When a new marketing medium grabs an audience, it’s always fascinating to see who emerges as the channel’s thought leaders. For television, it was the Mad Men-esque agencies of Madison Avenue. For pay-per-click, it was a cottage industry of certified AdWords professionals. For grassroots marketing, it was a legion of energetic phone-pole posting, street-corner sign-spinning college kids.
You might know people who still think of social media marketing as the Next New Thing. But the digital world already has a lot of branding experience in the social realm. So who is leading the way? Big brands. From Ford to Starbucks, MTV to JetBlue, HP to Coca-Cola, and well beyond, blue-chip brands and Fortune 500 companies have laid claim to the leadership role.
Here are some of the lessons they have taught us about social-media promotions.
When You Get Traction, Keep The Audience Engaged
Big brands that embrace the two-way dialogue with customers that social channels enable, and do the work of cultivating an audience across various social channels, reach a point where they ask, “We have 500/5,000/5 million followers. . .now what?” Often, they engage their audiences with promotions. Sweepstakes. Contests. Polls. Games. Testimonials. Focused campaigns that include a call-to-action and typically a reward that also asks a little something of the potential customer while reinforcing a brand message.
Big brands are masters at designing promotions to launch a new product, plug an event, activate purchasers, or reinforce a brand message. For giving an audience a reason to visit a Web site, follow a Twitter account, and spread the word--and then keeping them--there is nothing like a promotion.
You can’t fake authenticity. This is true for the voice you use to speak with customers, which varies for every social channel, just as it varies from radio ads to a trade show booth to a sales call. Authenticity is equally critical to a great promotion. Giving away an iPad might be a sexy, short-term driver for sweepstakes entrants. But what story does it tell about your brand?
Being authentic doesn’t mean talking only about your brand’s stuff, all the time. There is plenty of room in a social conversation to talk about industry news or to go off-topic. But when it comes to promotions, stay on target. If you request photos or videos for a topic, then their themes should be related to your brand. So should the prize, design, and every other element of the promotion.
Marketers love to see a campaign executed consistently across media channels--like an ad campaign that spans billboards, radio, and in-store promotions. Just the same, a social media promotion should extend to all of the social channels where potential users might encounter it. Facebook is far and away the leading channel. But the savvier big brands know that to reach an audience they should also include:
>> Category-leading platforms: Is video the center of the campaign? You can’t beat YouTube, the top eyeball monger for moving pictures. Are short, punchy, viral messages the key to your campaign? Twitter is king. Keep an eye on Pandora or Spotify for anything with a musical component. Consider Posterus and Tumblr for short-form content bundled with media-sharing. Whatever the core content of the promotion, there’s a network for it.
>> Mobile: This is the emerging channel of choice for big brands, especially retailers, restaurateurs, travel, and automotive brands, and other consumer businesses where users engage, research, and make purchasing decisions out-of-home. At a minimum, a social promotion should have a mobile-optimized landing page. And at its best, the mobile channel allows for clever executions involving check-ins, QR codes, instant-win games, or real-time deals and offers to consumers who are already near the cash register.
>> Microsites: A staple of digital marketing since before “social media” was ubiquitous, functional, focused, splashy landing pages still serve as an ideal centerpiece to a multichannel campaign. Standalone microsites are flexible, accessible, and free from the clutter of corporate sites and the constraints of social networks.
Don’t Skimp On Security
Operating a sweepstakes in multiple legal jurisdictions. Enabling multimedia submissions across social networks and mobile formats. Collecting coveted private user information. Distributing promotional codes or prizes. Hosting user-generated content. Executing a promotion can be complex, ripe with pitfalls. Facebook increasingly puts the onus on its brand users to self-police, and other platforms tend to follow that lead. Promotions are not the time to cut corners on data security or promotions management.
Big brands know that and, despite having in-house talent and resources, typically entrust third parties to navigate their social-media promotions. Going with one of several established and respected third-party promotions platforms will more than pay for itself in a well-executed campaign.
Great social-media promotions raise the bar for everyone. They actually enhance the user experience for the audience. And they repay brands with feedback, content, and the potential to earn a lifetime customer. As social media continues to emerge at a furious pace--no longer the Next New Thing, but rather a proven way to authentically interact with customers--big brands lead the way.