Monday, June 13, 2011

Your Social Media Strategy Needs Some Big Ideas.

I borrowed the headline above from a recent B-to-B article by Jeff Ernst, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. I think it perfectly underscores something I’ve been saying for a while now: It’s about the power of the idea, not the tactic. (My colleague, loyalty expert Bill Hanifin, has a similar mantra: Technology enables. Imagination wins.)

While most companies are now testing the social media waters with a presence on Facebook and Twitter, it’s best to have a strategic plan of attack before diving in. In the words of Ernst, “Starting with tools and tactics spells disaster. You need to start by understanding the social behaviors of your target audience and defining the big ideas that will attract and engage them.” But before discussing big ideas in social marketing…

First things first: you’ve got to show up.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, “90% of social marketing is just showing up”, and by that I mean being active on whatever social media tool you’re using. That means starting conversations, answering queries, and when necessary, defending your company or brand. To do this, you’ve got to set aside a small portion of your day to social media activities. (For me, its 20 minutes each morning.)

Next step: you need a big idea.

What’s a little more challenging is the next 10% of the equation—coming up with the big ideas that give your customers something to talk about. As Jillian Ney pointed out in a recent post on Social Media Today, “The motivation has been to collect fans and followers, which have resulted in many branded social spaces not actually providing any entertainment or value.”

In many ways, a great social media campaign has much in common with a great traditional ad campaign—the best ones are centered around a big idea. To achieve “big” status, your idea needs to have the power to inform, entertain and/or engage your customers, while getting them to take a desired action, whether it’s signing up for e-mail, retweeting a message or checking in with you on Foursquare.

Here are three social media ideas that I think work hard for their brands.

Why? They go beyond simply blasting messages into the social media space, and actually get people to interact with the brand. They also leverage ideas that are natural tie-ins to the image and essence of the brands being promoted.

Paula Deen and “the real women of Philadelphia. A promotion for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, it invites customers to submit original recipes using Philadelphia brand products, with 16 finalists selected to join celebrity chef Deen in a live “Cook Off” where four grand prize winners will be chosen. While I’m not a big fan of celebrity endorsements, this one feels like a natural, since it’s easy to imagine the down-home Deen actually using Philadelphia Cream Cheese in her recipes. Importantly, the site has done a nice job of putting Paula’s ebullient personality to use through online videos and social media like a “live chat” on Twitter.

Coleman, “the original social networking site”. Coleman, the camping gear company, has done a great job of tying their brand into social networking, starting with their clever “original networking site” positioning. A Facebook page promotes their easy-to-build tents with a “Summer Time in no Time” giveaway. There’s a Twitter page that could be a little more active, but does address the occasional customer query, plus a YouTube channel and Twitter app that fittingly let you check out “creepy campfire stories”.

Fair Tweets from Ben & Jerry’s. Another big idea comes from ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s. We think of Ben & Jerry’s as a very socially conscious brand and they prove it with Fair Tweets, which uses Twitter in a way I haven’t seen before to promote Fair Trade, a global organization that works to get better deals for farmers. It works like this: You go to the Ben & Jerry’s Fair Tweet page, and being typing in a tweet. The site then “puts your unused Twitter characters to use”, by turning any leftover characters (from your 140 character cap) into a message about Fair Trade. 33 characters left? A 33-character message is tacked on to the end of your tweet. Very cool and an ingenious way to spread a public service message.

How about you. Have you seen or worked on any big social media ideas lately?