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Friday, July 18, 2008

BlogHer Business 2008: Social Media Outreach Programs

Reach Out! originally uploaded by ~diP.
'Reaching out' or 'outreach' carries with it the notion of extending help to others, often those in need.

From a social media perspective, outreach has to do with offering relevant value to the social media community. If done well - with humility, transparency and sincerity - you establish a relationship, with all of the benefits that come from long term relationships, and all of the responsibilities, too.

Outreach makes increasingly more sense when consumers value word-of-mouth recommendations far more highly than they do corporate pitches. However, it also requires an approach counter to traditional push and mass communications.

BlogHer Business 2008 presented several fascinating social media outreach examples where companies had 'reached out' to bloggers to get word out to the marketplace about the value they have to offer.

One panel, moderated by advertising exec and momblogpreneur Liz Gumbinner, with Susan Getgood, Mir Kamin and Maria Niles, examined how best to reach out. The reason: the old marketing paradigms no longer work. The traditional shotgun public relations approach is wrong for the social media community; it generates mostly irrelevant and impersonal pitches that aren't welcome. It's time, then, to improve outreach efforts. Bloggers are not journalists. Rather, they are customers and also editors. Don't speak rudely to bloggers as they are your customers. Rudeness to them suggests that you just don't know how to interact with any customers.

Getgood shared her principles or The Four Ps of Social Media Engagement: Prepare - get to know the blogger; Participate - be part of the community; and only then Pitch or Publish.

Good engagement means that you read the blog, cultivate relationships, know the content, make no hard pitches, and make it clear that your are aware of content/tone/humour. It also requires that you give back to the blogger. Don't ask or expect anything. Be transparent.

Interestingly, these are also the approaches that work best in marketing to women and in cultivating relationships with your women customers.

Next, we learned about the efforts that several major companies are involved in.

Last November, General Motors approached podcasters The Manic Mommies about sponsoring the first-ever Manic Mommies Escape Weekend. GM’s sponsorship focused primarily on providing transportation options to attendees. Jill Whalen interviewed GM's Natalie Johnson about GM's strategy for this kind of sponsorship, and Manic Mommies' Erin Kane about why Manic Mommies accepted GM's sponsorship, and how they responded.

Here is the Manic Mommies writeup on the Escape Weekend and the GM FYI Blog recap of the event. Both read as a total success, with 100 mommies - and one GM daddy - spending a terrific 2 days relaxing, laughing and appreciating a well-deserved get-away-from-it-all. It constituted a genuine experience, where GM helped to add value via non-traditional outreach to these potential customers. This was not a sales pitch. But, it generated results, reaching beyond the 100 people who participated. Through this program, GM built a relationship with an important community, taking a critical step toward changing perceptions of its brand and company. [Interesting to contrast this with Ford's more traditional The Big Drive, an experiential marketing party done with House Party, to promote Ford products.]

Graco represented another fascinating case study. Graco, a 52 year old company, has built a reputation around its childcare products. [I have a slew of them either in use or in the attic -car seats, strollers, booster seats, pack/play, .... They are functional and dependable. I trust that they will keep my child safe.] Elana Centor took us through the story of the Graco Get-Together program, with Graco's Lindsay Lebresco, her agency Converseon's Christin Eubanks, and one of the bloggers on their outreach list, Beth Blecherman.

Lindsay explained that the Graco Get-Together program came out of wanting to humanize the brand and show that Graco is a company run by parents. Read through the Graco Blog and you'll experience for yourself the humanity captured there. Before getting started, though, she spent a great deal of time listening to conversations on message boards, forums and blogs, to guide the social media strategy.

Graco sponsored the first Get-Together in San Francicso working with Silicon Valley Moms [6 bloggers]. The Get-Togethers are opportunities to meet the contributors; offer value; get reactions to products, and have a conversation. Note the Flickr group with photos of this and subsequent events in other cities around the country. These are soft sell events.

Graco via 7 company bloggers has been blogging since late 2007. Lindsay is the lead blogger, with 60% of her time spent on social media and 40% of traditional public relations. Her blogger presence helps establish trust with bloggers. A customer service approach helps guide the relationships.

Next, Susan Getgood presented Hewlett Packard's blogger outreach example around HP's Photo Books. She was the consultant on the initiative. She, HP's Victoria Naffier and one of the bloggers on their outreach list, Liz Gumbinner, shared the HP story.

The project represented a major culture change for HP, away from talking about themselves and pushing only sales, instead looking at users. At the same time, the company was transitioning from being a printer company to a printing company. By looking at how people used Web 2.0 and combined on and off line to express themselves and share memories, HP learned a great deal about users, obtained valuable product feedback and created relationships all supporting the printing company transition.

The overall project sounded impressive in its scope [read full notes below], with thousands of moms being involved in product trials and reviews. Susan interviewed several of the blogger participants about their love of cameras, publishing the interviews on Photographic Memories. Also check out the Flickr group which includes some amazing photos!

The results of the program were phenomenal: the main promotion took place via outreach and hp.com. HP significantly exceeded its online sales goals [i.e., they were 10x better than expected].

This next case, I found particularly fascinating as I've been somewhat aware of the product/company, but never fully understood it.

Anna Boyarsky from Method, Amy Cotteleer from their agency, A Squared Group, and one of the participating bloggers, Kathryn Thompson described the Detox Seattle program introduced by Method, which manufactures environmentally friendly home care products. Mary Hunt moderated.

Method was founded 7 years ago in San Francisco and makes earth friendly, counter top friendly products in recognizable shapes. The products have substance and style. They've also become closely associated with Target.

Their goal was to do good in "detoxing" Seattle, but also to build business, by generating word of mouth about Method and by signing up new Method Advocates. The results of the outreach program were stunning: a huge increase in Method Advocates, lots of online chatter...and nearly 1000 pounds of toxic chemicals collected and safely disposed of.

Method believes strongly in grass roots marketing. Although they do some print advertising, budgets are limited. Through grass roots marketing, they aim to get the product into the hands of advocates. That helps to overcome the assumption that Method is only available at Target.

The first 'detox' event took place in a greenhouse in Seattle and offered the opportunity to bring the brand together in 360 way. Method infused their brand dna within the space. 50 mom bloggers were invited to take part in an event celebrating 'cleaning like a mother.' Next was Boston, then NYC, and Minneapolis. The project has been part of a bigger community story, about lifestyles and choices, where participants are offered something of value. Check out the people against dirty community!

Finally, Nelly Yusupova moderated a panel with three prominent Microsoft bloggers: Ani Babaian, Sara Ford and Ariel Stallings about how their Microsoft blogging builds a bridge between the world of corporate social media engagement and their own personal technology passions. Microsoft has a history of sending employee bloggers out into the online community to foster better developer and user relations. Nelly summarized her panel in Microsoft Social Media Outreach Case Study.

[Note: here is BlogHer Business 2008's live blogged transcript of the session.]

As you think through these examples of social media outreach programs, consider how you might reach out to your most important customers and establish a relationship with them, where you neither sell nor expect anything, but where you offer value. You might be amazed at what you learn about yourself, your brand, your products and your retail experience.

Other BlogHer Business 2008 Posts:
BlogHer Business 2008: The Diva & The Fashionista
BlogHer Business 2008: Hats Off To Wiggly Wigglers...

[Added 7/25/08: I just came across Interview with Danny Alexander from Method.]

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Anonymous said...

What a great blog! Outreach is always important, especially in women I believe. I found it that whenever I go to a women's business network, I come away learning something new everytime.

CB Whittemore said...

dehoang, thanks very much! You are right, outreach does matter and anytime you can learn from others, you benefit.

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