Social media experts explain best campaign practice

Lucy Handley

One of the best things to happen this century is also one of the most troubling for marketers: the invention of social media.

Having a Facebook page open for people to comment on a product, or seeing people tweet about a brand all over the world is some marketers’ worst nightmare: they feel they have lost control of their brand. And they have. But this is part of a learning curve for today’s marketer, argue digital leaders in San Francisco.

According to the founder of social site Reddit.com, Alexis Ohanian, marketers “no longer control the message, and that’s OK”. And he should know. Reddit.com ranks websites according to popularity, and users can vote links up or down and comment accordingly. He sold the site to Condé Nast in 2006, for an undisclosed sum thought to be in the millions of dollars. Ohanian was 23 years old.

Users of Reddit.com helped to create an anti-whaling campaign for Greenpeace, but not because they were passionate wildlife campaigners, rather they voted on naming an endangered whale Mr Splashy Pants because they thought it was “cool”. While Greenpeace preferred to name the whale something more intelligent, it eventually conceded that because of the weight of the social network online, it should use the name in its campaign.

But while this loss of control could be scary for some, Ohanian says it is a huge opportunity. Speaking at a conference in San Francisco last week, he said: “By giving more control and authority to your users they will surprise and impress you.”

Those worried about negative feedback from unsatisfied customers should get things in perspective and realise that to invite feedback is to be willing to get your hands dirty over social media, which marketers probably have no choice but to do.

Marketers shouldn’t think that social media is something they should be in charge of within a business. Letting all staff members communicate with customers via Twitter could be very effective.

“If [you or others] see people ranting about your brand most reasonable people will see it and just realise they are crazy – especially if they are ranting in capital letters”, Ohanian said.

And marketers shouldn’t think that social media is something they should be in charge of within a business. Letting all staff members communicate with customers via Twitter could be very effective.

“Most companies have set the bar so incredibly low online that any conversation will be [appreciated by the consumer]… Give employees the power to make someone’s day. Whether comments are good or bad they are all opportunities to win someone over,” said Ohanian.

And yes, this may mean hiring more staff to monitor conversations and react to them, or it could just mean giving current employees a few guidelines then letting them get on with it. Last April PepsiCo set up a ’Mission Control’ for its Gatorade brand in the States, which monitors conversations 24/7 and uses the insights to shape new products or campaigns.

If you don’t have the cash for that kind of operation, simply typing your brand’s URL into backtype.com will provide a basic graph of Twitter and other social activity over the last few months.

According to Ohanian, the people who are really important to continue the conversation with are those who love your brand. “It is so important to make sure you don’t only just have a great product, it’s important to absolutely adore people who like the product and hold them up on a pedestal and say thank you so much,” he says.

Ford used its adorers to launch its Fiesta Movement car in the States last year using 100 ’socially vibrant’ people, who talked about it online, resulting in 40 million Twitter impressions and 130,000 registrations on FiestaMovement.com even before the launch happened. But more importantly, Ford claims that sales conversions from test drives were ten times what they would have been for a traditional launch.

Social media can be used cleverly and often very cost effectively to launch products, by finding the people who are your biggest brand advocates online. But learning to relinquish control is the key to success. So get out there and try it.

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