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Creating Brand Buzz in Forums


A Long Beach, CA-based company is testing a graphics-based branding tool marketers can use to promote themselves in online communities.

Hype Council, established in 1999 by Scott Meldrum, specializes in what he calls "grassroots marketing initiatives." Over the past six weeks, he has been testing one such initiative dubbed Online Community Outreach (OCO), with two projects, each preceded by a six-week research phase.

"We used a video game and a music artist, and chose test forums from pre-existing relationships," says Meldrum. "We selected four forums for each project (most forums averaged 20,000 members; one had 3,000 members), and we did compensate forum moderators for their time."

Hype Council created OCO after surveying forum leaders about ways to create brand awareness in community forums without having to resort to spamming or spying. The key is in partnering with various forum leaders to create marketing programs that are: permission-based and endorsed by the leaders; interactive, not intrusive or interruptive: and cost- and results-effective.

OCO would provide three levels of forum sponsorships. The first would embed a client’s brand and link directly within the moderator’s signature. When a message is posted, the brand would be in that space. Meldrum says this would result in "thousands of interactions at each message board and greater brand acceptance since the forum moderator is a key influencer within the community."

The second would enable a client to host or sponsor an interactive thread in the busiest community forum of a targeted Web site. They would ‘rent’ real estate in the form of a ‘sticky’ thread in a forum for a pre-specified duration -- and the sticky threads stay at the top of the forum, rather than rotate in relation to use. It also includes a banner ad on the thread pages.

"As the thread sponsor, you intensify the users experience with a graphic interface and a cool and interactive topic that encourages response and invites interaction," says Meldrum.

The third combines the first two and covers an entire forum. "The interface is seamless with the message board, yet completely specific to a product, including color and graphic integration," adds Meldrum.

Forum's Offer Pinpointed Targeting

So what’s the value to brand marketers?

  • Targeting -- Each forum would be pre-qualified for target and traffic compliancy. Meldrum says every forum is approached as a singular asset and not as an "aggregate number of impressions."

  • Position -- Rather than serve the typical ad units at the top of a page or tower positions in most forums, the OCO service will integrate a client’s brand directly within a forum member’s experience.

Meldrum say Hype Council’s OCO is the first graphic-based program like this -- others use text and keywords. Vibrant Media, for example, provides a number of contextual keyword advertising products to deliver advertisers’ targeted messages. Its IntelliTXT product creates sponsored text links from keywords, hooks and phrases within article-based content. The user-activated advertising message provides users with relevant product information that advertisers deliver in context.

One Piece of the Pie

Certain types of products and/or services may not be good fits for and OCO-type product, Meldrum says.

"If you put John Kerry’s face in a sponsor thread in any forum, the conversations would not be genuine," he says. "OCO would not be good for political campaigns or for certain types of products -- consumable stuff like food, for instance. In short, anything that a community might find laughable or questionable -- since community perception and acceptance is a big part of the balancing act."

Meldrum also adds that a few of Hype Council’s clients expressed concern with OCO since it leaves their products/services open to any comments -- positive or negative.

"Inviting and encouraging comment or opinion is hard to do. Controlling the tenor of those comments is near impossible," he says. "Our position is that it’s better to have them commenting on your brand rather than on your competitor’s."

Meldrum says the OCO service is not a silver bullet -- it should be used with other micro-partnership strategies. While online forum participants are an elite group of opinion makers, they are a relatively small group. And Meldrum says the CPM and CPC numbers reflect that -- the company’s OCO model is intended to enhance an online media buy, not replace it.

But Meldrum says even large Fortune 500 companies could benefit from using a service like OCO if they have a new initiative or service to unveil since they could carve out a very specific market share via targeted online community forums.

Neal Leavitt is president of Fallbrook, CA-based Leavitt Communications, an international marketing communications company with affiliates in Paris, France; Hamburg, Germany; Hong Kong; Bangalore, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. He writes frequently on Internet and high technology topics. Contact him at 760/639-2900.


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Facebook has become very cluttered. When a user shares a photo on Facebook, the social engagement is watered down by the litany of other posts, images, shares, and comments on their newsfeed. We are starting to see why Facebook bought Instagram.

Instagram's closed community makes it incredibly intimate, and we are now seeing that the first thing Millennials do when they wake up in the morning is check their Instagram feed. Why? Because there's a social engagement give and take going on unlike anything else.

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"Beautiful hot girls having party fun, drinking champagne" image via Shutterstock.

Social spider webers

Social spider webers use their screens to socialize the content they are consuming. Consumers who tweet or post about their solitary content experiences are social spider webers. This type of multi-screen user uses devices to share a consumer experience. An example would be someone tweeting about the Oscars while they watch it in their living room.


Quantum is the ultimate multi-screen consumer. This user handles their screens to enhance every moment and decision for consumption. An example of a quantum consumer is a person who takes a picture of an ad, emails it to themselves, and then purchases the product with a laptop or tablet. These consumers are all encompassing device users and don't differentiate between their life with or without screens.

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"Group of four people in a row using their phones to writing or reading SMS isolated on white background" image via Shutterstock.

Know where you're headed

Every roadmap for success must include a plan for getting into and out of change. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? You'd be surprised at how many executives cut corners when it comes to defining what their mission is and where they're headed, both personally and professionally. I call this defining your conditions of satisfaction, and throughout my career, I've made three conditions of satisfaction my barometer for measuring success. For me, it's all about growing professionally, making money, and having fun.

As an architect of change, it's imperative you take the time to define your own conditions of satisfaction, and then share them with your team. Because it's only when the whole company owns this common goal that you can be sure there will never be any second guessing about how the leadership team feels and where it wants to go. The flip side of this is ambiguity, and ambiguity causes fear. Allow fear to set in, and you've cultivated the soil for politics and personalities to get in the way of the goal.

So set your conditions, share them with your organization, and then be prepared to stand by them, draw on them to get over any fear of change, and use them as a springboard to take massive, targeted action.

Take stock of the situation, beginning with the mood of the company

I don't care how amazing you are as a leader, how good you look in your suit, how impressive your list of accomplishments. If you can't improve the mood of the people you're charged with leading, you will fail. From the boardroom to the mailroom, everyone on the team has to buy into your vision for change, and they've got to believe that their best days are ahead of them.

And the mood change needs to come quickly.

Don't believe me? Leave your team "searching for the elephant" (cowboy speak to describe someone who's forever riding over the hill looking for something that's not there), and you might as well hang it up. Because if your people get it into their heads there's no "there" there -- that there's nothing worth striving for -- they will have zero motivation to support you in your leadership.

If what you're proposing is going to work, you'll need your entire team to be in a good place about where they're going and how they're going to get there. Accomplish this, and you'll be confident that every person in your organization can and will sacrifice equally to reach the goal.

Eduardo Conrado, Motorola's senior vice president of marketing and IT, is a great example of someone who knows how important it is that everyone drink the company Kool-Aid. Today, after successfully separating out Motorola's B2B and B2C business, Conrado's customer-centric B2B marketing strategy has proven to be one of the company's biggest profit centers -- a turnaround that could not have been possible without the support of his team.

Setting the right mood could be as simple as slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls or treating the team to Happy Hour on Fridays. Or it could require letting go of the naysayers and those who aren't cut out for the job. Whatever you do, make "whatever it takes" your new mood mantra, and you'll be well on your way.

Grab the reins, and create some tension

Once you have defined how you'll measure success, and you have improved the mood of the company, you're ready to ride. But unless you're also ready to create a little bit of tension (OK, a lot of tension), you're not going to make forward progress.

Ask a horse to walk to the left, and he might twitch his ears and flick his tail (or ignore you altogether), but unless it's his idea to go left, you're just watching prairie grass grow. But shorten up the reins on the left, and OK. Now you're getting somewhere.

As a change agent, once you've taken the reins, your task is to go in search of problems. Find out what's not working, where the breakdowns in systems and communications are, or where you're short-staffed or carrying dead weight, and do what needs to be done. Will you get push back? Absolutely. Will there be grumbling within the herd? Maybe. Who cares? This isn't a beauty contest. And it's not a democracy. It's CPR for a company or a brand that's coding, and there's no time to waste.

A little desperado goes a long way

When Marissa Mayer was brought in to resuscitate Yahoo, one of the most notable changes she implemented as CEO was to get rid of telecommuting. The uproar that ensued -- from the media to her employees -- was fast and furious, but Mayer stood firm in her decision. She knew that Yahoo was bleeding money, and telecommuting was costing the company dearly. In true desperado ("outlaw") fashion, she broke the "rules," stepped outside the lines, and unapologetically did what she knew needed to be done.

That's what I call "get on board, or get out" leadership. And I applaud it. Because right or wrong, with Mayer, you know who's boss. Does that mean everything she does will work? Probably not. But I tell you one thing: When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, people turned to Twitter for minute-by-minute updates, and they turned to Yahoo for in-depth news.

Not CNN. Not MSNBC. Yahoo. That says volumes, right there.

Now. I'm not advocating recklessness, carelessness, or any other kind of "lessness" that comes from making irresponsible decisions. But when you're making massive changes, you're going to have to take some risks -- and then push like heck in order to drive those changes into place. Know this going in, and your job will be much easier.

Have the courage to change horses in the middle of the stream -- especially if the horse doesn't swim

Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't change horses in the middle of the stream?" Arguably practical advice, right? But when you're blazing trails and making seat-of-your-pants decisions, you're going to make mistakes. And sometimes, those mistakes are going to demand you turn on a dime and make a snap-judgment call that's anything but practical.

I imagine this is something Sherilyn McCoy goes through on a daily basis.

McCoy took the reigns as CEO of Avon in April of 2012 (with no direct sales experience) to revive a company carrying a mountain of debt (more than $3 billion worth), and legal and organizational problems that continue to threaten stock prices and sales growth.

Will McCoy be able to turn Avon around? Your guess is as good as mine. But here's what I know: Just like her direct sales reps, she'll have to ring a lot of doorbells to get where she's going. And along the way, she's going to make mistakes -- maybe lots of them -- as she determines the best strategy for the company. We all do. That's the nature of this beast. And the highways and byways of success are littered with the remains of companies that tried turnarounds and failed. But mistakes are a part of the game. So be prepared to change strategy -- and then change it again -- and you'll improve your chances of success.

Any cowboy worth his salt will tell you that getting out in front of the herd can be a lonely experience. The same can be said of change agents charged with the monumental task of leading their company from failure to success.

But if you have even the smallest of prayers of making it through, of turning things around and taking a company that's barely breathing and infusing it with new life, you're going to need the full faith and support of your team. Use these five guidelines to get you moving, grow a thick skin, and jump in.

If you're ready to get started, I suggest you hold onto your hat -- it's going to be a wild ride.

Jeffrey Hayzlett is a bestselling author and global business celebrity.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"A cowgirl and her horse as the sun sets" image via Shutterstock.

Neal established Leavitt Communications in 1991. He brings to clients a unique blend of more than 25 years of marketing communications and journalism expertise. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from UC-Berkeley and a Master...

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