influence the final outcome of the series. The storyline of the science-fiction series features time travel and political struggle between two opposing groups wanting to influence the community’s future. Viewers were brought into the story and influenced its arc by choosing one of the opposing views—law enforcers or liberators—and then voting, sharing related videos, pictures, and comments on Facebook and Twitter to convince others of their point of view. Dedicated hashtags facilitated a robust political discussion and videos released periodically on Vine by the show’s producers fueled the conversation.42

The American rock band, Pearl Jam asked one of its superfans, who had seen them in concert more than 100 times, to determine the band’s set list for an upcoming concert. The devotee came though. After approximately 40 iterations, he created what some fans are calling the greatest Pearl Jam set list of all time.

Amplify Our Content via Influencers

The impact of word of mouth referrals is well documented. Our prospects and customers look to their friends, family, industry experts, and people they respect or admire (bloggers) to discover new things, educate themselves, and make decisions. Being able to tap into this influence network magnifies our marketing efforts. Influencers have successfully assisted in new product and service launches, event promotion, brand advocacy, and crisis management. They often help with content creation, product development, and competitive analysis as well.

When Cindy Gorden, vice president of new media and marketing partnerships at Universal Orlando Resort, was charged with announcing the launch of a new themed environment, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, her entire marketing plan consisted of reaching out to seven bloggers. The lucky seven were able to interact with the set designer of the Harry Potter movies to get a sense of what the park would bring to life—Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and even Butterbeer—and were then asked to blog about it. Within 24 hours, Universal’s site had more than 1.5 million visitors as a result of these seven blog postings. Over 350 million people from around the world eventually learned about the new attraction through supplemental news coverage.44 The story was compelling, and the bloggers influential, so that was all she needed.

Some companies are using referral-marketing programs to encourage customers to promote their brands to friends. Successful programs provide customers with a generous incentive to share and offer their friends an opportunity that they cannot get anywhere else. These offers are balanced to maintain a sense of equality among advocates and their friends. Testing and optimizing ensure the best results.

Extole, for example, develops end-to-end customer referral programs that can be shared via channels such as e-mail, social media, or a website. Personalized landing pages enhance the referral experiences for friends. For example, a brightly colored landing page may say, “Your friend, Larry, loves our brand! Any friend of Larry’s is a friend of ours, so join today and get $10 off your first order.”45 The company also provides dashboards to advocates that summarize the effectiveness of their sharing.

Listen to the Market

One of the key benefits of social media does not require us to speak at all; it involves listening, continuously monitoring what is being said online about our products, services, and experiences. Several companies have set up war rooms to be able to track feedback, run sentiment analyses, and feed insight back into the organization. Through their listening efforts, companies have gleaned important product and marketing insights. Social conversations have tipped off companies to potentially negative publicity as well as to grateful customers.
The tweet below captured the sentiment of one of Everlane’s happy customers.46 This is the kind of tweet that will make our day as marketers—and maybe sell a lot of T-shirts as well.

This content is an example of what ContentOro does for its customers…providing high-quality, relevant content from experts and their published books.

About the Authors

Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are the cowriters of this Digital Marketing guide. Larry is the CEO of Racepoint Global, an advanced marketing services firm. A globally known expert in public relations and marketing services, Larry has successfully built companies and brands and is passionate about the future of marketing. Lisa is an observer, synthesizer, and writer who draws extensively from her background in marketing and consulting. Lisa and Larry have collaborated on two guides to date, The Digital Marketer, and Everywhere: Comprehensive Strategy for the Social Media Era. To stay current on their thinking, frequent www.racepoint.com/thedigitalmarketer and follow them at @TheLarryWeber and @ljlhendo.

Buy on Amazon: The Digital Marketer: Ten New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric

28. Cotton Delo, “This Brand Hired a 16-Year Old to Build Its Following on 28.” Snapchat, AdAge.com, January 16, 2014, http://adage.com/article/digital/build-a-brand-snapchat-hire-a-16-year/291124/25. Hubspot,
29. HubSpot, 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Annual Report, http://www.stateofinboundmarketing.com/30.
30. Laurie Sullivan, “Pinterest Leads Consumers from Pin to Purchase,” MediaPost, www.mediapost.com/publications/article/171459/pinterest-leads-consumers-from-pin-to-purchase.html?edition= 45223#axzz2hk2FruAf.
31. Mashable, “9 Breaking News Tweets That Changed Twitter Forever,” October 31, 2013, mashable.com, http://mashable.com/2013/10/31/twitter-news/#gGyVmpT93aqU.
32. Brian Anthony Hernandez, “MTV’s ‘Teen Wolf’ Facebook Game Is Feast for Fans in First 5 Weeks,” Mashable (blog), http://mashable.com/2012/07/29/teen-wolf-the-hunt-facebook-game/.
33. Apple Support Communities, https://discussions.apple.com/index.jspa.
34. To see how it works, go to https://quickbooks.lc.intuit.com/.
35. Roxane Divol, David Edelman, and Hugo Sarrazin, “Demystifying Social Media,” McKinsey Insights & Publications , www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/demystifying_social_media.
36. Simply Measured, “Customer Service: What’s Working on Twitter,” https://simplymeasured.com/blog/customer-service-whats-working-on-twitter-study/#sm.0001oczeuafglefcrn31mkb9acb43.
37. Echo, “2012 Global Customer service Barometer,” http://about.americanexpress.com/news/docs/2012x/axp_2012gcsb_us.pdf.
38. Simply Measured, “Customer Service: What’s Working on Twitter.”
39. Lithium, “Consumers Will Punish Brands That Fail to Respond Quickly,” (Press Release), October 29, 2013, https://www.lithium.com/company/news-room/press-releases/2013/consumers-will-punish-brands-that-fail-to-respond-on-twitter-quickly.
40. Marion aan ’t Goor, “What Top 5 Social Brands on Twitter Are Doing Right,” Viral Blog, www.viralblog.com/social-media/what-top-5-social-brands-on-twitter-are-doing-right/.
41. Bruce Horovitz, “Doritos Going Global with Super Bowl,” USA Today,
42. Kim Vallee, “Fans Influence the Outcome of Continuum’s Season Finale,” Sidekick Labs , http://sidekicklabs.com/fans-will-determine-continuums-season-finale/.
43. Dan Hyman, “Pearl Jam Superfan Creates Band’s Setlist,” Rolling Stone,
44. Kevin Ehlinger, “Inbound Marketing—How Universal Launched Harry Potter World by Only Telling 7 People,” Th!nk Creative Digital Marketing, April 27, 2012, http://www.thinkcreativedigital.com/inbound-marketing-how-universal-launched-harry-potter-world-by-only-telling-7-people.
45. Extole, www.extole.com.
46. Everlane Unedited, Tumblr, January 2013, http://tumblr.everlane.com/post/39579159486/oh-my-goodness-this-everlane-t-shirt-feels-like,
accessed December 14, 2013.

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