Let’s cut to the chase. Most CEOs and Managing Directors are skeptical about social media. They genuinely believe it can’t deliver. From their perspective, shareholders aren’t interested in how many fans you have on your Facebook page or in the number of hits on your viral video. “Foul air’s not gonna fill our coffers” they would say. Fair enough. But read on and see how others have leveraged social media to achieve specific objectives and if you are a marketer still swimming in the sewers of social media, let this open up your eyes.

Sajith Weerasinghe

There’s a lot of marketing you could learn from non-marketing people, especially, the artistes/musicians. I said that before, I know. But it becomes more relevant to social media. The best thing about their marketing programs is that they don’t look so forced. I am sure they must be having their own marketing folk, but I think there’s some form of control. One such great musician is Jack Johnson. His gentle, slow, laid-back music gives no indication as to what kind of a hardcore marketer he is. He recorded his 2008 studio album, “Sleep through the static” using 100% solar energy, and he donated 1% of his earnings to www.onepercent.org. In 2009, he launched a very simple, yet powerful, social media campaign on Twitter. It’s so simple, I don’t need to write more than one line about it!

Users had to log on to his Twitter page (twitter.jackjohnsonmusic.com/), and simply pass a message on to their friends, to download a song from his album. It is brilliant – I think only musicians can think like this. JJ teaches us a great lesson about being quick to experiment, and keeping it simple. It was a great awareness building campaign, in the process of giving a taste of his new album, “En Concert”. Overnight success at almost no cost!

It feels like it was ages ago when Michael Dell rocked the PC market with his direct selling mechanism. Now he is back, and it’s big! Dell’s social media strategy is multifold – branding, CSR, sourcing business intelligence, and the selling of their products. The program is well designed on many social channels. On Facebook, Dell has created a resource for “Social Media for Small Business” (http://www.facebook.com/dellsocialmedia – check it out). It’s not frivolous and fluffy. It’s very useful, and cleverly targeted at one of Dell’s key segments – small business owners. Dell has uploaded pictures and videos, organises web events and has a whole load of useful information to help small business owners launch effective social media campaigns. Still, this isn’t the best part of their social media strategy. It’s the sales they have generated on Twitter, that takes precedence. Dell has more than 100 employees on Twitter, tweeting over 35 different channels, in 12 different countries. In December, DailyTech carried an article that, on Twitter alone, Dell had made sales worth $6.5 million. Interestingly enough, more than a tenth of this came from Brazil.

If you think social media is involving, cumbersome and expensive, let IKEA change your mind. What IKEA did became so popular it attracted wider publicity from blogsphere and the marketing community so chances are you have already heard about this. It’s so simple, I was almost not going to write about it. Forsman and Bodenfors, one of IKEA’s long standing agency partners in Sweden, simply created a Facebook profile for the new Malmo store manager, and used existing Facebook tools. They uploaded pictures of IKEA showrooms in his profile and whoever tagged their name to a product in any of the pictures, got the first chance to own it. Once they tagged a picture, it showed on their news feed and the user’s entire friend network got exposed to the promotion. Soon, the demand for IKEA pictures grew, creating awareness about the new store and the products there. If you go thru the feeds, you will find many begging the store manager to upload pics. With a limited budget, they were able to create country wide awareness on their most modern IKEA store in Sweden.

“Don’t Divorce Us” is a brilliant example of how you can muster the support of people, for a cause. Courage Campaign (www.couagecampaign.org) began to motivate 18,000 devoted same sex couples, when Ken Starr filed legal briefs seeking to nullify their marriages. Courage campaign asked people to send in their personal pictures which were later used on a YouTube video (Search for “Fidelity – don’t divorce us”) which is really worth watching – and don’t forget to check the comments. Many viewers have admitted to tearing up during the video. It moved thousands, using actual photos of people with messages like “Don’t divorce my son and son-in-law” and “Please don’t divorce my mommies”. We are yet to see the result of this campaign, but the campaigners managed to put a human face to an otherwise legal battle.

Charity Water (www.charity.org) is an example of nonprofit marketing in the digital age. According to Wikipedia, the founder, Scott Harrison, realised there are one billion people who don’t have access to clean drinking water, something he had in abundance and took for granted. He decided to do something about it. He asked his friends to bring him $20 as his 31st birthday gift. The money raised with his guest list of 700, was used to dig six wells in Uganda. Their projects started to collect thousands of dollars once they went on social media. An idea suggested by a fan of the organisation, made Charity Water launch Twestivals on Twitter, attracting people from all over the world, to regional fun parties to raise funds for their projects. What’s really brilliant about this project is that you could register and have a Twestival in your city. The organisation had raised one million dollars for a project in Ethiopia, which changed the lives of 50,000 Ethiopians. This is an excellent example of an organisation that is using social media to do social good.

This brings us to the last example. Obviously, this is the one I love the most, for several reasons. It’s more creative and demonstrates excellent online/offline integration, it’s well thought out and awesome. Weiden + Kennedy’s Portland studio had to come up with a marketing solution, to reinvent the marketing of a movie to mark the release of the new animated film, Coraline. What exactly did they do? Made a mind blowing movie trailer first, then designed exquisite handmade boxes filled with original artifacts from the movie, then sent them out to online influencers. What’s so big about this? The online community is not used to getting tangible stuff and if they ever did, they were usually, badly made cheepos. Some bloggers have confessed that had you received one of those boxes, you would not resist writing good things about the movie. So, people first heard about the movie from the online community, and were then exposed to the trailer. Closer to the release, Weiden + Kennedy coupled other traditional stuff, like movie posters, to the campaign.

If you are still skeptical about the whole thing, there are a few tricks you can resort to. But it will always be chaotic, due to its volatility. It will always be experimental. Hence, overspending on social media marketing, is a definite no-no. The returns may take time, perseverance on your part is required, and you don’t have 100% control over it. Try to start off cheap, and evaluate how you could progress. Also, you have to be willing to make mistakes, so if you are not sure which way it will go, start off as a neutral piece, and bring the brand component in when you see the signs of success, thus minimizing the risk factor.

I think we have spoken enough about social media – and if you still think it’s just only foul air, go and jump off the building. It may be a good end to your marketing career.

Sajith Weerasinghe is currently a Strategic Planner in a multinational company in Colombo, Sri Lanka, handling both international and local brands. His articles have appeared in various magazines. His blog, ‘silentdogs.blogspot.com’, is an interesting and insightful read, not just for those in marketing, business and brands, but also for just about anyone, due to its content and his interesting and engaging style of writing.

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