You’ve probably all been in that dead-end social media pitch. The one where you have a perfect audience and an authentic story, but your client heads down one of three painful directions:
- The Social Kids Table: (Or the Intern Factor.) Assuming social is just for (irrelevant) kids, they offload the brand voice to the nearest 20-something and hope for the best
- The Slow Lane: The mere mention of social starts the weaving of a bureaucratic Web. Mediation, distrust, individual approvals. How can we protect ourselves from the people who want to engage with us?
- The Soapbox: Prepping for command and control. Spewing content into the vast social underbrush. Comments locked down. Brand Invincible.
It’s enough to convince you that social can’t succeed with an average business. That – as the blogging boys say – your brand can never be my friend.
But just when you’re about to give up: A completely unlikely brand throws itself entirely into social and comes out smarter and more authentic for it.
The Case Study:
Experience Columbus, the City’s tourism and convention bureau
Introducing EC's new "Not in Columbus" tourism campaign to some of the loudest voices in Columbus’ social media
I wrote a bit earlier this month about the campaign, the response, and EC’s participation in the conversation. But I thought it would be worth stepping back now that the cacophony has settled and diagnosing what worked and what didn’t.
- Pete McGinty, VP of Marketing at Experience Columbus
- Patti Zeigler and Team at communications agency engauge
- Lara Kretler and Team at PR agency Fahlgren Mortine
- Columbus bloggers
- The local media
- Experience Columbus staged a great local event to unveil a new campaign called “Not in Columbus”
- Over the next week, bloggers, twitterers and other chatty typers reviewed the campaign with reactions ranging from “oh shit” to “not a bad start, but here are some things we could fix”
- Pete and Lara quickly responded to the conversation – leaving comments and temporarily pulling some of the campaign elements the community most objected to (so that they could leverage our feedback to improve upon them)
- Over the following weeks, Pete and Lara gained real credibility with the bloggers and the tone of the conversation changed – from critical to congratulatory. EC included us. Talked with us. And used our feedback to make the campaign better.
- The week after that, the local press finally picked up the social story. And – to this bloggers view – got it all wrong (read more on that below)
- That brings us up to today. EC has a lot of new fans. And a lot to sort out. Parts of their campaign are still on the drawing board and others are moving ahead.
Ok, onto what worked and what didn’t:
Success: EC engaged and respected an unlikely base
Instead of going to the traditional media first, EC decided to unveil their campaign to that noisy subculture. And, at least for one night, they bridged the gap between professional Columbus marketing and some of the city’s biggest ProAm fans.
The event set the right tone for the launch:
- Right people: A diverse group of Gen Ys and Xers who love the city.
- Right partners: All local agencies and others (Creative: engauge; PR/Social: FahlgrenMortine; snacks and treats: Jenis; swag: Skeened)
- Right process: EC staffers and leaders are active on Twitter and in the blogging community
- Right presentation: Pete brought us in on the process of developing the campaign before the big reveal
The result was a real conversation – not coverage – that took place around the Web and at the water cooler (and, frankly, at the bar after work).
Challenge: The campaign didn’t pass the WOM test
This is some serious Monday morning quarterbacking, but if I add up what we saw of the campaign, the reaction to it and the conversation to follow, I do think there could have been one possible red flag: it didn’t pass the WOM test
Steve Knox, the CEO of P&G's (wildly successful) word-of-mouth arm, Tremor, has a theory about what it takes to create WOM (the smaller cousin of mad viral). He says it takes a message that delivers two things:
- Advocacy: Do I care enough about your brand to talk about it?
- Amplification: Have you made it easy for me to talk about?
According to Steve, most efforts fail on #2, but EC did #2 really well. So, let's dig into #1 a little more ...
The biggest part of that "do I care enough" equation is creating something that people want to talk about. That something is a disruptive message attached to the foundation of the brand. That means it's new (or unexpected) and true to the most authentic part of the brand.
If the campaign was held up against that standard before the launch strategy was decided, it could have been possible to spot the danger zone - this campaign might be stopping for tourism buyers, but it's not true to the most authentic part of our city brand ... and thus might be an issue with an internal audience.
Success: EC stayed involved in the conversation and took responsive actions
The early feedback to the campaign was not good. The room was quiet. The blogosphere was loud. It would have been very easy for EC to pull back or fight back, but instead they stayed involved.
You can read some of Pete's comments here
This totally productive, really inclusive, chin-up response won over even the snarkiest voices. Pete's comments quickly led to a back-and-forth conversation. And, took EC from a tourism agency to a big part of the grassroots conversation about Columbus' identity.
Challenge: Traditional media didn’t understand what EC was doing
A number of local press stories cherry-picked negative blogger comments and trounced the campaign as a miss. One local writer penned that EC read the reviews of their failed viral campaign with horror. She went so far as to quote author David Meerman Scott saying that EC should have basically opened their campaign up to a t-shirt contest approach to messaging and design. Let the bloggers create the ads.
Where to begin.
How to explain to a reporter - or worse in a letter-to-the-editor - the difference between a social effort meant to start conversation and a viral one aimed at getting millions of viewers to chef up elves or watch people jump into jeans.
Let alone address the flawed logic that viral can be created by an agency; rather, it's found and elevated by the masses. (Read more on that here - check out point #1) (My personal POV: Never trust anyone who says they can build you a viral video. 99.99% of the time, they're lying)
Or what about the bake sale approach to creative? Outsourcing strategy and development to masses who don't know your audience or your story ... that seems like a terrible approach for C2B (city to business) advertising.
In the end, I think this was the toughest challenge EC faced. In social media, they could quickly talk back and have that exchange widely read. But in the traditional media, the record was set - to the detriment of all involved.
The campaign may not have received four-star reviews. But EC certainly did. And they changed the conversation about their brand, upgraded their creative and engaged a new fan base - all for the price of a few ice cream sandwiches.