Today was the first day of OpenDialogue's Social Media Marketing conference in Toronto, at the Old Mill, where amidst the old world eclectic setting, we tried to make sense of the new media chaos that is social media. As if symbolizing the lingering role of old technology disrupting the promise of the digital age, an ornate chandelier obstructed the PowerPoint presentations from being fully viewable. Still, the Old Mill is the best location of any Toronto conference I have ever been to, not only for the beautiful building, natural setting, proper tables, but most importantly: comfy chairs and ample personal space. (Here’s a cardinal rule for conference organizers: if you expect people to sit all day, do not have crappy, hard plastic chairs stacked so tightly together I can’t exhale without knocking over my neighbour’s knee-straddled laptop.)
As one who follows social media developments, I’ve heard a lot of hype but haven’t seen a lot of proof on how it is actually transforming business. Today’s speakers presented case studies of impressive use of social media delivering business results and offered useful best practices and insight into the medium. I’ll focus on the points that particularly intrigued me.
NutriSystem presented on their Canadian launch. They recruited Canadian bloggers to try their products, for free, and blog about the results. That takes a lot of courage as bloggers are known for being opinionated and irrational at times (not this blogger of course). NutriSystem, and the bloggers themselves, were open and transparent about this arrangement, and NutriSystem did not direct or influence what the bloggers had to say, so there were no charges of “pimping”. According to NutriSystem, the bloggers delivered messages consistent with the company’s and were effective in generating interest and sales.
Perennial conference presenter Bryan Segal from comScore presented impressive statistics on Canada’s adoption of social media. Canadians have the highest rates of social media page views and visit durations and “Canada is a Facebook and YouTube nation” declared Bryan. I was dying to know why he felt we have such fondness (or in my case addiction) of social media, but figured it was too academic a question for this marketing-focused crowd.
Adrian Capobianco of Quizative offered a lot of useful guidance on social media, so I’ll just bullet his words:
• The Pope is into social marketing, are you?
• Should you be listening to social media? Absolutely? Should you be participating? Maybe.
• Social media is changing so fast it’s like running on sand instead of concrete
• Social media is popular as it is relevant, immediate, self expression, conversational, real, human
• To maximize engagement, reward contributions with badges/visibility, rankings, points, contests, discounts, gifts, cash
• Marketing structure is often campaign based, but social media is iterative & ongoing
• Companies using social media need to have an employee anointed to listen and empowered to respond
Focusing on the rewards of online niche marketing , Andrew Cherwenka from Trapeze described how highly targeted social networks are present in the mass social networks, like Facebook. I was impressed by his campaign he described for a car company. For a relatively small sum of money, they launched a microsite for a specific car, accessed from the main car company site. That microsite then feed to channels/groups on Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr where user fans could post their own content in an organized, social fashion. They advertised to initially get word out but then involvement snowballed.
Making similar innovate use of existing social media, Wayne MacPhail, presented how an Ontario charity made incredible use of wikis, delicious, Google, and Flickr, to enables individual across its many local chapters to organize and produce their own content. As he pointed out, what resulted was the “opposite of the tragedy of the commons” as there was a high degree of participation and surprisingly little negative behaviour. To get this level of involvement, they did have to do some one-on-one in-person training and have instructional aids, but with some inventive use of existing, free services (such as Flickr’s slideshows, Google Maps, RSS feeds from delicious) the users themselves were inspired and able to do it themselves.
Overall, the conference today had a lot useful advice to offer companies on how to enter social media, but the examples cited today and, in generally hyped by social media enthusiasts are that it enables companies to now have earnest conversations and responsive action with their customers. This is rather utopian and not new, as companies have been able to do this through their telephone and email customer support - and we all know how mixed this media service has been. We are at a social media conference, so we do need to hype cases where companies did have the culture to be open to this, but as some presenters acknowledge social media participation (everyone should be monitoring) is not for every company – and this, I would argue, is the main reason why.
I opened this post describing the irony of discussing new media at the Old Mill. In another old vs. new analogy: before I left for the conference this morning my four year old daughter asked me incredulously if I was going to be talking about YouTube for my work (she LOVES it, BTW). As an Internet vet (ten years last month) it makes me so happy that I can reply to her that yes I was going to talk about YouTube and yes this was my job – how cool is that!