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6 socially savvy brands


In my previous iMedia article, "6 social media platforms at a glance," I outlined key components and benefits of popular social media platforms. In this article, I'm going to build on that foundation and provide examples of six brands that are effectively engaging in each of those platforms. Armed with real-world examples, your company will have much greater success when engaging across social media platforms.

Engagement leads to marriage
According to a recent study by Wetpaint and Altimeter Group, socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful than those that are not. "The ENGAGEMENTdb Report: Ranking the Top 100 Global Brands" provided statistically relevant insights into the power of social media, as well as in-depth case studies on brands like Starbucks, Toyota, and SAP. A few highlights from the report that will help frame our discussion include:

  • Companies that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference.

  • There is an exponential growth in the depth of engagement as the brand extends itself into more and more channels.

  • More touchpoints can present a ripple effect, inducing viral marketing, boosting brand recognition, and driving sales volume.

  • A customer-oriented mindset stemming from deep social interaction allows a company to identify and meet customer needs in the marketplace, thereby generating superior profits.

  • Engagement cannot remain the sole province of a few social media experts, but instead must be embraced by the entire organization.

Evaluation criteria
Since I lack the math and analytical skills of Charlene Li at Altimeter Group, I used a different set of evaluation criteria when selecting brands that chose the right social media platform. A secondary set of criteria was to try not to use well-known examples of brand efforts in these platforms, in order to provide a somewhat fresh perspective.

The evaluation criteria I used when selecting brands are based on the foundational elements of my original iMedia article, and include:

  • Adherence to key success factors: transparency, honesty, relevance, value, and commitment

  • Utilization of technology integration elements: RSS/XML feeds, status updates, comments, ratings, reviews, forum discussions, and social badges

  • Ability to incorporate active platform and profile monitoring, creation of unique and timely content, engagement with constituents (conversations), and empowerment (providing tools for fans to evangelize the brand)

First, let's take a look at a winning MySpace strategy.

Brand: BlackBerry
Research In Motion (RIM) is a leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of mobile communications devices. Although BlackBerry phones are designed primarily for the business market, the newer models appeal to socially savvy consumers, including those in Generation Y. As such, creating a presence in MySpace was a logical move for RIM.

Although MySpace has been bleeding market share to Facebook and other social platforms, it still has a significant following. BlackBerry does an excellent job of cutting through the clutter on MySpace with a custom-skinned profile page. The page includes a branded interactive banner featuring promotions and product information, free wallpaper, and discussion board.

What is most compelling about BlackBerry's profile page is not the slick design, but the level of engagement with its nearly 48,000 friends. Unlike brands of similar size, the discussion board is unusually active. Furthermore, the content is designed to appeal to a younger audience, thanks to hip wallpaper designs and socially savvy product messaging and offers.

Brand: Hewlett Packard
Hewlett Packard (HP) is one of the world's largest software and technology services company. With a long history in the tech industry, HP's business-to-business community is highly active on LinkedIn. Thus, HP has smartly engaged in the LinkedIn community surprisingly effectively.

Evaluating a presence on LinkedIn is more challenging than consumer platforms like Facebook and YouTube. For starters, the new Company Profiles feature does not include engagement elements. There is also no easy way to determine the level of engagement of company employees. That said, there are a few places a company can engage in LinkedIn: Jobs, Questions & Answers, and Groups.

The lowest-hanging fruit for creating a corporate presence on LinkedIn is by posting to the Jobs section. Of course, this first step requires your company to have job openings, which isn't easy in this economy. That said, HP has 36 jobs posted through its profile, which is a significant number in comparison to similar brands.

The second area of opportunity is Questions & Answers. Employees that provide the "Best Answer" to questions posed by the LinkedIn community receive credit and exposure as "experts." Those with the largest number of Best Answers have a top position within their category. In the computers and software category, an HP employee has the second highest number of Best Answers, elevating the visibility and credibility of the HP brand.

Last but not least, LinkedIn Groups create significant engagement opportunities, as members with similar interests, experience, or employers can connect and collaborate. There are many Groups dedicated to the HP brand, but few brands have such an activated employee base, including HP Connections, with more than 36,000 members.

Brand: Kodak
Eastman Kodak Co. (Kodak) has been a global leader in the imaging business since developing its first camera in 1888. After an arguably slow start in the transition to a digital world, Kodak has since embraced the medium with its blog, A Thousand Words.

Kodak realized that anyone with a camera can take a picture, but that each picture was an opportunity for a conversation. Kodak has taken a relatively safe but effective approach to its blog, dedicating a handful of employees to create expert content, and engaging readers through contests.

The quickest way to tell if a blog is credible is to see how long it's been around, the frequency of posts, volume of comments, and overall visibility. Unfortunately for me, Kodak's blog does not have an easily accessible archive or comment count. Regardless, it's relatively easy to tell the blog is updated daily by multiple authors. Furthermore, the blogroll provides helpful links back to the Kodak site and other social profiles.

A Thousand Words does to a few things right. For starters, the navigation area includes a user guide for employees and readers.

Social proof is always a compelling selling tool, thus the "Top 5 Posts" in the navigation.

Most importantly, the Kodak team provides interesting, useful, and often humorous content regularly. An image is indeed worth 1,000 words on this blog.


Brand: Lion Brand Yarn
One of Facebook's most compelling benefits is the viral impact of its "Share" feature and activity updates. According to Starbucks in the ENGAGEMENTdb report, "for every four people that interacted with a particular news item, another three people are added virally as friends of those people."

Established in 1878, the premium yarn maker Lion Brand Yarn was ripe for tapping social media, but had yet to dip its toes as of May 2009. With help from my agency, Anvil Media, Lion Brand developed a social media marketing plan, centered on Facebook. As outlined in a social media marketing case study, Lion Brand engaged its Facebook community by sharing industry insights via status updates, answering technical questions, and encouraging fans to share their own knitting patterns.

Launched in June, Lion Brand's Facebook profile now has nearly 40,000 fans and is averaging more than 1,000 interactions weekly. More compelling is the fact that Facebook users convert to sales at a rate that is 51 percent higher than the average referring site. In terms of engagement, Lion Brand is able to gain insights into which knitting patterns are most popular before rolling them out on its site. Lion Brand is also highly active on Twitter and YouTube, primarily from an educational and thought-leadership perspective, seamlessly integrating the profiles and cross-promoting content.

Brand: Zappos
Mark Yolton, senior VP the SAP Community Network, says, "A corporate presence doesn't speak well in Twitter. It's better to have individual voices in Twitter where they can engage as people." Fortunately, Zappos agreed, and has generated significant buzz as a result.

Although Zappos' Twitter endeavors have been widely covered in the trade press, I'd be hard-pressed to point to a better example of a brand finding a fit on the Twitter platform. Emerging as the internet's most famous online shoe retailer, Zappos has since expanded its product lines to include clothing, handbags, and electronics. Ignoring conventional corporate wisdom about the dangers of encouraging employees to engage in social media, Zappos actually encourages all employees to participate on Twitter.

Leading from the front, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has developed a significant presence in Twitter with nearly 1.5 million followers. Zappos employees have followed suit. Through a mix of humorous observations and quotes, Hsieh puts a human face on a large online retailer in a way few other platforms can effectively achieve.

As impressive as Hsieh's following may be, Zappos is most famous for its aggressive stance regarding employee use of social media. Nearly 500 of the Zappos employees are active on Twitter, and are easily accessible via a directory on its site. In the near-term, the first-mover advantage has generated significant coverage, but time will tell if the policy is an outlier or the new standard.

Brand: Nike
Nike is the world's leading supplier of athletic shoes and apparel, and a major manufacturer of sports equipment. Since 2004, Nike's skateboarding division, Nike SB, has grown its street credibility by sponsoring world-class skateboarders. Skaters are intrinsically passionate about keeping up on the latest tricks and have tremendous appreciation for high-quality images and video of top athletes. As such, YouTube is a natural home for Nike SB.

What is most compelling about Nike SB's YouTube channel is its relative infancy. The channel has only been around three months, but in that short amount of time, nine videos have generated nearly 1.4 million channel views. In fact, the Nike SB YouTube channel is the 12th most-subscribed and 32nd most-viewed sponsored (corporate) channel of all time.

Beyond having unusually amazing video content, the Nike SB YouTube channel stays relevant to the ad-averse youthful target audience by not over-branding the page. Instead, the channel uses a "sponsorship" model with a masthead that sells the latest line of shoes, and lets the videos do the heavy lifting.

To further validate the value of YouTube as an interactive engagement platform, I took a look at a few key metrics. The Nike SB channel has more than 14,000 subscribers, 35 friends, and 700+ comments. It should be said, however, that Nike would benefit from updating the content more frequently, and engaging with its fan base via comments.

Just a few years ago, an internal proponent of social media marketing would be considered a fringe loony. Today, executives resistant to engaging in social media are considered short-sighted troglodytes. We can attribute much of the sea change to an ability to demonstrate a measurable return-on-investment through case studies and industry research.

We have much to learn from the examples outlined in this article. Many of the featured companies have made mistakes so you don't have to repeat them. As outlined in my original article, "6 social media platforms at a glance," the key success factors when developing an effective social media presence include transparency, honesty, relevance, value and commitment.

As Scott DeYager, social media supervisor at Toyota says, "Because you can't gracefully exit -- once you're in, you're in."

Kent Lewis is president of Anvil Media and Formic Media, two search engine and social media marketing agencies based in Portland, Ore.

On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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