Podcast: Driving Awareness & Engagement with Social

Author & Blogger, John Cass

John Cass

David Armano

David Armano

One of the things I love about my job is that I get a chance to meet and interview tons of interesting people. Some are execs at big companies? Others are authors of thought provoking books. And some are just plain smart individuals who are teaching companies how to embrace the power of social networking and online communities with an eye toward improving customer service, product innovation and tradional sales and marketing efforts.

Last week, I had yet another opportunity to interview a couple of the aforementioned individuals. The two gentlemen I speak of are none other than David Armano, a senior partner at the Dachis Group, well-known blogger and former VP of interactive agency, Critical Mass and John Cass, author of Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging, blogger and former community manager at Forrester Research. Our topic was that of tapping into “social” to drive awareness and engagement.”

As usual, David helped me think outside the box by sending me a blog post he had written back in 2007 titled The Marketing Spiral.

Armano's Marketing Spiral

Armano's Marketing Spiral

So with that as a backdrop, here are some of the questions I asked during our podcast:

  • Do you have best practices to recommend in terms of driving awareness and engagment using social?
  • Do you have examples of companies who do it right? Do it wrong?
  • How do you create excitement for a product that doesn’t seem exciting (you know, like toothpaste—and you know that’s a trick question)
  • What are your predictions for social marketing as it relates specifically to Engagement and Awareness?

To download this podcast, right-mouse click here.

  • Do you have best practices to recommend?
  • Do you have examples of companies who do it right? Do it wrong?
  • How do you create excitement for a product that doesn’t seem exciting (you know, like toothpaste—and you know that’s a trick question)
  • What are your predictions for social marketing as it relates specifically to Engagement and Awareness?

The “Oprah-ization” of Twitter (HINT: This is a Good Thing)


A big thing happened last week in the world of social networking/lifestreaming site, Twitter. One of the largest media moguls in the world — Oprah Winfrey — decided to sign up. This came on the heels of other celebs like the NBA’s larger than life, Shaquille O’Neal, actors Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher and wife, Demi “@MrsKutcher” Moore, and political savant, George Stephanopoulos joining Twitter’s ever increasingly popular ranks.


Not surprisingly, this created a bit of an uproar on Twitter, especially among folks that have been with it for a while and have been organically growning their follower base during that time. Personally, I could care less because I probably won’t follow Oprah on Twitter. Not because I don’t like or admire what she does but because she’s just not my cup of tea. The same is true with Shaq, Ellen, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

While some social media folks are taking a balanced if not slightly positive  outlook on this phenomena:

I’m coming out in the Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research’s camp of this is a good thing for not only Twitter, but social media and online community in general. As Jeremiah points out in his post, What Happens When Twitter Gets Mainstream Attention, “[with Oprah joining Twitter] expect more brands to jump on board, and within a few months”

Therein lies the beauty of someone like Oprah joining the Twitter ranks. As a leading driver of public opinion and preference — my friend Tim Moore of Pearson says there are two “market makers in the world of bookselling , Oprah and NPR’s morning edition — Ms. Winfrey is endorsing the legitimacy of social by willingly participating in it. If Twitter or “social” is good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for the millions of Americans to participate as well. And with more participants comes a greater opportunity for businesses to engage, deepen loyalty and ultimately make money.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m selfish for wanting this to happen on a number of fronts. First and foremost, this “Oprah-ization” of Twitter and thus the world of social should help my company, Powered as we create social marketing programs for big companies. It will also help friends and family members realize that I haven’t completely wasted my last three plus years with all of my blogging, podcasting, Facebooking and Twittering.

Social Marketing ROI Report (Video)

Today is a red letter day for Powered. We’re announcing the release of our annual Social Marketing ROI report. To kick it off, we’re holding a webcast (there will be an archived version) with Bill Harvey of TRA, Brian Halligan of HubSpot and Kathy Warren of Powered (that’s us). See the video below for more details.

Sign up for the webcast and you’ll get the report for free.

It Takes a (Twitter) Village

necklace1Yesterday when I picked my daughter up from school – she’s in fourth grade – she almost sheepishly showed me a necklace I knew I’d never seen before. When I asked where she got it she said “It was on my desk”, but I knew that wasn’t the whole story. After a little carefully poking and prodding, I ferreted out that it was from a boy whose identity she was pretty sure about even though he didn’t actually reveal himself as the giver. I let things go there with her, not wanting to push too far or seem too panicked/interested/overbearing/crazy. Although I was able to keep it together with her on the outside, my mind was racing a million miles an hour asking approximately as many questions. I couldn’t immediately reach out to one of my girlfriends to start soliciting advice because I was with my daughter for the evening and I didn’t want to kill her buzz with my own internal machinations. Even so, I recognized that how I approached this situation would in many ways set the tone for future situations where there is much more at stake than just a necklace.

One of the few parenting promises I’ve made myself is to do whatever it takes to be a mom she can talk to about anything – a trusted advisor if you will. I know I won’t be her only resource but I want to be sure I’m one of them, and to do that I have to put her needs first and figure out how to weave in my messages in a way that is helpful and useful to her, without preaching or thinking solely about what I want. (This approach is integral to success in content marketing and branded community initiatives, so at least I have some experience to draw on.) Knowing I had a real opportunity but still silently thrashing, I posted the following to Twitter:

“My daughter got her first piece of jewelry from a boy. I will not freak out, I will not freak out…”

Voicing my inner turmoil, even in less than 140 characters, brought me calm and focus. It also brought me something unexpected – the aid of my personal Twitter Village.

The Virtual Village

The first person to respond to me was IncSlinger, a fellow social marketing practitioner whom I’ve never met in person but have developed a relationship with on Twitter and respect very much as a peer. He commiserated with me and let me know it would be worse when she’s older (great). Even with the threat of worse things to come in a few years, my first set of Twitter exchanges with IncSlinger brought me clarity: I wasn’t the first parent to go through this, nor would I be the last. This is part of what I signed up for and I had no choice but to navigate it. My choice instead was how to navigate it. For the next few hours comments came in on both Twitter and Facebook that ranged from snarky (which helped me keep my perspective and laugh at myself) to empathetic to exceptionally useful. My favorite “don’t take yourself too seriously” response was from a co-worker, Palpatim:

“Cover all your bases. Our house rule (2 girls) is: “Boys are trouble. Girls are worse.” (Parenting by bumper sticker since ’92.)”

While absolutely hysterical, it was also wise. And the piece of advice I need to tattoo on the inside of my brain for all things parenting was from a dear friend who I don’t talk to as much as I should to whom I can always connect when needed on Facebook:

“Just remember that honesty is gold, and make no decisions based on fear.”

I’m happy to report that I was able to use the (relatively) innocent necklace to start a dialog with my daughter that I think will be the first of many good ones. And although the navigation and words were all mine, I was supported along the way by a network of friends, colleagues, and peers who are parents just like me. I’m crystal clear now that my daughter will be raised by a virtual village and she’ll be a better person for it.

A Lesson for Brands: Become a Contributing Member of the Village

I’m sure you’re thinking “Gee, this is a nice story and all, but what does it have to do with engaging consumers and brands’ efforts to connect with their customers?” More than you might think

Every second of everyday people are using Twitter to support their lifestyle. Whether they are soliciting input for a purchase they are making, looking for help with a new product they just bought, showing off creative projects, planning a vacation, enjoying a meal, or one of countless other activities, they are sharing their experiences online and using their ever-growing Twitter village as a resource. Brands have a significant opportunity to step up and be a useful, contributing member of the virtual village. This won’t come from broadcasting marketing messages, press releases, or new product announcements. Instead, it will come from true interactions with consumers that provide useful, helpful information. If someone from a brand had pointed me at an article or other good resource to inform my thinking yesterday they would have established a relationship with me that no commercial or e-mail marketing campaign could ever create.

While the tools for sifting through the myriad lifestyle discussions on Twitter today are rudimentary at best, they will get better and brands should take advantage of them to listen closely to conversations and then contribute to those discussions with the same goal as my village did yesterday: to make someone’s life a better place. Support your villagers with their best interests in mind and the rewards will come back to you in spades.

Need help getting started as a productive member of the virtual village? Kyle Flaherty of BreakingPoint put together a most useful guide that every business on Twitter should read and review. And more than anything trust your human nature to be your guide. If you join a conversation on behalf of your brand, question your motivations each step of the way and ask yourself “Am I being of service to the greater good of the village?” As long as you can always say “Yes,” you’ll also be in service to the greater good of your brand. When the village is smarter and happier, everyone, including the village businesses, benefits.

Give Before You Get [My Stump Speech]

For what it’s worth, the original title of this post was originally “Are You Smarter than a Drug Dealer?” It came out of a conversation I was having with our CEO about the fact that the business model we encourage our clients to quartersadopt – namely, “give before you get”  in many ways is no different than that of a drug dealer’s. Well, except that in our case, we are asking our clients to give value away for free to get their customers “hooked,” vs. causing a lifetime of pain and addiction. But you get the point.


Up until the writing of this post, I toyed with keeping the original title but realized that as much as it may have piqued people’s interest, it ultimately sent the wrong message. So instead, I went with the title of my latest stump speech, “Give Before You Get.” As I mentioned above, it’s something that we talk about incessantly with our customers and prospective customers. Having worked at a large corporate for nearly 10 years (Fidelity Investments), I understand how counterintuitive this feels for many companies. But what I can tell you is that it works!


A recent Seth Godin blog post that my colleague, Doni Wilson, seems to encapsulate the essence of “Give Before You Get.” Amazingly, this is such a short post, I’m going to quote the entire thing here with attribution and a link back to Seth’s The Panhandler’s Secret. Hope Seth doesn’t mind:

When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.

One day, I’m walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, “Do you have a dollar for four quarters?” He held out his hand with four quarters in it.

When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.

One day, I’m walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, “Do you have a dollar for four quarters?” He held out his hand with four quarters in it.

Curious, I engaged with him. I took out a dollar bill and took the four quarters.

Then he turned to me and said, “can you spare a quarter?”

What a fascinating interaction.

First, he engaged me. A fair trade, one that perhaps even benefited me, not him.

Now, we have a relationship. Now, he knows I have a quarter (in my hand, even). So his next request is much more difficult to turn down. If he had just walked up to me and said, “can you spare a quarter,” he would have been invisible.

Too often, we close the sale before we even open it.

Interact first, sell second.

Not only have I seen this approach benefit me time and time again in the form of leads, awareness, job candidates and free research but it’s also had a tangible ROI for a number of our clients. One client in particular, Sony, cited some amazing results in a recent case study they did with our friends over at MarketingProfs.

  • Engaging more consumers, growing member registration, and increasing return visits to the site: Year over year, in 2008 Backstage 101 experienced a 388% increase in the number of user engagements, 34% growth in member registration, a 31% increase in unique visits, and 179% more repeat visits.
  • Retaining high-value global segments: Return visits accounted for 20% of all traffic in the first half of 2008, compared with 10% for the first half of 2007. And 15% of users who registered on the site prior to 2008 remain active. Currently, 90% of users match Sony’s target user profile, and 53% are considered “innovation enthusiasts.” In addition, 79% of users say they plan to purchase a consumer electronics product within six months.
  • Increasing consumer loyalty and advocacy: The program has a 90% usersatisfaction rating, and 78% of users report that they are more likely to purchase a Sony product as a result of Backstage 101. Sony’s NPS (Net Promoter Score) for 2008 came in at 44%, with 59% of users classified as “promoters” who are likely to recommend Sony electronics to a family member, friend, or coworker.
  • Providing increased value to the Sony Electronics business: The number of users claiming to have purchased a Sony Electronics product grew to 36% for the first half of 2008 (prior to the launch of Digital Darkroom and Frontline Community), compared with 20% for the first half of 2007, and Center reports that sales on the Sony Web site “continue to increase month over month.” In addition, survey completion is up 12% this year, providing Sony with valuable additional consumer insight. And retail syndication along with the addition of Backstage 101 to the company’s CyberScholar site are allowing Sony to better support its retail relationships. 

For the full version of the case study, you can grab it on MarketingProf’s site or download it from Powered.

So what are you waiting for? Start giving and then maybe your customers will be willing to share a “quarter” back with you. Or maybe more!

Engagement is a Means to an End – Measure the End, Not Just the Means.

Many marketers, PR reps, pundits and analysts are seeking proof that social media has a demonstrable impact on business. A Google search of “how to measure engagement” yields over 12M results with claims of “how to REALLY measure engagement,” and proposed formulas that are smart but insanely complex and still don’t answer the question regarding business impact.
The truth is that companies are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of leveraging social behavior into the marketing mix and naturally, it’s begun very tactically. After all, brand ambassadors are NOT comfortable with two-way conversations and if consumers weren’t forcing it via non-branded social networking channels, we’d still only be talking about reach, frequency & CTR. 
What I’m referring to as ‘tactical’ beginnings for social inside the enterprise include but are not limited to – support forums, e-commerce ratings & reviews, the corporate blog, a brand’s Facebook page, a brand’s twitter stream, etc. 

Next-gen branded social initiatives are highly strategic (and thereby measurable). They engage consumers on their terms with strong value propositions that complement the brand. They do not broadcast a 30-second ‘brand message’ – they create an attentive audience for relevant information from the brand. In this strategic context, engagement is a means to an end, not the end itself. 

And like most online marketing initiatives hosted by brands – the objectives are or should be consistent – to acquire new customers, maximize revenue, inspire loyalty, enlist advocates and retain customers. Strategic marketing initiatives are designed to influence these metrics and have associated measurement plans to benchmark and trend impact over time. These measurement plans must include both web analytics and primary research because the desired outcomes include brand perceptions.

As long as we are focused on the ‘media’ in social media – measurement will seem elusive at best and have lackluster impact at worst. It’s like trying to measure the impact on my company’s revenue because they bought me a phone.

The Diminishing Law of Advertising

Does Advertising Still Work?

Does Advertising Still Work?

In a prior life, I spent a lot of my time focused on advertising. At least enough so that when I openly question its effectiveness, I have a leg to stand on. This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom given the fact that NBC found the demand for last Sunday’s Super Bowl spots at an all time high but did Dorito’s, Anheuser Busch et al. really see a return on their investment? Or was this just another case of their CMOs and CEOs wanting somthing to brag about with their golfing buddies.

Obviously GM and FedEx ‘s execs weren’t in a bragging mood as both of these longtime Super Bowl advertisers begged out of this year’s event. Both have been hard hit by the economy and likely realized that spending $10-15 million dollars each on a few 30 second spots just wasn’t in the cards. Instead they’ve chosen to spend their money on more targeted and measurable forms of marketing and advertising.

In case you needed more convincing that ad effectiveness is eroding, note that 27% of US households currently have DVRs which means a quarter of the US population fast forward or skip over tv ads altogether. Combine that with the fact that ad recall is 11% lower than the average given our current economic times, that’s now another haircut that tv advertising is taking.

To that end, online ads are also losing their impact. Doing some quick math on this… if you have $3 million to spend and buy ads at $10/CPM — probably and unrealistically low rate — and receive a .01% click through rate (on the high side) and a 5% conversion (also high), you could expect to get 1,500 new customers from this campaign. This means the lifetime value of those customers needs to be  at least $2,000 just to break even.

So why to other big brands continue to spend tons of money on a tactic that is hard to measure and continually yielding diminishing returns? Well for one, more effective ways of reaching new and existing customers like e-mail marketing and SEM aren’t that sexy. Neither are managed online communities and social media tactics. Ironically, the combination of these more effective tactics is not only measurable but can yield some amazing results.

To highlight this impact, let’s look at three scenarios, each involving a $3 million spend.

  • One Super Bowl ad and you were able to reach 100 million people for 30 seconds and then perhaps another 25 million people for another 30 seconds via YouTube, Hulu, etc. This absolute BEST case scenario gets you to a point of $.024/30 second view which is not bad. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks when the recall of most ads wears off, you’ll need to spend another chunk of money to touch these same consumers.
  • An online banner ad campaign with the potential to acquire 1,500 new customers (also not bad but requires a LTCV of $2,000 to break even).
  • A $2.5 million on e-mail and search engine marketing (two marketing techniques that are still delivering strong results) while driving all of those folks to an online community that you spend $500,000 on (including content, headcount, technology) knowing that you could see results* like this:

    • 92% of your customers recommending your site to a friend
    • 95% of your customers would visit your site again
    • 85% of your customers would recommend your brand to a friend
    • 66% of your customers would be more likely to buy from your brand
    • 63% of your customer would have a more positive view of your brand

If you’ve read this blog or follow me on Twitter, you know exactly where I stand on this front. But where do you stand? Are you measuring your limited ad and marketing dollars? Are you getting the results you deserve? If not, maybe it’s time to start thinking about adding an online community into your mix. If you are getting results through traditional or online advertising, I’d love to be proven wrong. Share whatever you can in the comments and I’ll be happy to rethink my assessment.


*From Powered’s 2008 ROI Report (release date is late February)