Social Media: Staying Connected
March 01, 2009
by Jennifer Barnett Fox
Do you Twitter, check a Facebook page, participate in WoM (word of mouth) networks, post videos on YouTube or blog? Does social media play a part in your company’s marketing initiatives, or does it generate a “not for our company” attitude? Defined in the 1970s by marketing expert Philip Kotler, PhD, and professor Gerald Zaltman, social media is a discipline born of the realization that “marketing principles used to sell products could also be used to ‘sell’ ideas, attitudes and behaviors.”
TESTING THE WATERS.
The pressure to stay current with technological advances amidst economic restrictions and 24/7 connectivity can mean e-mail, e-newsletters and an up-to-date Web site might not be enough to keep the interest of your tech-savvy consumers. For many executives, communication via handheld devices such as a Blackberry, Treo or iPhone is standard for staying connected with business and suppliers.
Consumers are no different, and the more communication outlets your company targets, the more your company and products remain top of mind. Used for both business and fun, social media applications are a way to strengthen interaction between a company and its consumers.
MAKING IT PERSONAL.
Social media can also promote a feeling of direct contact with someone at the company or in the industry. In times of restricted spending and food product recalls, it’s comforting to feel you’ve got a “friend in the business” who is looking out for your best interests.
Cory Colligan, director of marketing and sales, Bouquet of Fruit, began using Facebook last summer with a personal page. She later set up a fan page for the Fresno, CA-based company as an offshoot of her personal page. Dialogue from Facebook developed into word of mouth marketing (WoM) for the company.
“Facebook, blogs, WoM forums and YouTube are perfect vehicles for a company like ours with a small marketing budget,” Ms. Colligan said. “I’m learning something new every day, and it’s turned out to be an easy, cheap way to share and capture information.” Facebook has more than 175 million active users, according to The New York Times. Bouquet of Fruit is also currently setting up a brand channel on YouTube.
Kraft, Inc., Northfield, IL, and General Mills, Minneapolis, MN, both use WoM marketing. In exchange for an e-mail address and other limited personal information, consumers are asked to pass along comments about the products they use from the company. Members are not paid by the companies to join the networks.
“Word-of-mouth marketing is an essential element of your marketing plan,” said Andy Sernovitz, c.e.o. and president emeritus at Word of Mouth Marketing Association. “When money is getting tight, you need an army of fans who talk about you because they love you.”
One example of the power of fans is the Facebook pages dedicated to their love of Tastykakes. These users each have a list of Facebook friends who can also join in the proclamation for Tastykakes, but most important, Tasty Baking Co., Philadelphia, PA, the maker of Tastykake, isn’t paying anyone for these endorsements.
The old adage that all publicity is good publicity could have easily been written with social media in mind. While you might not be anxious to share personal information with the blogosphere, consider social media for timely dissemination of information. It can be used to keep consumers informed about everything from new introductions to products affected by a food safety recall.
Lance, Inc., Charlotte, NC, posted a YouTube video assuring consumers its peanut butter products are safe to eat. YouTube was also used by the Food and Drug Administration for recall and safety information relating to the Peanut Corporation of America debacle.
Unfortunately, not all social media are going to be positive, so awareness of what’s being said about your product, company and industry is crucial. Blogs from the Whole Grains Council and the Wheat Foods Council (WFC) are used to provide consumers with practical, real-time, science-based information as well as fun facts. WFC’s most recently used its Grain Talk blog to respond to misinformation regarding enriched grains, which was first delivered on an “Oprah” TV episode and quickly disseminated through national media outlets.
“Consumers can access immediate information on the blog, post comments and get their questions answered, which helps break through myths that permeate the popular press,” said Marcia Scheideman, MS, RD and president, WFC.
AT WHAT COST?
A simple posting or video could become a quick stop gate for incorrect or negative attention or take advantage of consumer excitement about a topic — time and money well spent for any industry or company. While operating costs are generally small monetarily, adopters of social media must consider the time required to monitor feedback and post replies, links and photos. Sites must be frequently updated.
In response to the timecrunch, some companies are hiring high school and college interns to propel the company’s presence in social marketing. Generation Y’s Millennials (ages 13-29) are serious proponents of social media, communicating mainly through the medium, whether that’s checking out a blog online, texting to make plans or instant messaging. But don’t think that social media is only for the young. According to an article in UK’s Telegraph, baby boomers make up a majority of Facebook users.
“We’ve become a society that wants smaller doses of knowledge quickly,” said George Eckrich, cofounder and director of marketing, Dr. Kracker, Dallas, TX.
Dr. Kracker recently hired a high-school intern to manage the company’s new Facebook page. The page, introduced in early February, targets the next generation of consumers.
“Most of our current demographic consists of those who are more mature and who already think about their diet,” Mr. Eckrich said. “I want to create an educational tool on Facebook. You have to educate the next generation and get them talking to their friends about what they read.” Dr. Kracker is also looking at including a coupon on Facebook to encourage that newest generation of customers for its products. The Facebook page will complement Mr. Eckrich’s blog, which educates retailers, customers and brokers on topics of as sustainability, organics and health.
Knowing your audience and its needs and desires is critical for good communication. Jamila Cutliff, finance manager at Frito-Lay, Plano, TX, created an internal networking organization targeting Millennials within the company known as Conn3ct. The group began as a grassroots effort of quarterly dinners with Millennials working at the company and PepsiCo leaders. The Pepsi Co. leaders discovered that one of the most prevalent convictions of Millennials is a desire to work for and purchase from socially responsible companies.
A focus on environmental issues and sustainable living was the catalyst for Bernie’s Blog from Annie’s Homegrown, Napa, CA. Authored by Bernie the mascot and Rabbit of Approval, the blog ran from 2005-07. Last year, the blog was eliminated to focus the company’s energy on social networking sites. The company is active on Facebook, MySpace, Zaadz and Care2.
“We know our consumers participate in these online communities and are already talking about Annie’s,” said Aimee Sands, director of marketing, Annie’s Homegrown. “Our priority is providing Annie’s-related fun facts, product updates and contests to engage our network of fans and give them authentic reasons to spread the word about the brand.” The company most recently sent out a request for birthday wishes in honor of the company’s 20th anniversary.
Ms. Sands suggested companies that are exploring social media first research how the brand is currently represented through Technorati, Facebook and consumer-generated blogs. “It’s likely that your brand is already being discussed,” Ms. Sands said. “Use this as leverage to have a role in the conversation.”
Over the past year, Messe Düsseldorf, a trade fair organizer based in Düsseldorf, Germany, has explored alternative ways to get the company’s message out to industry partners and existing and potential customers. The company first created a blog to propagate useful information to its users and create an environment for feedback. After going live with the blog, the company implemented a Twitter account. Twitter, another social media network, is often described as a microblogging site where people can follow a person, group or company. Individuals post messages, or Tweets, in 140 characters or less to followers. On Twitter, less is best.
Mr. Mitchell added that it is “hip” to use social media, therefore it’s a must with younger generations. Whole Foods, Food Safety Information Center and Dunkin Donuts are just a sampling of those who are Tweeting.
“In this day and age, the opinions of a few, right or wrong, can take on huge significance and influence hundreds of thousands of people in their decision-making process,” said Tom Mitchell, president, Messe Düsseldorf. “Such platforms also make it much easier for people to deliver any criticisms they may have, but we view this as a plus. If something is making our clients unhappy or giving them problems, we need to know how to fix it.”
Social media can also help companies and industries reach a generation of younger recruits. Consider that the baking industry is experiencing difficulty attracting workers. Social media is one way to not only bring those individuals into your company but also experience the insights of the very generation you need to help your company thrive in the future.