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5 ways to ignite a social media frenzy

5 ways to ignite a social media frenzy Brandon Evans
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Word of mouth is clearly one of the fastest-growing sectors in marketing. PQ Media's recent study has it growing 14.2 percent in 2008 to $1.54 billion and expects it to reach $3 billion by 2013. Powering that growth are social technologies that have made it increasingly easier for individuals to grow their spheres of influence and quickly spread content to their expanded social networks online.


Creating a campaign that ignites word of mouth online is far from an exact science. But it's not a mysterious game of chance, either. There are tried-and-true best practices that have been demonstrated to increase the chances that consumers will want to share your brand and its messages with their friends and family. In this article, we'll take a look at five core word-of-mouth triggers and the brands that have leveraged them for successful campaigns.

With the advent and rise of social platforms, influence has been democratized more than ever. As a result, brands need to expand the breadth and range of individuals on their radar. Brands that successfully identify members of key communities and empower them to use their influence and credibility gain relevance through personalized messaging that resonates with these influencers' audiences.


While having a popular blog or a lot of Twitter followers can certainly help amplify a brand's message, it's not necessary. Finding authentic voices within relevant communities is critical. A good example of a brand putting this into action is Ford's Fiesta Movement.


For the launch of the Fiesta, Ford knew it needed to change its reputation with the 20-something demographic. Rather than try to hitch itself to emerging trends that it felt would speak to this consumer, Ford took it straight to them. Ford launched a national contest to identify 100 drivers to take a six-month test drive of its new car.



The 100 selected were given keys to the cars and asked to participate in monthly missions as well as share their thoughts through their blogs and social networks. Everything was aggregated at FiestaMovement.com, providing a real look into to the lives and experiences of a diverse set of consumers tied into the communities Ford was looking to impact.

While more and more brands realize a new set of influencers exists for their brands, the way they communicate with them can often lack substance. Brands should seek to create programming rather than messaging in an attempt to generate word of mouth. Thinking more like a TV producer and less like an advertising exec will result in creating compelling content that has value and is more likely to generate interest and spread.


An example of a brand creating a meaningful platform is Pepperidge Farm Goldfish brand's Fishful Thinking campaign. Pepperidge Farm identified a key need for young moms: Children were becoming less optimistic than previous generations. As a result, the Goldfish brand launched Fishful Thinking, an initiative led by child psychologist Dr. Reivich to help moms instill optimism in their children.



The initiative struck a chord with moms and became the centerpiece of all marketing activities. To spread the movement, Pepperidge Farm launched an ambassador network, "The School of Fishful Thinking," through which 1,000 moms were invited to learn from the brand and Dr. Reivich so they could take their learnings back to their communities. Moms spoke at PTA meetings, spread weekly parenting activities to their online networks, and drove other moms to FishfulThinking.com so they could learn more about instilling optimism in their children.

It's no secret that people love free stuff and promotions. While this has long been a motivator used by brands to get consumers engaged and get products in consumers' hands, social media has made this tactic highly viral, with reach well beyond just those who get the goods. Website-building companies like Squarespace and Moonfruit both instantly became top Twitter trending topics for their giveaways of Apple products by asking users to tweet their hashtags for a chance to win. Many such promotions have quickly spread on Twitter.


On Facebook, brands like Starbucks ice cream and Papa John's have quickly gained viral participation and Facebook fans by giving away their products. Starbucks, offering up 800 pints per hour, allowed people to send a pint of their new ice cream flavors to friends. Papa John's added 125,000 fans in one day with a free pizza offer. Burger King offered up a highly viral creative twist on giveaways when it offered a free Whopper to anyone who defriended 10 of their Facebook friends with the Whopper Sacrifice app. Despite not adhering to Facebook's Terms and Conditions, the app quickly spread and more than 230,000 Facebook friendships were terminated as a result.

"The Daily Record," the local paper of Dunn, N.C., boasts the highest penetration of any newspaper in the U.S. at an astounding 112 percent. Its secret? Post as many local names and pictures as they can. The newspaper realized early on that when people are featured in the paper, they will not only purchase their copy but others to share with friends and family. People simply like to see themselves in print. The same rule applies online.


In reviewing what spreads online, another key theme arose. Those campaigns that allowed consumers to feature themselves or friends in a cool or humorous way often saw success when done well. Moveon.org's Obama video executed on this brilliantly by allowing people to insert a friend's name into a video newscast claiming Obama lost by one vote and they were to blame. The person's name was shown repeatedly on the screen in what looked like a real newscast, causing viewers to forward the video to other friends with their name included, resulting in more than 10 million views of the video.


For the Activision game "Prototype", the brand took the idea even further. To launch the game, it asked users to log in via Facebook Connect on its website to view the trailer for the game. Once they did, the user viewed a trailer filled with personal information, pictures, and content embedded in highly contextual ways. This unique twist put the consumer front and center, causing users to take notice and share the experience with friends.

Content is king. This cliché is even more applicable when applied to sparking word of mouth online. Unlike TV, where there are limited built-in audiences waiting to tune in, online views are earned by creating content that users feel compelled to spread. With competition for eyeballs more fierce than ever, marketers must identify the content that will really resonate with their consumers and execute in an innovative, shocking, or laugh-out-loud way.


After viewing a T-Mobile commercial of users dancing in the Liverpool Tube Station, a Facebook member organized a Facebook flash mob to create a choreographed dance in the middle of the Liverpool station. Clueless bystanders were left wondering what was going on as everyone around them broke out in dance. The video has resulted in more than 13 million views on YouTube.


To spread the word about Marshall's store-within-a-store, called The Cube, Marshall's joined up with Liam Sullivan's YouTube sensation and cross-dresser character, Kelly, to create a prequel video to her popular videos like "Shoes" and "Let Me Borrow That Top." Hilarity ensued, delighting not only core Kelly fans but all those who shared the video with friends (resulting in nearly 1 million views to date).


While there have been some outliers, the majority of online word of mouth successes can be traced back to at least one of these triggers. Incorporating a trigger alone will by no means guarantee success; they do, however, provide a blueprint by which brands can access the strategies that will best resonate with their consumers. 


Brandon Evans is managing partner, strategy and services, for Mr Youth


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Brandon is the founder and CEO of Crowdtap, a social marketing platform that enables leading brands and agencies to collaborate with their most passionate consumers. Crowdtap is Mashable's "Up-and-Coming Social Media Service of the year and its...

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Commenter: Mark Cohen

2009, October 19

Brilliant article. Some really great insights.