Feb 09, 2011

Content and Conversations: How Leading Consumer Brands Are Leveraging Social Media

This was my first year attending Social Media Week, a series of gatherings that connect people interested in emerging trends in social and mobile media.

There are many interesting panels taking place throughout the week, but one can only be at one place at a time, so I settled on “Content and Conversations,” which focused on how leading consumer brands are leveraging social media in their marketing campaigns and how they measure success.

Media and Social Media

Randall Rothenberg, executive vice president and chief digital officer of Time Inc., kicked things off by talking about the history of social media and where it is now.

“There’s nothing new about social media,” said Rothenberg. “There’s nothing new about connecting with other people on a social level. The difference is that, today, it’s being codified.”

Magazines were the original social networks, he said. They filled a void for men and women who were otherwise isolated. They were the original connection points that got people thinking about things outside of their community. Media inform “opinion leaders,” who then spread the word to other people, who then spread the word to even more people, and so on.

While there’s nothing new about marketing, what has changed is the technology and tools used in marketing. “Social media has evolved into tools for marketers,” said Rothenberg. “We have found new and dynamic ways to communicate with our customers. Social media is critical to what we do and how we think.”

But the bottom line is still the same: You have to listen to your audience and communicate with them. Social media just gives marketers another avenue for doing that.

Social Media and Innovation

Next up was Steven Berlin Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.” In his book, Johnson explored the common characteristics of the spaces that have unusually innovative thinking. He asked, What are the core ingredients that push people to think in innovative ways?

Historically, coffee houses were where many of the breakthrough ideas were taking shape, and he looked at what it was about these spaces that fostered such innovative thinking. What he found was that coffee houses typically brought together people with diverse interests and opened up free-ranging conversations about many different topics. Interesting sparks would fly and connections were forged. This points to the importance of diversity in innovation.

“Innovators have weak ties and loose connections to a larger, more diverse range of people,” said Johnson. “It’s in those fluid, unplanned conversations that interesting new ideas are sparked.”

Diversity in our social networks is important for innovation, he continued. On some fundamental level, we’ll be smarter, more original and more creative because of those connections.

While a lot people believe social media only reinforces our beliefs and that we’re getting more insular, Johnson disagrees. “We are also connected to way more potential diversity than we were in, say, the age of television,” he explained. “If you are seeking out diversity, the Web and social media are the greatest tools ever to do that.”

Johnson also believes the linking that social media allows is key to that diversity. “It’s not about the 140 characters, but about the links [your connections] send you. My followers have more impact on what I read than does the entire editorial board of the New York Times.”

Ultimately, he said, what drives innovation is the combination of old ideas and new configurations.

Social Media Marketing

We also heard from several key brands and how they are using social media to create awareness.


Mike Melazzo, head of sponsorship for Nokia, shared a case study of how Nokia partnered with Disney to cross-promote the new Nokia N8 touch-screen phone and “Tron: Legacy.”

The promotion involved several tactics:

  • Nokia N8 product integration in the film;
  • Exclusive “Tron: Legacy” content, which facilitated dialogue through the device and helped Nokia tell a story;
  • 360-degree campaign (TV, retail, digital, PR, Nokia’s own media, etc.);
  • Retail and customer marketing (movie trailer featured in Nokia stores);
  • Social media and word of mouth, which helped drive positive conversations about Nokia and Nokia N8.


More than 80,000 people got involved in the promotion in the first 24 hours. Nokia’s Facebook page jumped to more than 1 million fans, with more than 9,000 likes and 3,000 comments. They also saw a 150 percent increase in their average daily site visits, and doubled the number of @nseries (twitter.com/nseries) Twitter replies and retweets.

Lessons learned:

  • Keep it in real time, with immediate benefits for audiences and consumers.
  • Take the party to the people: Make sure the activity is centralized around where people naturally converge online.
  • Reward participation and collaboration, which will encourage people to get involved.
  • Understand how your audience wants to be engaged. “We knew we had an uber-techy audience,” said Melazzo. You have to find out what is interesting to  your audience.
  • Add something for people at all levels. For example, Nokia provided hidden code on their page code for those who were tech-savvy, while still providing entertainment and value for those who wanted less interaction.
  • Leverage partnerships to build relationships with new audiences. “Find out who those partners are,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a channel partner.”

People Magazine

Kimberly Miller, vice president of consumer marketing for Time Inc., then shared her experience with People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive promotion. The magazine focused their goals for the 2010 list on Facebook. They wanted to: grow their “fan” base, create an engaging experience for consumers and expand the core franchise to be multi-platform.

Their core concept, she said, was a consumer poll. The editorial team selected five social media-savvy male celebrities, and let people vote on which one they thought was the sexiest. The poll ran for only 10 days, and people had to “like” people before they could vote. Users could vote multiple times, and the winner would be featured in the Sexiest Man Alive issue.

Within two weeks, People added 240,000 fans to their Facebook page, and surpassed half a million “likes.” They saw about 50 percent engagement, a significant increase from the average of 10 percent.

To promote the poll, they posted the information on their Facebook wall, tweeted about it to their followers, and ran a Facebook display ad campaign. They also promoted it in the print magazine, and did PR outreach (press pickup included CNN, MTV, Mashable and “Entertainment Tonight”).

The men in the poll also promoted themselves on their own Facebook and Twitter accounts and on their websites. The celebrities’ friends tweeted on their behalf, as well. Old Spice even tweeted on behalf of the “Old Spice Guy,” one of the celebrities featured in the poll. One exception was Vin Diesel, who didn’t tweet or post on his wall at all. However, his “rabid” fans mobilized on his behalf, and he wound up winning the poll.

Key learnings:

  • Facebook users love to take polls on Facebook.
  • Ads can serve as a discovery tool for users.
  • Using other platforms to drive users to Facebook works.
  • Engaged consumers keep coming back.

Banyan Branch

Dave Hanley, principal, Banyan Branch, shared several case studies.

First, he shared a promotion for the Get Schooled initiative, which was co-founded by Viacom and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to generate greater awareness and engagement in addressing the nation’s education crisis and to offer practical resources and support to students. They knew they had to use social media to reach high-school students with their message, so they created a series of videos featuring celebrities, such as Lil Wayne, who then leveraged their supporters and platforms to reach out to their fans. They also contacted journalists and bloggers who cover music and got them to promote the message. In addition, they created a Get Schooled tour, featuring Ludacris, which went to schools all around the country, allowing them to localize the message.

For another client, Univision, they came up with a promotion for the channel’s new soccer channel, Univision Futbol, during the World Cup. They launched a mobile application and a Facebook page. They also listened to what bloggers were saying about the World Cup, and created a list of the 600 most influential ones and provided them with World Cup info every day, giving them valuable content to share with their own readers. The result: While bloggers normally make up about 1 percent of traffic to the site, they pushed about 30 percent during the promotion.

For Gilt Groupe’s launch of their new kids’ fashion line, they again listened to what bloggers were saying about the brand or using competitive terms and got them involved by offering them guest postings, inviting them to great contests, etc.

“Bloggers can help you reach new audiences,” said Hanley. Uncover champions through monitoring, and build close relationships. Connect them with the brand, editorial and experience, and they can help you build a community of supporters.

Kraft Foods

Jessica Robinson, associate director of consumer engagement, Kraft Foods, said companies should look at how they are connecting with their community and their fans. It’s not just about what your brand gives consumers, but what they give back to you.

“Once upon a time, the brand URL was the primary destination,” said Robinson. Now, you have Facebook, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, websites and many other avenues for engaging with an audience.

Robinson shared details of Kraft’s recent campaign for Oreo cookies. Oreo’s digital vision was to reach moms where they already are. Because moms spend nearly 20 percent of their online minutes on Facebook, the company launched a Facebook page in August 2009. They not only posted new product information and news, but they also actively listened and engaged with consumers. The page now has 16 million fans, making it the third largest brand on Facebook.

Because they are a global brand, their page is also global, which content and interaction in English, Spanish and French.

A good social media promotion provides an experience that connects digital and social, she said. It has to inspire consumer engagement and advocacy.

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists find expert sources. You can read more from Maria at her blog on ProfNet Connect, a free social network connecting PR professionals, experts and the media: http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

5 Comments on Blog Post Title

Jamie 12:41 EST on Feb 9, 2011

Thanks for the thorough overview… I feel like I was there =)

Maria Perez 13:45 EST on Feb 9, 2011

Thanks, Jamie! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

Dee Rambeau 19:25 EST on Feb 9, 2011

Terrific coverage piece Maria…thanks for sharing this insight.

Maria Perez 08:36 EST on Feb 10, 2011

Thanks, Dee!

Alessandra 17:18 EDT on Aug 24, 2011

Love the lessons learned in the Nokia-Tron case study. I think that it is so critical to know your audience! If you dont, how do you expect them feel connected to your brand? I recently wrote a blog post on social media for consumer products. You can check it out here: http://www.mysmn.com/social-media-for-consumer-products-expose-yourself/

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