Reno Rallies Through Social Media

Courtesy of Gary Weinhiemer

In a blazing display of community engagement and social media support, Reno’s Veterans Guest House was recently presented with a check for $250,000.00  from The Home Depot Foundation’sAprons In Action” Facebook contest.

During the Aprons in Action Contest, which began in April 2011, The Home Depot Foundation’s Facebook page served as a platform for 44 non-profit organizations to earn funds totaling $1 million through Facebook votes and to generate further awareness of their community efforts.

Through Aprons in Action, each nonprofit heightened its visibility both locally and nationally.  As a result, the nonprofits have been able to establish new community partnerships; have experienced an increase in volunteers lining up to help; and have seen exponential growth in Facebook fans and followers.

As Noreen Leary, C.O.O. of the Veteran’s Guest House noted: “We went from 325 likes on our Facebook page on 2/1 to 1540 likes today. Wow!!! Engagement unbelievable. Those 1500 have 340,000 friends. So the viral reach is amazing.”

While fundraising through social media isn’t anything new, this specific achievement is an important development from several perspectives:

First, and perhaps most notably, the local non-profit received 75% more votes in comparison with other much larger communities like Detroit, New Orleans and  Salt Lake City.  Think about that: Reno is a community of approximately 220,000 people who didn’t just beat, but crushed the engagement of cities like Detroit with 920,000 – four times its size.

While Reno had suffered years of poor brand image and perception, and has endured a tragic year of natural and man-made disasters, the community rallied online to support a small non-profit at its core.  Not only did the northern Nevada residents become daily participants in this contest, media support was unrivaled with television, radio and news channels seeking even greater community support.

Secondly, Facebook’s power to connect community and focus attention on a hyper-local basis has become a centerpiece of fundraising for nonprofits of all types.  Who can deny the potential to engage community donors in an effort that simply requires a moment a day to participate?  How many new individuals and supporters did the Veteran’s Guest House gain from this contest – and how will that affect their long-term fundraising strategy?

Finally,the benefit to Home Depot for engaging their online community through charitable support positions them as a “caring brand”, who increases their online reach and broadcast range into much deeper, more meaningful ways.  While their mission is to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home, they’ve committed nearly $30 million dollars over three years, in addition to the volunteer skills of thousands of Home Depot associates to activate their individual communities.

Clearly, Home Depot has a winning campaign through the Aprons In Action social media contest.  More importantly, they have established their brand as a community builder and donor – a uniquely engaged position that their competition can not compete with or claim.

In today’s ever competitive brand marketing arena – positioning your brand as an engaged community donor and supporter may be the key differentiation that leads to greater acceptance and awareness.  That alone is worth every penny donated (and tax deducted) from your business.

Isn’t it time you considered a charitable donor strategy for your business?  How can you go about creating a similar impact like Home Depot’s contest? 

Creative Ways To Use Your Facebook Timeline

For those of us who help create and manage social media campaigns across many platforms, changes to any social media channel’s format often present a host of challenges – and opportunities.  Once you’re past the angst of having to deal with an entirely new format, it’s time to think about ways you can leverage this new development to your advantage.  Here are just a few creative ways you can use Facebook’s new Timeline layout to elevate your brand:

Design Creative Cover Photos

Like an overpowering billboard, the new 851 x 351 pixel “cover photo” is up to you to plan and use effectively.  With a little creative elbow grease, you can transform this expansive area into something downright awesome.  Not everyone is capable of graphically designing with the complexity of the space provided in mind, let alone using the free online opportunity to their real advantage.

Yes…there are rules to using this space to Facebook’s specifications.  This is not a space for commercial use.  Inviting your visitors to like your website, or tell your friends about your business is not allowed.  Nor can you include such things as price or purchase locations – and don’t think this is a place for your business address and contact information.  But do think of it as a first impression to your brand’s overall image, a visual “hello” to old and new fans.

Don’t let that discourage you from promoting your business.  If you’re stumped, take a moment to review these examples of effective Facebook Timelines. 

There’s no reason you can’t use your timeline area to promote the benefits of your brand – and change the image out frequently to keep your Facebook audience interested and engaged in your ongoing progress.

Pin Or Star It For Emphasis

Some information on your page may be promotional in nature.  Pinning your posts to the top of your page will keep that one special post at the top of your timeline for an entire week (7 days).  If you’re running a business promotion or have a conversation that’s become extremely popular, pinning your post to the top is one way to control the content on your timeline page without the previous landing page options.

Pinning is easy:

On your Facebook fan page timeline, choose the post you wish to pin to the top.

Hover your mouse over the top right hand corner of the post and the pencil will appear with the options Edit or remove.

Click to Enlarge Image

Click the pencil.

The menu will now appear with the option to Pin to Top.

Select Pin to Top.

Another Timeline option Facebook as enabled is the ability to “star” posts – enabling them to be given preference in your timeline.  A starred post will expand to display across the full-page of your profile – a wide 403 pixels.  Consider starring messages that have great images of your brand, or even you, to emphasize its importance to your audience.   Here’s a great example that includes a video in the post – for a wider screen appeal:

Celebrate Your Brand’s History

Facebook’s Timeline features “milestones” – a great way for you to make special note of your brand’s development over time.  Did you start in a garage only to grow into an office?  We’re products or services added to your company mix that were new to your business sector?  Milestones are a great way to tell your brand’s story in historical order.  Don’t forget to  make note of any awards you’ve received, sales goals achieved, or new campaign launches that may have been memorable.

Here’s another good opportunity to engage your employees – and even your fans to help you identify which milestones they feel were most important in your development.  You might even be surprised by their answers and insights!

This tactic works especially well for older brands with rich histories that have been ingrained in our culture.  Take for example Ford and ESPN – both of whom share old television campaigns we may likely remember (if you’re old enough!).

    One consideration  here is to review all of the past content your brand has used, and integrate them into your timeline as historical milestones.

Create A Contest

One of the first and most talked about Facebook/Timeline contests has been from Red Bull.  The socially savvy used their own timeline as a platform to launch a well received scavenger hunt.  By searching through the brand’s timeline, and learning about their key milestones, clues were provided to win the contest.  A simple and effective way to both educate and engage a loyal following of growing fans.

Or, for example, take Coca-Cola – who has hidden clues and riddles in their posts on their Facebook page.  Once unlocked, it takes you to a third-party website; an easy way to track the promotions click-through rates to prizes.

There’s no doubt these are just the beginning of many creative applications to come from agencies and brands around the world.  As the administrator of your brand’s Facebook page, it’s time you started thinking about ways to creatively use it to your unique advantage.

How are you planning to use it for your brand’s page? 

It’s Time To Take Your Social Media Seriously

No doubt, nearly every brand of all sizes have taken to using social media to promote their products or services.  Few, however, really take this marketing opportunity seriously.

“Wait a minute”…you say… “we take Facebook very seriously!”  Maybe you do.  Consider this:

If your goal is to get a specific number of followers on Facebook as your measure of success – you’re not taking social media seriously. Creating a fan page to use as a broadcast channel is not taking it seriously.  Launching social games and giveaways to attract new fans without following through on their real interest is not taking it seriously.

It’s important to remember – participation is not engagement.  Social media isn’t about the exploitation of the technology, but rather a vehicle to enable you to be a service to the community.

At this time of year, it’s a good time to take a look at your social media outreach and ask yourself if you’re really serious about it – or just using it (and your audience).  But how can you change your thinking and actions toward opportunities like Facebook and still capitalize on its potential and impact?  Here’s a few ways:

1. Quit thinking of, and treating your friends and followers as customers.  Think of them as human beings that are searching for meaning and relationships.

2. No one owes you any brand loyalty just because you happen to have achieved fame.  Trust is difficult to earn, and even harder to maintain.

3. Listen.  Listen to what your community is saying.  When they’re asking you a question, they are also telling you something.

4. Focus on long-term results, not short-term gains.  Like any relationship, the lasting ones take time to develop and nurture.

5. We want to know who you really are – so tell us. We don’t care what your brand produces, but more about how it can help us.  Don’t forget that people want to know “why” even before they know “what”.

6. You’re likely an amateur – accept it. No matter what your place in the market is, it’s likely to be challenged and changed over time as technology changes.  And it will change quickly.

7. Make your technology human.  We exchange emotions via social media – use that to your advantage.

10. Be Real.  Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Transparency and authenticity are the cornerstones to lasting social media results.

Still, many brands will dismiss social media as a trending hype.  But the ability to connect with new people in an instant, sharing their lives through words, photos and video is a new paradigm in brand marketing.  It can transform the way you do business – and the way you’re perceived.  Don’t let it slip past you.

How will you use social media in the year ahead?  Do you have a plan?  We want to hear about it!

So You’re Using Social Media…Now What?

Some surprising data has come from a recent study οf 100 companies reveals that many of the companies studied are literally “flying blind” with no strategy to back-up or measure their efforts.  Conducted by Digital Brand Expressions, the study reports that 78% percent οf corporate participants said their company is engaged in social media, but only 41% acknowledge that they have a strategic plan backing their efforts and investment.

So what could this mean?  In short, 41% of companies (both large and small in size) are having conversations with their customers and prospects through social media channels – but don’t know why and haven’t connected it to their company’s brand strategy.  For those companies who self-identified themselves as having a social media strategy, nearly 94% of them said that public relations were part of their equation, and 55% of them noted that they use social media for sales primarily.

Even more concerning, of those companies who said they have a social media plan, just 29% of them have a policy in place for their employees.  If your company is allowing your employees to have conversations via social media with the public, they have not guidance and can literally say anything they want – whether it’s related to your business or not. Better news was that 71% did say they were getting prepared with policies and protocols for social media communications, including how to handle both positive and negative comments.

Restricting your employees from engaging in social media may be your only choice unless you have a company policy in place.  Not enabling them to engage with the public could also mean that you’re missing a key opportunity to attract new, loyal customers to your product or service.

So much for the discouraging news.

The good news is that the study also showed that nearly 69% of respondents have metrics in place to track and measure the return on investment, with 71% saying they will monitor their brand’s reputation across several social media channels.

Does your company use social media internally as part of your communications plan?  If so… how are you handling the task of helping to control the communications with your employees?

Social Media Do’s And Don’ts

Social media is, by its very nature, an ongoing conversation.  Without honestly and openly engaging your audience, you’ll simply be shouting into the void.  I’m often asked what I think makes social media effective, and thought I’d share a short list here, and see if you have others.

Social Media Don’ts:
:: Directly selling your product or service to your audience is a turn-off.  With all the obtrusive messages we receive on a daily basis, who wants another uninvited sales pitch?
:: Self promotion falls into the “direct sale” category.  Learn from your competitors, and keep the conversation flowing.
:: If you receive criticism (and you likely will), don’t ignore it – address it.  Never continue an argument over anyone’s perception.  Listen… learn… and adjust if necessary.
:: Having multiple online names and associated emails  can be confusing to your audience, and may make it more difficult if you’re trying to brand yourself effectively.
:: Fact and figures may be interesting, but don’t use them to prove how smart you are.
:: Never try to be anything other than who you are.  In time, everyone will see through your fake facade.
:: Don’t engage every channel you can think of to connect with irrelevant audiences.  Be targeted… in everything you do.
:: Don’t use just one social network.  You’ll get more insight by trying one or two primarily – and certainly learn more about your potential audiences that way.

Social Media Do’s:
:: Listen, listen, listen to your audience and prospects.
:: Actively listen to your customers.
:: Strategically listen to your competitors.
:: Honestly listen to your critics.
:: Listen and converse with your  followers and fans.
:: Ask questions of, and listen intently to your industry leaders.
:: Always be responsible and honest whatever you write.
:: Be authentic and stay positive.
:: Be helpful to your  fans and followers – you just never know who might be a prospective customer, or know someone who is.
:: Always double-check your tone, language, spelling and grammar before you send or pass-on information, comments, and reviews.
:: Respect all copyrights.
:: Develop and post a clear policy that protects your confidential information.
:: Focus all your efforts on customer value, at all times.

:: Determine specific goals and make sure you’ve included a mechanism to determine your success or failure (ROI)

I’m sure there are many, many other “do’s and don’ts” you can think of.   What are some you think are important?

Will “Social Media” Phrase Peak In 2012?

According to a post by Justin Kistner, Social Evangelist at web analytics company Webtrends, social media will peak in 2012 – just in time for the Mayan calendar to end and the world as we know it. Mr. Kistner also noted today that the current era of social media “is Facebook’s game to lose.”

Some interesting data Google Trends (below) suggests that the term ‘Web 2.0’ became popular in 2005 and peaked in mid-2007.  How was this measured?  Google use, of course. . You see that the term “social media” started to become popular in 2008, and then took a sharp turn upwards in usage n 2009.

I’ll side with to Kistner’s assessment that we have a year or two more of growth with the use of the term “social media”.  If the trending proves similar to other semantic trends,  2012 would be a reasonable year for it to peak.

Do you think the term “social media” could last longer in the venacular than “web 2.0”?  What might the next popular phrase for this communication sector be if not?

The Social Media Hype For Restaurants

courtesy of

As with many trends, there’s always an axis in the bell curve of popularity.  So it goes with social media; although that axis has yet to appear.  When it first arrived on the marketing scene, social media was seen as a “God send” for the struggling restaurant industry.  From the biggest to the smallest, restaurant chains to mobile food trucks embraced social media like no other market sector.

But has it really worked?

Here’s an interesting review of the effectiveness for social media from Nation’s Restaurant News. The publication asked both restaurants and consumers about their engagement in social media.  The magazine basically focused on Facebook and Twitter – the two most commonly used social media platforms in the industry today.  What they discovered was more than enlightening.

  • Although 61% of restaurants said they were actively on Facebook, only 8% of consumers said they ever follow restaurants via Facebook.
  • 78% of restaurants planned to use Facebook even more in the next 6 months to market themselves, but a mere 15% of consumers said they planned to “like” and follow restaurants.
  • Although 53% of restaurants say they currently use Twitter to market themselves, only 3% of consumers say they  follow any restaurants on Twitter.
  • While 66% of restaurants say they plan to use Twitter more in the next 6 months, just 9% of consumers say they will use Twitter more to follow restaurants.

So the trend here is that restaurants may see social media as an inexpensive, effective way to market themselves, but the market they seek may not be there.  What may be most concerning in this trend is that, even in these difficult economic conditions, restaurant owners may not be investigating other affordable alternatives to their marketing mix – with hopes that social media will “save the day”.  Clearly, they may be betting on a trend that may not prove effective for them in the long run.

I believe that in time, social media’s wild enthusiasm will give way to the hysteria – and we’ll return to a more balanced perspective of how to find, engage, and attract consumers for restaurants – and other brands.

Perhaps, just in time for the iAd craze to start.

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