Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Ad Plans Include Social Media

Coca-Cola is telling Pepsi-Cola that when it comes to Super Bowl advertising, you can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Coca-Cola executives discussed how they intend to incorporate philanthropy and the social media into their Super Bowl ad plans. The social media component will come courtesy of Facebook, which is teaming up with Coca-Cola for the initiative.

Coca-Cola is scheduled to run two commercials during Super Bowl XLIV on CBS on Feb. 7. The company bought the time from CBS before Pepsi-Cola announced that it would skip the game.

Visitors to the Coca-Cola fan page on Facebook (facebook.com/livepositively) will be able to share virtual gifts with friends, after which three things are to take place:

* The gift recipients get an image of a Coke bottle that is displayed on their Facebook pages and news feed.

* The gift givers will get a 20-second sneak peek at one of the two Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercials.

* Coca-Cola will donate a dollar to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The altruistic element to be added to the Super Bowl ad effort reflects a longtime corporate philosophy “to do a little good while you’re refreshing people,” Katie Bayne, chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola North America.

The philanthropy also fits in with a Coca-Cola corporate campaign carrying the theme “Live positively,” Ms. Bayne said, which discusses subjects like recycling, as well as with the campaign for the Coca-Cola brand, which carries the theme “Open happiness.”

For Coca-Cola, the Super Bowl represents a chance “to be part of the celebration,” she added, and to “make brand-equity deposits” with the large audience expected to watch the game.

The two Coke spots during the game, created by Wieden & Kennedy, are part of the “Open happiness” campaign. One features characters from “The Simpsons” and tells a story about Montgomery Burns, Homer Simpson’s stingy boss, losing his entire fortune.

The other Coke spot in the Super Bowl, set to a version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” shows a man sleepwalking through some scary moments in the African veldt.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola have zigged and zagged their way through many Super Bowls. In the early years, both brands bought spots during the game. Coke pulled out for many years after Pepsi-Cola kept outscoring Coke in the annual USA Today Ad Meter competition, in which consumers rank their favorite Super Bowl spots.

Coke returned to the Super Bowl in 2007 and the two brands went head-to-head again that year as well as in 2008 and 2009.

Ms. Bayne and Pio Schunker, senior vice president for creative excellence — yes, that is his title — at Coca-Cola North America, showed some Coca-Cola spots that will appear during other high-profile TV events in addition to the Super Bowl. The venues will include the Daytona 500 Nascar race and the Winter Olympics.

As the Webcast ended before 2 p.m. Eastern time, Ms. Bayne noted that 2,500 virtual Coke gifts had already been given away through Facebook.

There may have been much more but Coca-Cola’s timing was off: the Webcast was up against the introduction by Apple of the iPad.

My Thoughts

Coca-Cola is smart to utilize social media instead of ads for advertising methods. This may be a better route in order to save money and use free sites such as Facebook. Also, it showcases Coke's philanthropic side and partners them with the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progressive Auto Isn't So Progressive

"I could use a little help." - Flo

Progressive Auto Insurance views itself as an innovative company that is welcoming the new advances in social media and finding better ways to interact with their customers. And they are. Progressive's website is easy to find, follow, and use. The ability to compare auto rates from other companies has been a major marketing point and the new Name Your Price and Quote and Buy Online features make individualizing and purchasing an insurance plan easier than ever. The website serves as a virtual helpdesk for finding answers and the Insurance Basics and Vehicle Resources offer a wealth of information for curious customers.

But are their latest strategies to engage customers hit or miss?

The source on Progressive's social media plan is Matthew Lehman, Web Experience Director and Progressive presenter at the Social Media Business Council on August 13,2009 in Minneapolis, hosted by Gas Pedal and featured on BlogWell.

*Note: Video length is 33 minutes. Read on for a synopsis.

Social Media at Progressive, by Matthew Lehman; presented by GasPedal and the Social Media Business Council from GasPedal on Vimeo.

Lehman makes several key points about Progressive and its views on social media:
  • Auto Insurance Companies are low touch environments with limited customer interaction. Customers only contact an actual representative 1-2 times per year.
  • Auto Insurance Companies rely on referrals even more than positive survey reviews.
  • Auto Insurance Companies are limited by the public nature of social media. Security is an issue when addressing individual policy concerns.
  • It isn't the number of followers that matters. The goal is to contact customers to give them relevant information.

Social media is an easy way to increase the number of positive customer interactions - no accident claim or bill correction required. Progressive focuses its website, blogs, Youtube channel, Facebook, and Twitter on the customer and providing information. By limiting itself to these applications, Progressive maintains a focus and makes the information easy to access. Or so you'd think. Once you dig into Progressive's social portfolio, you might find yourself a little lost. Let's take a look at where Progressive is showing success and where it needs a tune-up.

Hit #1: Flo, the Progressive Girl.
Flo, with her tricked out nametag and bright red lipstick, is the face of Progressive and has become the single most recognized use of branding for the company. She is featured in all the commercials, Facebook groups, Twitter, and the Youtube channel. Flo links all of Progressive's social media together into one quirky and recognizable personality that customers are happy to see. Her latest problem is finding an assistant and Progressive is giving its customers a chance to appear in one of their commercials to help her.

HelpFlo utilizes Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and the company website to encourage customers to play with their auto insurance company and to have fun with photos and videos. While customers aren't really getting to know the company behind the nametag, they are showing pride in their auto insurance mascot and are promoting the company's best features in each of their videos. Each tryout video receives anywhere from several hundred to more than one thousand views.

Hit #2: Severe Weather Updates and the Catastrophe Team
Lehman says that Progressive's "In" for social media was providing real time severe weather updates and suggestions through Twitter and podcasts. And I agree. Services like emergency updates provide relevant and meaningful information through social media, and, as Lehman points out, customers are more likely to have access to Twitter via a cell phone during an emergency than they are a television or a computer. Progressive's mobile Catastrophe Team arrives in disaster stricken areas to help customers file claims on-site and recover from floods, hurricanes, blizzards, and hail storms.

Hit #3: Super Service Stories
Progressive recently added a page to their website that allows customers to share stories about positive service interactions. Flo picks out a few new stories to feature every month. I like that this allows customers to point out specific representatives that took extra effort to help them through their claims. Unfortunately, there is no section for less than stellar stories. You won't find any negative or even lukewarm reviews willingly showcased on Progressive's website, or Youtube, or Twitter, or Facebook, or...well, anywhere.

Hit #4: Progressive Iphone App and Mobile Web Site
Bill pay, claims, and commercials on the go for anyone who has an Iphone or a Smart Phone. This is a great way for customers to keep up with their lives and their insurance at the same time. Just don't use it while driving or you'll violate your Oprah-sanctioned No-Phone-Zone pledge.

Hit #5: Facebook Pages
Progressive mixes information and fun in its Facebook pages. The main Progressive Facebook page is updated every four days or so with new event information or reminders and the page has a respectable 7,624 followers. It has a few fun addons, such as the nametagger that lets you add tricked out name tags to your photos. Flo is the real star of Facebook with two pages, one for Flo and one for finding a new assistant. Flo is a humble sales clerk with a loyal following of 317,456 adoring fans. Progressive also has a Pets application that allows customers to post pictures of their furry loved ones as a promotional tool for their Pet Injury Insurance, and motorcycle enthusiasts can post pictures of their bikes on the Progressive Motorcycle page. There are also several Facebook games on the Progressive Commercial Auto page.

Miss #1: Twitter Customer Service
Progressive decided to use Twitter as a way for customers to text in their questions and concerns about their insurance policies. Unfortunately, Twitter is public. Customers end up posting their private account information in hopes of speedy solutions and put themselves at risk of identity theft. Also, followers of the Progressive Twitter only see Progressive's replies and are unable to view the actual questions. There is only so much help that can be given in 140 characters and a Twitter feed of thanking people for contacting them, joining Progressive, referring to the customer help phone number, etc. becomes redundant. Without customers being able to see commonly asked questions and the answers that are given, it isn't really helping.

The Twitter Customer Service replaced the very useful (and private) feature of being able to go to the Progressive website, type in your phone number, and receive an immediate phone call from a representative who could help you. A real voice, a real person, and real communication. Also helpful is a website-based chat feature, where questions and responses can be longer than 140 characters and don't require horrendous spelling and grammar errors in order to get the message across. Since I'm a Progressive customer myself, I'd really like those features back. There's no way that I'm using Twitter to ask about billing errors and coverage changes.

Miss #2: YouTube Channel
All the Flo commercials you could ever want. And nothing else. Progressive is missing out on potential communication and engagement with their customers beyond their adorable sales clerk. If you look hard enough, there's one video about working at Progressive that features interviews, albeit clearly scripted, from employees about the benefits of working at Progressive. It actually lets you see into the company and learn more about what daily life is like for the people on the other side of the phone. It would be even better if we could see unscripted videos, how-to videos, or maybe even documentation videos of their Catastrophe Team. A YouTube channel can do so much more than replay old commercials. Progressive should take the opportunity to actually show their face and talk to their customers. Show them what they are paying for.

Miss #3: Facebook Pages (Second look.)
Lehman talked about how it's not the number of followers that matters, but getting relevant information to customers through social media. This isn't really working on Facebook. There are too many pages to follow all of them and they aren't created equally. Some pages lack updates, info descriptions, or content. The only pages getting the hits are the ones related to Flo. The information pages aren't getting marketed and aren't really getting seen.

Going Solo with Progressive is directed at teenage drivers and has great information and quizzes to help teens prepare for hitting the open road on their own. Unfortunately, this page only has 36 fans. Progressive Commercial Auto doesn't have many followers, but is packed with information, updates, and videos. The Automative X Prize competition page is actually pretty interesting, but isn't getting much attention. Then there's the Faces of Pride page, which supports corporate equality, but has lost all of its ties to the actual Progressive company. Another problem with the Facebook pages is the blackhole effect of links. Click on one Progressive Favorites page and you risk not being able to get back to the main Progressive Facebook page, since only certain pages are complete with links and content.

Miss #4: Blogs
Progressive lists seven different blogs on their website. They currently use the blogs to mine articles and re-post them into the Facebook pages, where the information might actually be seen. Few customers have the time to hunt through the actual website to find all seven blogs and read new posts. None of the posts have received comments from readers. If these pages are going to be listed and updated as blogs, it would be beneficial to consolidate them into one or two blogs that are easy to find or to differentiate between what is a blog and what is another page on the website.
Miss #5: Avoiding Discussion
Progressive encourages its customers to participate in viral marketing and to promote its services to their friends and followers, but it cuts customers out of the discussion by hiding feedback. It even hides the company behind Flo. There are few, if any, discussions on any of the Facebook pages and there are no rating or review features on the social media sites or on the Progressive website. While not every company is ready to face the public on neutral ground, social media requires two-way communication to be truly successful.

Progressive uses a Net Promoter Score to track their success in social networking based on referrals. Negative feedback would bring this score down. While shoutouts on Facebook and Twitter from customers with large numbers of followers will give the illusion of success, they don't mean that communication is happening or that Progressive is 1) listening or 2) learning about what their customers want. Nor does it mean that customers are learning anything about Progressive. Social media then is just an extension of one long commercial featuring Flo, in which customers can pass on the message, but can't genuinely participate.

Miss #6: Considering Using Social Media as a Sales Portal
At the end of Lehman's presentation, he acknowledges the question of changing how Progressive sells insurance online by saying, "Do I make them come to my site to work with me or do I let them work with me where they are?" While he claims that the answer is to go where they are, I strongly disagree. To me, the answer is clearly the Progressive website. The company's credibility is based in its website and in the security that they can provide. The customer is accessing the internet and they already have the option to manage their account at home or on the go with the mobile web site.

While it's nice to be able to post pictures, see news, and receive updates via social media, the Progressive website is one easily spelled URL away. Opening insurance sales through Facebook is an invitation for identity theft, scams, and loss of credibility. Progressive has a highly usable website for new customers and current customers. Why would they suddenly rely on Facebook to host all of your business needs? If the goal is to reward and track customers receiving referrals through social media, then Tweet coupon codes and discounts, or allow customers to credit who recommended them during the application process and give that person a discount that month. Don't sacrifice good business for a shiny fad.

Meeting Goals But Missing the Point
Progressive is using social media to increase their interactions with customers, but they are losing opportunities by not fully engaging their voice and the voices of their customers. Focusing their efforts into a clear, narrow social media campaign that is easy to follow and participate in will benefit them in the future. Having a presence in social media doesn't mean that all business interactions have to take place through Twitter and Facebook - real customer service is as important as it ever was in the past. It might also help to let Flo take a short vacation and let some of the real sales clerks and agents step into the spotlight and share their voices and views with the customers they serve.

Dude, Twitter Tips from Dell

While other companies are still in the process of figuring out how to best utilize social media, it seems Dell has it all figured out. That is, if the sheer number of Dell Twitter accounts and its associated revenue of 6.5 million dollars are any indication. The company’s Twitter presence grew from a single account in 2008 with 3,071 followers and 11, 753 tweets to its current status of having thirty-five Twitter accounts, 3.5 million followers, and 22,091 tweets. For companies that are still unsure of how and why they should use Twitter, the Dell experience might be worth looking into.

By having dedicated twitterers for each account, Dell is able to maintain an informal and personal approach even when the subject is coupons and sales events. For example, @StefanieAtDell is the face of Dell Outlet on Twitter and while co-tweeters sometimes respond to the community, Stefanie is the one to whom all questions and concerns are addressed. Another advantage is that with so many channels, the subject is more likely to stay focused. Dell’s main twitter page lists all of the company’s Twitter communities which further streamline the process of determining which forum is best suited for a particular question or comment.

The ABCs of Dell's Success
Dell Communication Officer, Richard Binnhammer , attributes the success of the company’s twitter campaign to three things: “a) being there on Twitter for people who are looking for us or our products. b) Offering sales opportunities that are meaningful to consumers, and c) interacting with people.” It has also been pointed out that adding to Dell’s success in creating such a strong presence on Twitter is the fact that the company is already well known. Although 6.5 million represents a much higher return on investment than other companies on Twitter, Dell is the third largest PC maker with a built in audience.

Although Binhammer’s comments are well noted, what can businesses without an established reputation take away from his remarks or from the Dell experience? In other words, if there is not already a demand for one’s product or service, how can Twitter or other social media sites be used to attain this?
What Dell seems to be doing much better than the average company, is striking the right balance in its approach to customer engagement while remaining focused on its real objective of generating revenue. A 2008 Business Week article entitled "Brands that Tweet" noted that many companies fail in this regard, as they either sound too formal or use the updates as a PR channel rather than a two way communication tool.

A Balancing Act
Each of Dell's Twitter accounts are highly specialized and go well beyond routine customer service, sales, marketing, and technology updates. Instead, the company segments its forums by country, region and specific interests, some of which have very little to do with computer and electronics. Dell Lounge and ReGeneration are two such forums that come immediately to mind. That’s not to say that Dell does not use its Twitter accounts for outright sales. In fact, of Dell’s thirty-five accounts, twelve are sales accounts that tweet the latest coupons, exclusive discounts, and sales events by sales division and country. Others point back to blogs, video links, pictures and other social media sites featuring Dell.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Poetry and Social Media

With the advent of the Internet, many speculated that print magazines would lose readership and have to transition to a digital format in order to survive. But the emergence of social media offers new opportunities for growth. An effective social media strategy allows a print magazine to enhance the visibility of their product, retain current readership, and reach a wider audience. The social media strategy of The Poetry Foundation and its publication Poetry is a perfect example.

Poetry is one of the most prestigious poetry publications in the United States. The magazine was established in 1912 by Harriet Monroe and has featured many of the country’s greatest poets: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, among others. The magazine is published by The Poetry Foundation and prints poetry by leading and emerging poets, literary criticism, and book reviews. The Poetry Foundation's mission is to "discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience."

The foundation and magazine have made full use of social media and the Internet in order to fulfill their mission. The foundation maintains an official website and a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They also publish an email newsletter and provide an RSS feed.

Main Website
Poetry Foundation is the portal for all the resources of the foundation and the magazine Poetry. The site is a treasure trove of poetry and literary criticism, articles, news, and reviews. A user could spend hours reading the material and not come close to seeing all that the site has to offer. There are two interactive features that are of special note: the Poetry Tool and the Interactive Poetry Lab. The Poetry Tool allows users to search for poetry and criticism by category, occasion, poet, and title, among other listings. The Poetry Learning Lab displays individual poems, each with writing ideas, discussion questions, teaching tips, audio, and a poem guide. The lab is a good resource for teachers and students of poetry. Interactive features are a worthwhile investment as they keep users on the site for a longer period of time and also gives them another reason to return. The foundation also provides poetry podcasts and a poetry blog complete with user comments.

The foundation keeps users up-to-date with news from the world of poetry and publishes articles by leading poets and critics, audio and video, and reviews of new books of poetry. The content is updated frequently and the news is updated daily. Articles can be shared by Email or on
Digg, Google, MySpace, Live, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Twitter via the toolbar found at the bottom of the entry.

Poetry's section of the website
offers the latest print issue digitally almost in its entirety along with an archive of issues back to 1987 and an index of all prior issues. Users can also view submission guidelines and learn how to subscribe to the magazine.

The Poetry Foundation & Poetry maintain a strong presence o
n Facebook via a fan page. The page currently has 5,247 fans. While most fan pages are mere placeholders with little original content, Poetry’s page is updated daily with poetry and literary news and notes. For example, there are already 33 postings in the first two weeks of February alone. In the info section, the mission of the Poetry Foundation is stated as an attempt to create “a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.” The fan page reflects this aggressive approach. The page also includes photos of old magazine covers and fan photos, videos, and links to Poem Talk (poetry podcasts) via a music player.

Poetry maintains a Twitter page too
. The page has 3,830 followers and is updated daily. Most of the tweets are links to poems posted on the main site. The foundation also maintains Poetry News on Twitter . The page has 4,204 followers and is updated every few days with poetry news from around the web.

Poetry Foundation's Channel on YouTube offers 37 videos of animated poems. 140 people have subscribed to the channel but the videos are at least 10 months old. This was the only segment of the foundation's social media plan that was not up-to-date.

RSS Feed -

The Poetry Foundation is effectively using social media to achieve their mission to “"discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience." While Poetry (the print version) is the central part of their strategy, the online component complements the magazine and increase its visibility.

Facebook Could Transform Mobile Phones

Facebook is clearly leading the pack in the mobile Internet race. In December—in Britain alone—it racked up 5 million mobile users, against 4.5 million for all of Google's sites combined. Google (GOOG) now has its own phone, platform, and app store; more Google phones will undoubtedly follow, offering—as with its new Nexus One handset—an experience tightly integrated with Google services. But given Facebook's ever-expanding size, many mobile industry analysts are asking how long the social networking giant will be happy to work within another company's idea of how a mobile device should look and feel.

For many consumers, social networks are now the nucleus of their online existence. Being always on is hard-wired into their lifestyle. The rise of the so-called "Continuous Partial Attention" phenomenon—the desire not to miss anything, even for an instant—holds profound implications for the way we consume information. It is the impulse that has us clicking "Check Messages" on our e-mails, even when we know that they auto-update, checking our phones even when we know they haven't rung or vibrated, and texting friends when we have nothing in particular to say.

We get a buzz from being continually connected. We're getting used to an existence where we are never fully off the grid. Many phones on the market today, including Apple's (AAPL) ubiquitous iPhone, do not fully cater to this demand. If you want to scan the horizon for information on an iPhone, you can either choose to put yourself at the mercy of push notifications, or run down your battery by repeatedly opening and closing the relevant applications.

The default experience of an iPhone is glossy and beautiful, yet it's a fundamentally static experience. In a real-time world where we have come to expect a constant flow of data—where we are always scanning for new opportunities to contribute, create, and collaborate—this seems somehow insufficient and unsatisfying.
Facebook: the Web's best contact book

Apple has created a new computer-like experience on the iPhone and many smartphones now mimic its approach. But the iPhone is incapable of multitasking. To get to Facebook's activity feed on an iPhone, you need to open an application. To get to Twitter, you need to open yet another app. To make a call, you need to close other apps and navigate to the Contact Book screen or the dialer. The Contact Book screen and the dialer do not communicate with the Facebook or Twitter apps—even though many of your friends are on Facebook. Frankly, it's inefficient.

Apple's decision to make the iPhone primarily a computing device, rather than a communications device, left open an opportunity for disruptive innovation. Apple's notorious obsession for locking down its platform and ensuring that such applications as Facebook can't be deeply integrated with the Contact Book and the Photo Album detracts from the user experience. The contact list is still the most important asset on the phone and, for many users, Facebook is the most important and complete contact book on the Web.

Imagine for a minute what a Facebook-centric device might be capable of. It would have the ability to incorporate real-time information about friends at every stage of your interaction with them. The need to send expensive SMS messages would be reduced or eliminated by the ability to send a Facebook message from your phone as easily as you now send an SMS. Facebook would be the trigger for greater communication.

A Facebook device would open up new possibilities for creativity, too. We know that consumers more than ever carry around devices for creating and sharing content with each other. Instant and seamless uploads of photos and videos would create not just a master phone book but also a master photo and video album. Indeed, a Facebook phone could become your master life recorder—a kind of social archive of your digital life. It would transform the online and mobile landscape, reducing fragmentation and providing a level of integration among applications never before seen.

Such a device would undoubtedly terrify mobile operators, who could witness even more of their network traffic shift from voice and pricey messaging to raw streams of data. Incumbent handset makers could lose, too, as further control over the user experience shifts to an Internet company that stands to profit from dominating the online life of users. In short, a Facebook smartphone could spur a communications revolution. The sheer thought of the richness of interaction thrills me.
Need several years, better batteries

We are already seeing the first baby steps along this road as mobile operators begin to understand that their future will be dictated as much by users as by them. Vodafone 360 is an example of this, but Vodafone (VOD) lacks the digital life archive and engaged users that Facebook commands. INQ's Social Mobile also takes important strides in this direction. The Palm (PALM) Pre has done a good job in showing the way, and the active widget framework in Android provides the base. In the end, it's the service that will drive usage—and this could turn into one of the Internet's famous winner-takes-all scenarios.

Facebook has the sheer scale to take online and mobile social integration further. Surely, if the company continues growing at its current rate, its ambitions won't be limited to creating a social Web site. Facebook will look to emulate Amazon (AMZN) and Google as an "Internet hub." There's only one way this can realistically be achieved—by creating a Facebook mobile device. This will likely be a two- to three-year process that requires at least a $200 million investment and technological progress in rendering ubiquitous connectivity and longer battery life. We are, in short, about one hardware generation from this inflection point.

Facebook's ability to build its own device would rely on certain additional conditions. The company would need to double the size of its network, expand its developer community (including flushing out scammers), and then solidify its monetization program. It would also have to resolve the privacy issues that stand to threaten its "trusted brand" status if left unchecked. It would also have to execute this strategy in total stealth, while remaining in the meantime the best and friendliest partner to any enterprise wanting to integrate with it.

Make no mistake, Facebook has the assets to achieve all of this and more. It has the attitude and the talent—and can attract more of the latter now that it's generating a profit. A Facebook phone, if successful, would ratchet the company's income to a higher level, making it a prime global brand. The rewards for reinventing the phone would be massive.

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

For Starbucks Coffee, that question has morphed into a successful social media strategy, including the new My Starbucks Idea site, which allows everyday folks to tell the corporate coffee giant just what they want to see -- or not, as the case may be.

You know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks. So tell us. What's your Starbucks Idea? Revolutionary or simple -- we want to hear it. Share your ideas, tell us what you think of other people's ideas and join the discussion. We're here, and we're ready to make idea happen. Let's get started.

Mashable lists Starbucks as #3 in its article "Presenting: 10 of the Smartest Big Brands in Social Media," praising the innovative strategy of asking customers what they want, and then delivering results. Launched at a time when the company was experiencing severe declines in its stock value, the site features a simple, user-friendly set up with three main sections: Got an Idea?, View Ideas, and Ideas in Action. All you need to participate is a user name, password and email address.

The Ideas in Action section is a blog where Starbucks corporate employees post about new things happening in the Starbucks world: new chocolates for Valentine's Day, specially printed red cups to support RED, low calorie snacks and information about the Youth Action Grant, a charitable program. Though the tagline for the blog is See What We're Doing With Your Ideas, it's not clear which, if any, of these brand promoting blog entries actually originated from customers' suggestions. However, a nice aspect of the blog is that it's open to comments, continuing the dialog with customers. And there is a section on the home page highlighting ideas that have been implemented, with links to the original ideas.

Starbucks and Twitter

Twitter presents a unique opportunity for companies like Starbucks who have developed a loyal, possibly addicted, following: over 777,000 and counting as of today. The company actively participates in an ongoing conversation with customers, using Twitter as a forum to address customer complaints, say thanks and promote brand awareness.

@CJonesPhotog We'll give you a free drink for your birthday! Register your Starbucks card: http://www.starbucks.com/card
1:17 PM Feb 10th from web by bradnelson in reply to CJonesPhotog

Tweets from customers are sometimes funny, often whimsical and sometimes complaining about an experience at a Starbucks location. The company replies to many and appears to address complaints in a timely and respectful manner.

Coffee on YouTube

Like many corporations, Starbucks has a YouTube channel, where they upload commercials, videos about their charitable work, information about coffee and a video history of the company.

Last year, Starbucks went on a cross-country tour to introduce its new instant coffee, Via Ready Brew. They handed out samples at selected locations and then posted videos of the experience on YouTube:

With more than 5,000 subscribers, Starbucks has a significant YouTube presence, just another piece of its carefully mapped out social media strategy.

Become a Fan

Covering all the bases, Starbucks has a Facebook fan page, and currently boasts more than 5 million fans. Many of these fans write things on the wall such as, "I love coffee," which is a little baffling to me, but each to his own I suppose. The fan page is interesting enough, with an Around the World section (which knew where I was) along with the photo and video sections, where fans can post their own photos or videos, and a lengthy discussion section where anyone can start or post to a discussion.

The Facebook page also lists events, promoting free coffee giveaways and other events such as charitable sponsorship events.

Does Social Media Power Translate Into Purchasing Power?

With a presence almost everywhere, including Flickr, Pandora and those listed above, one has to wonder -- does it pay off? Does a strong social media presence translate into paying customers? It does, according to a study by social media platform WetPaint and digital consulting group The Altimeter. Researchers found that companies who engaged actively and deeply in social media saw their revenues increase by an average of 18%, while those who were the least engaged saw a drop of 6%.

The research considered "not only their breadth of engagement across these channels, but also their depth, such as whether they reply to comments made on blog posts. Each brand was given a numerical score." Starbucks topped the list, with a score of 127.

So, it seems that Starbucks is on to something. Engage with customers, participate in dialog, keep it light, interesting and easy and you just might see your advertising budget drop while your revenues go up. Coffee anyone?

Social Media and the Winter Olympics

Before the internet became common and we were all sharing our YouTube videos with strangers on every continent, the Olympics were one of the few ways the entire world came together outside of war or response to humanitarian crisis. But now that we can all find an actual French person and satisfy our burning curiosity about whether they eat French fries, is the Olympics as important for world unity? And, social media-wise, are they stepping up? (Er… skiing up?)

Winter Olympics Official Sitewww.vancouver2010.com

The Winter Olympics’ official website is essentially what you would expect from the site of any major sporting event. It keeps track of medal counts, holds information on all the events, and links to photos and videos of great moments. The web designers did appear to have put quite a bit of thought into the site, as the information that people will probably look for the most – medal counts, a schedule of events, and the latest news – appear at the top where they are easy to find without scrolling.

But where’s the social media? Scroll down. Scroll way down. Blink and you’ll miss it, but there are links to two Facebook fan pages and two Twitter accounts near the very bottom of the page. There is also a tiny, barely noticeable call to action to “Share This Page on Facebook.” Here’s a short analysis of each account:

Vancouver 2010 Fan Page on Facebook – With over 600,000 fans, it is clear that Facebookers are interested in the Olympics and they are showing their allegiance on social media. The Facebook site includes wall postings that receive hundreds of comments, an active discussion board, photos, a gift giving application (where fans can give one another public virtual gifts on Facebook, though only one gift is current available), and an RSS feed to keep up with the latest Olympic news. The site is bilingual in English and French, and fans from around the world are participating.

Cultural Olympiad Fan Page on Facebook – This fan page is designed to appeal to people actually attending the Olympics, and provides information on cultural events being held in Vancouver during the Games. It has basically made use of the “Events” function on Facebook to let people know about art shows, theater performances, and other cultural events going on simultaneously with the Olympics. At just over 3,000 fans, it has only a fraction of the Facebook following that the official Olympic Games enjoy, but that can be explained by the fact that most people are watching the winter games from the comfort of their own, centrally heated homes.

@2010Tweets – This Twitter account was set up long before the Games began and has already broadcast nearly 2,000 Tweets. It consists mainly of retweets (RTs) of athlete’s own Twitter musings, and is sprinkled with news and pictures of the games so far. With 11,006 followers as of today, this Twitter account is popular, but not nearly as popular as the Olympics on Facebook.

Of the other two Twitter accounts, one followed the Olympic Torch relay and the other follows the Cultural Olympiad. None of the Olympics’ Twitter accounts come anywhere close to its Facebook pages in number of followers.

NBC’s Olympics Pagewww.nbcolympics.com

When it comes to social media, NBC’s Olympics website performs much better than the official 2010 Winter Olympics site. They offer an “Olympic Zone” feature where you can enter your zip code and then follow your hometown heroes through their Olympic journeys. Interestingly, NBC’s Twitter page has over 50,000 followers – many more than the official 2010 Olympics’ Twitter page, but their Facebook only has about 70,000 fans, meaning the official Olympic Facebook Fan Page is wildly more popular.

But unlike the official 2010 Olympic site, NBCOlympics.com offers a whole host of social media goodies. They offer widgets, which allow you to embed information about the games on your own blog or website. A sports blogger could grab one of two of these widgets and keep her readers constantly updated with the latest Olympic news.

The network even offers a mobile application for 3G devices that allows viewers to keep up with Olympic news, schedules, and events.

Other Winter Olympics Social Media Offerings

Other sites, like Yahoo and Foursquare, though neither have a vested interest in the Olympics like NBC, are cashing in on Olympic fever by offering social media applications designed to help Olympics fans remember when their favorite events are on, as well as allow them to look up information such as athlete profiles and medal counts. Foursquare, the popular application that allows users to “check in” whenever they go out and about town, is offering special badges, coupons and discounts for Olympic Games attendees.


Essentially, the official organizers of the 2010 Olympic Games are missing the boat when it comes to social media. They have done an excellent job with their Facebook pages, but the one element they are missing is human interaction. Right now, all the official Olympic Games social media platforms provide essentially a one-way dialogue. Sure, people can post on the Facebook discussion board, but where are the calls for people to send in their own pictures of Olympic events? Or the chance to blog about their Olympic experiences? For an event that relies so much on worldwide participation, I found its social media offerings uninspired and decidedly one-way.

No Ode for Ode

Ode magazine features positive news about people and organizations across the world who are working to make a difference. It bills itself as a magazine “for intelligent optimists,” a theme repeated in the banner of its website: “The online community for intelligent optimists.”

I like the moniker; I like believing that Ode readers and subscribers are informed, invested and involved in changing our world through their combined efforts. I think of Ode as a young, progressive organization and I expected this attitude to be reflected in its use of social media. After a quick review, however, I am disappointed with the scope of its engagement thus far.

Ode’s website mirrors the look and feel of the original print publication, with a bold, colorful design. The home page features teasers to recent magazine articles, blog posts and tweets and the navigation bar includes familiar icons for linking to Ode profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribing to RSS feeds and Ode’s online newsletter.

On the surface, the magazine seems to be in all the right places. But upon further review, Ode’s level of engagement with its readers appears limited; it seems to be failing at establishing two-way conversation—a crucial ingredient in successful social media campaigns.

Blog Woes

Ode hosts three separate blogs: Blog, written exclusively by founder Jurriaan Kamp; People, Passion, Possibilities, written by a staff of 25 bloggers; and Exchange, written by readers. Gauging by the scarcity of comments, none of the blogs have been very successful at engaging readers—either with the publication or with each other. Could having three separate blogs be an issue?

Facebook Fanned

Ode’s Facebook presence tells a similar story. Ode has only 9,124 fans—a relatively small number for a 12-year-old magazine that claims a worldwide readership of over 100,000. The page is not very busy, with only four or five posts per day. The good news, however, is that Ode replies to several readers and creates a warm and friendly persona.

Twittering About

Just over 9,000 people follow Ode on Twitter. (Could these be the same 9,000 Facebook fans?) The positive sign here is that Ode follows almost as many people (8,750). On the downside, however, the tweets don’t seem to offer anything more than links to Ode articles; only one or two were in response to a reader. Establishing a two-way conversation with its readers seems to be taking a back seat to Ode’s self-promotion--a definite no-no in the world of social media.

Back to Basics

My final assessment would be that Ode magazine is cognizant of the potential for social networking and wants to build an online community. Right now though, it seems unable to really engage its audience or to create a unique presence using social media. It looks as though Ode hasn’t answered some strategic questions, such as

  • Why are we building an online community?
  • What will people do there?
  • Who will be the caretaker and how can we spark conversation?
  • How are we going to be involved; what is our role in this new community?

Ode must understand that its current social media strategy is falling short. I’m afraid if it doesn’t answer these basic questions and step up its involvement, the window of opportunity to engage its readers may close.

Sarah Seltzer,...Sounds Like a Typical Freelance Writer

There's a scene in the 1979 comedy classic, The Jerk, where a gun-toting lunatic decides he wants to find his next victim. M. Emmet Walsh's character, who is identified as “Madman” on IMDB.com, rifles through a phone book before stopping randomly on the name Navin R. Johnson. This just happens to be the name of Steve Martin's masterfully played comedic dope.

Navin R. Johnson was hardly one in a million – there's only a fraction of that amount of names in a typical phone book.

Sarah M. Seltzer, however, is more than one in a million. She's approximately one in 1,140,000 (according to Google). And for the record, those are pretty long odds.

You see, when tasked with analyzing a entity's social media presence and strategy, it would have been easy to go after the low-hanging fruit – multi-million dollar corporations with unlimited advertising budgets, who rack up Twitter and Facebook profiles for every little niche product within their company. For goodness sakes, a search of McDonald's on Facebook returns over 600 pages and nearly 9,000 groups.

The less answered question, in my opinion, is where does the everyday, average person – say a freelance writer like myself – fit into this giant social network?

To answer this, I went to Google and typed “freelance writer twitter” into the search form field.

My thinking was “Freelance writer” would return a bunch of big company results; the addition of “Twitter” would assure me that I would get a user profile.

The first result was a link to an article about the ways Twitter helps freelance writers.

The second return was for Sarah M. Seltzer – also known as SarahSeltzer on Twitter. Jackpot.

How is it that Sarah, a Harvard alum who was trained as a freelance journalist, who is currently working on a novel tentatively named “French Lessons,” and who enjoys skiing in Vermont end up as the top human result on the World's Most Powerful Search Tool?

Perhaps it was the work she has done as a three-year writer for Bitch Magazine?

Probably not.

While luck has surely played a part in her choice Google ranking (no one will ever figure out Google's search algorithm), I would contend that Sarah's dogged determination in social media tools and applications has certainly helped.

Sarah on Twitter
Sarah has been using Twitter for a little over a year; according to her feed she didn't want to start until she got a decent phone. Sarah uses Twitter most often to link directly to her pieces written for RH Reality Check, a Web site dedicated to issues in reproductive health. She rarely uses hash tags or tweets directly to other users. She uses this platform purely to push out info regarding her work.

Sarah's Web Site
There was a link from Sarah's Twitter account to her Web site. This barebones site includes information about her, clips of her work, contact info, news, as well as two incredibly important links to her two blogs: The Egalitarian Bookworm and her blog at RH Reality Check (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/sarah-seltzer).

Sarah's Personal Blog
A case could easily be made that Sarah's blog acts as a better vehicle for selling her writing than her primary Web site. The design is improved, the writing is sharper, there is better integration of dynamic content; this is really her home page for Sarah the freelance writer. From this page there are also links to Sarah's profiles on several other social media sites:

  • Facebook (requires friend acceptance)
  • LinkedIn
  • Friendfeed
  • Feedburner E-mail

In fact, as if that wasn't enough, she just entered the vlog space, using YouTube to post her video log where she talks about beta readers, copy edits and adverbs.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Sarah puts in a lot of hard work into her online presence. For any individual, or business – regardless of size – an effective social media strategy requires effort, using multiple sites in concert with one another, and a ton of time and patience. It also helps to have a little bit of luck.

Mail it Back

U.S. Census Bureau Uses 21st Century Technology to Promote Participation

For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has been sending out census forms to households. And for decades many households have failed to fill out these forms, let alone send them back. How many of you have received this form in the mail and instead of filling it out, you just tossed it in a pile of junk mail? Well, I can honestly say that I’ve never failed to fill it out, but then again, the U.S. Census Bureau only conducts a population count every ten years and ten years ago I was only seventeen – the U.S. Census Bureau requires anyone over the age of eighteen to fill out the entire census.

For those of you who have admitted to overlooking the census form, the agency is on to you and has spent millions of dollars on social media to get your attention. Although the census form can only be submitted through mail, the agency is now on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, and blogs in hopes of getting an impressive response from the public. But it doesn’t stop there; it now has its own road tour vehicle, and has even used the 2010 Super Bowl ad as a marketing tool.

Is It Working?

The Census Bureau’s Facebook page is quite interactive. Fans can post messages on its wall, upload pictures, and watch videos. Their page even has links to census jobs so that fans will not have to go far to become an employee. With 7,201 fans and counting, the Census Bureau is doing a pretty good job at getting the public involved. But are they really? With over 350 million Facebook users, 7,201 fans are a bit low, don’t you think?

@uscensusbureau has over 2000 followers on Twitter and only follows 236.

The agency was creative with its Youtube video. The video is pretty much a musical with the message “We can’t move forward until you mail it back.” I want to say that this video doesn’t work for me, but to be honest, the tune is pretty catchy. I’ll admit, I did catch myself singing “We can’t move forward until you mail it back.” Watch this video more than once, I guarantee you’ll be singing the song.

The Census Bureau has also posted several pictures up on Flickr. I’m not too familiar with Flickr, but from the information I gathered from the site, it’s a good way for them to interact with the public.

2010 Portrait of America Road Tour
The agency has 13 road tour vehicles that, in total, will travel more than 150,000 miles in 1,547 days. The goal of this tour is to promote the 2010 Census and to educate the public on how important it is to “mail it back.” These vehicles offer interactive exhibits, promotional materials, and a showcase for speakers.

Speaking of vehicles, the U.S. Census Bureau even has a NASCAR driven by Greg Biffle, a two time NASCAR Champion. NASCAR has the second biggest fan base in America, after the NFL.
2010 Super Bowl Ad
Now, let’s talk about this $2.5 million that was spent on advertisement during the Super Bowl. Was it really worth it? While some argue that it was a waste of government money, others applaud the agency’s efforts to get the public to return the forms. Overall, the ad ranked poorly amongst media critics stating that the U.S. Census Bureau should stick to counting and leave social media to the professionals.

Will You Mail It Back?

While many Americans openly support the U.S. Census Bureau, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has openly stated that she and her family will only fill out parts of the Census. Facing a $5,000 fine for not completing the Census, Bachmann argues that the constitution only requires her to indicate the amount of people living in the household. The U.S. Census Bureau claims that by getting the public to mail out the forms the agency will not have to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on field representatives. Once a household fails to mail the Census back, a field representative is then sent out to that home to collect information. Those field representatives can be quite persistent.

Social Fit Media

Is Social Media the Next Step in Fitness?
If you've ever had a case of insomnia and find yourself staring at fitness infomercial with your eyes glazed over then there's a good chance you may have seen one of the products by Team Beachbody. Some of the fitness infomercials that play in the early hours of the day are all from the same company. If you've heard of Shaun T and his "Hip Hop Abs," "Insanity," or if you've ever seen the guy on the left urging you to exercise either with dance or extreme exercise, you've heard of Team Beach Body. If you've seen the infomercials that say you can slim down in six weeks with a program called "Slim in Six" by Debbie Siebers (woman on the right), then you've heard of Team Beachbody. The infomercials, however, don't always advertises that they are a part of one company, but if you go to the internet to search them out, you'll discover this company has eleven different fitness programs in addition to other weight-loss products.

Team Beachbody is a marketing company in the health and fitness industry that uses its website to not only get already healthy and fit people like trainers and athletes to join their site, but also to encourage those who are just starting a program to join and use their site to get healthy. With the use of this site, a trainer can increase or build a client base while getting paid to promote Team Beachbody products. They have also been recognized as the only health and fitness company to be in partnership with the American Diabetes Association to help reduce and eliminate the rates of obesity and diabetes in this country. The mission is to eliminate the rates of obesity and all other health risks associated with physical inactivity and poor nutrition habits.

Tweeting Face to Face

Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook build a vision of the company that adds a personal touch to their business. Team Beachbody, however, does not use Twitter or Facebook themselves, but there is a Twitter account posted by a coach on their main website as there are a few fans who've created Facebook pages. The tweets are fairly general updating followers with information about new Team Beachbody products or promotions such as One on One: Volume 2. The user also routinely posts tweets about subscribing to other user's Youtube channels who are logging their progress with some Beachbody product or some progress on one of the Facebook accounts (again, also not official sanctioned by Beachbody) but updates users with current Beachbody promotions and products. However, the creator of the largest Facebook accounts ads a personal touch by giving users a positive greeting on holidays and other celebratory events.


Youtube is the only social media medium Team Beachbody actually uses that isn't found on their site. In fact, if a user posts a video of decent quality that the company likes, they'll contact them and asks to use the video for their own to market their products. There are also other sites that use video to promote Beachbody products focusing on the success they've had.

Everything Team Beachbody does, however, is aimed at getting uses to join their website and users independently use social media sites to try to get others to join the main site too!

Team Beachbody

Because of the company's limited use of social media sites makes it seem like the company's primary and possibly only goal is to get users to register for their site and use their social media products. With the exception of Youtube, the popular sites aren't used by Beachbody; however, this could be due to the fact that users promote the products enough and the company chooses not to waste resources where there's already enough promotion. If a user does well, it generates customers for the company, and if a user does poor, Beachbody is not affiliated with the user and has plausible deniability. If anyone complains about the social sites out there, the company can just say that they can't control social media sites, which they can't, others use and if you want to be a real customer, then join their site. Joining their site is free, however, if you want to use the social media portions of their site like blogging and the groups.

Perhaps, the best way for a company to use sites like Twitter and Facebook is to allow users to do all their free advertising for them while offering an alternative in an environment that they can control. That way, as stated before, they can disassociate themselves with negative perspectives while reaping the benefits of the advertising.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is Using Social Media Enough?

Home Depot "Listens" to Their Customers

Home Depot's Nick Ayres, Interactive Marketing Manager, says that, for Home Depot, using social media has been an "easier sell" because they have "long been in a business that focuses on helping people solve their home improvement problems." Now, he says, they use a "digital orange apron." Home Depot's Nick Ayres and Sarah Molinari, Corporate Communications Manager, discuss at Blogwell, a conference where big businesses share their successes and failures with social media, how Home Depot started using social media, and what they've learned.

Ratings and Reviews
Home Depot's first step into communicating with their customers was by having them rate their products and write reviews on their website. This one way communication was so successful they decided to take it a step further. Home Depot decided to try Twitter and see what kind of response they got there.

When Home Depot started using Twitter in 2008, they tweeted about upcoming sales. Their customers let them know that they weren't interested in hearing about sales which they could read about in their flyers; they wanted to get to know the company. Hurricane season in Florida gave Home Depot the opportunity to take their customers' advice.

Home Depot tweeted warnings about the weather, gave advice on weather-proofing their homes, let customers know which stores were receiving extra shipments of needed items, and which stores were staying open all night to accommodate their needs. By using Twitter for getting their message out, customers received the information more quickly, and they got to know the company the way they had asked. Home Depot began to build the loyal customer base they were looking for.

Sarah Molinari's advice about Twitter is for businesses not to chase followers but to build relationships with those who choose to follow. Home Depot took this victory and moved on to You Tube.

Home Depot began to use YouTube by creating videos to show customers how to do things such as home improvement products, decorate for the holidays, and work on your landscape. Their employees have used YouTube to create comedic videos about working there, and others have used YouTube to make fun of Home Depot or as a platform to express their displeasure with Home Depot. The company ignores all of the bantering in other videos and does their best to get a positive message out there.

Facebook isn't mentioned in the video from Blogwell, but Home Depot has several Facebook pages they also use in their social media campaign. Their retail page has 25,484 fans, the most fans of all their pages. This page mostly has positive comments about working at Home Depot from their employees with a smattering of positive comments from customers. A few negative posts were in there but were far outweighed by the positive ones.

Home Depot also seems to have created a Facebook App that has only four fans and no reviews. It's a DIY Quiz that looks pretty lame and doesn't seem to be very popular. I don't think we have to worry about it overtaking Farmville.

Finally, Facebook gives information about Home Depot's foundation, and employees post about their charitable efforts in the community and with Haiti. Although there is a link on the website to The Home Depot Foundation, the posts on Facebook are interesting and inspiring and made me want to visit the foundation's website while the mention on the Home Depot website barely caught my attention. The foundation's website has a blog that provides information about what they are doing, but the blog lacks the personal touch of the posts on Facebook.
Social Media Message
Nick and Sarah are very convincing in their video about how social media is improving the company's communication with customers. They talk about their desire to meet customer's needs and said that companies need to be prepared to hear what the customers have to say and know what they're going to do with the information. They said it's important to have someone monitoring the posts in order to "triage" the information - analyze it and decide what needs to be done. Companies need to be in social media for the long haul and have a champion to converse with customers.

The question is - are they using their own advice? I found a blogger, David Dobrin, who would say they aren't. He wrote about a poor experience he had at Home Depot where the cashier pretended to speak poor English in order to get him to inadvertently purchase a warranty. Once the warranty was purchased, the cashier wished him well on his way out the door in perfect, unaccented English. David used Twitter to reach Home Depot about his complaint, and, although they responded quickly with a "How may we help you," it was all lip service. There was no satisfactory resolution for David.

Are they really hearing their customers? And will their efforts be enough to sustain this 30 year young company whose business boomed in the '80s and '90s but saw a 6.9% decline in third quarter of 2009 and opens 2010 with laying off 1,000 employees? They seem to understand how to use social media; I'm not sure that's going to be all Home Depot needs to succeed.