Animal Fan Pages

While some people stop to gawk at babies, I stop to gawk at animals. Whenever I come across a dog, cat, rabbit,  even an especially colorful bird, I will stop, stare, and squeal about its cuteness. There’s something about seeing a cat on a windowsill or a dog on a walk that just makes me happy. So to keep the happiness going online, I “like” a few animal pages on Facebook, and there are two that stick out to me as being great PR aids.

One is Biggest Loser, Doxie Edition. Obie is a 70-pound dachshund on a quest to shed over half his weight, and he has over 50,000 fans on Facebook. His owner, Nora, has leveraged Obie’s social media popularity to tell his story through more traditional media (he was even on Live! with Kelly and Michael). Through these efforts, Nora has been able to acquire everything Obie needs for his weight loss through fan donations. And it looks like Obie has become so popular that everything he touches turns to gold. He made these paw print cards to send as thank you notes, and now his fans want to know if they are for sale.

The other is Molu The Cockatoo. Molu is a cockatoo at the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, WA, and I “liked” his page after I went to the zoo and saw the sign on his birdcage announcing his Facebook page. The updates are written from Molu’s point of view, and fans get the sense that he is sarcastic and witty. Among his random musings about biting his keeper and noisy zoo guests, he also writes about events at the zoo and deals advice about caring for birds. Molu’s page keeps the community interested in the zoo and also encourages fans to send presents for Molu and his bird friends.

Last week, I wrote about how social media needs to yield a return on investment. Obie and Molu are great examples of Facebook pages where engagement turns into action. There is more to these pages than fawning over cute animals. Fans are interacting with the pages, and they are also donating to Obie and to the zoo. Obie’s owner and the zookeepers invest their time on these pages, and in return they receive donations that help them care for their animals.

Are there any Facebook pages that you find surprisingly effective at yielding ROI?

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Social Currency

This week, I read an interesting article about a topic that can be considered the elephant in the room when it comes to social media: return on investment. The article points out that we have been in the social media game too long to answer questions about ROI by redirecting attention to engagement and earned media. Instead, engagement should be a means to the end of generating revenue by converting fans into buyers.

Managing social media for a neighborhood, my ROI isn’t measured in revenue since I am not selling a product, but I do feel the need to prove to the neighborhood association that I’m meeting their goals. Since the neighborhood is new to social media, the initial goals revolve around growing an engaged community.  So when I noticed that the reach and engagement for posts about Stockbox, a new business in the neighborhood, were much higher than for the average post, I decided to contact the owner to discuss a partnering for a promotion. Through this promotion, the neighborhood stands to gain some of the store’s 1500+ Facebook fans, and also show that we are attuned to the topics the residents care about.

In what the article calls “social marketing’s heritage,” growing an engage community was the only purpose of social media. The article urges businesses to more past this stage into an era when the engaged community translates into real revenue impact. As I said, my goals managing social media for the neighborhood are not increasing revenue, but once I have grown the community I will set new goals that have to do with real world behaviors the neighborhood would like to see from their social media fans. For example, we use the page to announce events, so in the future one of goals might revolve around increasing the amount of social media fans who actually attend the events. I want to see some sort of return on the time the neighborhood invests on social media.

How important is it for social media to show a real impact on revenue (or other metrics of success)?


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What’s in a Price Tag?

Three days ago, I wrote a post about how pricing and promotions are as much a part of the brand as the product and the imagery. I used the example of Amazon’s Kindle line, and how consumers expect its prices to be more affordable than Apple’s iPads. Today, Amazon revealed the next generation of Kindles, and the pricing was a bit of a surprise to me.

When Amazon launched the very first Kindle, it was priced at $400. Then, the price began to steadily decline. I held out from buying a Kindle as I watched the price dip below $300… and then below $200… it really was like the Kindle went from luxury item to impulse buy. I received one as a present when the price was down to $139 (let’s just say I mentioned how much I wanted a Kindle frequently enough for my boyfriend to take notice). The price was definitely the main selling point in this 2010 ad:

Then, the Kindle Fire was launched last year for $199 and the most basic Kindle sold for only $79. The Kindle Fire with all of its tablet features cost only $60 more than the basic e-reader had at its lowest price.  Again, affordable, and definitely much more likely to be purchased as an impulse buy than an iPad. So for a new generation of Kindles, I’d expected a modest price increase for the new version with more features, and a price drop from the rest of the line. That prediction was way off in the first aspect.

The new addition to the Kindle line is the Kindle Fire HD. The 8.9″ 4G LTE version starts at $499. That is much more expensive than the original Kindle Fire (which now costs $159). A 7-inch HD Kindle Fire costs $199, and an 8.9″ HD Kindle Fire starts at $299. The price range for the Kindle line is now $69 – $599.

While I probably won’t be running out to buy a $499 Kindle, I can see the strategy behind this new pricing. Amazon will retain the customers that would buy a tablet for $199 and not for much more, but it’s also breaking away from the image that Amazon only sells cheaper tablets. The new features on the HD Kindles include better image and sound quality and faster performance, so consumers who tend to use their tablets for watching TV and movies and playing games will be drawn to them. I use my Kindle mainly for reading, Pinterest, and the ocassional YouTube video, so these features are not as important to me. Consumers with similar uses for their tablets will still prefer the less expensive version since they are a better value for them. Now, the Kindle line includes both models priced like luxury items and models priced like impulse buys.

Do you think Amazon made the right move by significantly pushing up the higher end of their price range?

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Who Doesn’t Love Sales?

Labor Day weekend is partly about enjoying the last few days of summer before the weather grows chillier. Now that I live in Washington, I’m learning to let go of warm beaches and gain new appreciation for rugged mountain trails, so I hiked Little Si.

Atop Little Si.

But Labor Day weekend is also about something less outdoorsy: sales. Last week, I filled my online shopping cart with everything I wanted from one of my favorite stores, American Eagle, and patiently waited for the weekend to roll around and the sale to arrive. Sure enough, on Friday everything went on sale for 30% off and shipping was free until Monday, so I gleefully made my purchase.

I rarely buy clothes unless they are on sale, and apparently this mindset is so popular that it’s hurting retailers’ profits. Retailers used discounts and coupons to retain customers at the start of the recession, and now they can’t seem to wean customers off the sales. The best example in the article is JCPenney, a retailer that is losing profits as it switched from a very sales-driven business model to and everyday low pricing model similar to Wal-Mart.

This week, my multicultural marketing course is focusing on product, place, price, and promotion. Pricing and promotion may not be first on the list, but we need to remember that a brand is more than just the product and the imagery related to it. It is also the price point and the promotions. Customers do not just become loyal to the product, they also become loyal to its price and the promotions. For example, I love my Kindle Fire, and when Amazon launches a new generation of Kindles I will expect them to be similarly priced to their current Kindle line, which ranges from $79 – $200. If all of a sudden the new Kindles range from $250 – $400, I would be very disappointed even if the newer generation had much better capabilities because I have come to expect a much lower price point from Amazon. On the other hand, iPad users wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a $400 device because it’s what they’ve come to expect from Apple.

I love a good sale, but I have to admit that from a business standpoint it is only a short-term lure. As marketers, we need to remember that price and promotion will become a deeply-rooted part of the brand, so price and promotion need to be sustainable.

How do you think retailers should wean customers off sales?

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Baby (Food) Talk

Yesterday, I finished planning for the multicultural marketing communication course I will begin teaching on Monday. One of the topics I will cover this semester is ethics in multicultural marketing, and I consider this to be the most difficult topic since it’s about balancing the well-being of the consumer with companies’ drive for profit. It’s a conundrum that I mulled over in my post about the soft drinks industry increasingly targeting the multicultural market.

Last week, I read an article about the New York initiative to control access to infant formula, Latch On, and I again began thinking about ethics in marketing. Part of the initiative is to stop giving mothers free samples of infant formula, which is one of the ways that infant formula manufacturers build brand loyalty, and of course they are not happy about it. We all know that breast is best and that ideally infant formula should only be used if there’s a medical reason for it, so does that leave any room for formula brands market their product? The World Health Organization doesn’t seem to think so, since their “International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes” frowns upon all advertising, promotions, and direct marketing, including within hospitals. Still, if a company exists, it means it markets, so I set out to find how one brand of baby formula, Enfamil, does it.

One of the provisions in WHO’s code of marketing is that formula manufacturers will not seek out contact with mothers or expecting mothers. In their offers page, I found how they circumvent this provision: instead of reaching out to the mothers themselves, they encourage the mothers to give them their information by offering a slew of free gifts in exchange. Social media is also something that WHO could not have predicted back in 1981, and Enfamil has a Facebook page where mothers can, again, voluntarily give access to their information. The page has a few posts against the marketing of formula, and while Enfamil has not responded to the posts they have at least allowed the posts to remain.

These loopholes have allowed Enfamil to continue marketing, but do you think it’s ethical? Baby formula fills a need for mothers who cannot breast-feed, but do you think that through marketing they are swaying mothers away from breast-feeding?

On a side note, my multicultural marketing course is open to anyone who wants to take it by emailing with the course code ADV4411. I leave you with the syllabus.

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The Art of Timing Tweets

For a social network that only allows 140 characters per message, a lot of thought goes into managing a Twitter account. Even after composing the perfect tweet, there is still the important consideration of when to tweet it. As many an inforgraphic will tell you, there is a science to scheduling tweets.

I use Hootsuite to schedule my tweets for @SouthParkWA because I like to plan social media about a week in advance. While some may argue against scheduling tweets (embarrassing situations can certainly happen if monitoring is sloppy), I think it’s the best way to make sure I share important information, provided that I still monitor social media daily. My rule of thumb is two scheduled tweets per day between 11 AM and 3 PM, which gives me a good amount of content at a high-traffic time, but if over the day something newsworthy comes up or someone mentions @SouthParkWA, I still have room for more tweets without overwhelming followers with information.

A few days ago I noticed a new feature on Hootsuite: AutoSchedule. Instead of choosing the time to send out a tweet, AutoSchedule will choose the time for you. I decided to give it a try, and I realized that while it might work for tweets that will be relevant at any time, for tweets that are tied to a specific date it will not work. It’s a feature that really highlights both the pros and cons of social media automation: it makes our jobs easier, but it also takes away some of the thought that should go into our interactions with followers. So I will stick to choosing the timing of tweets myself.

What do you think about scheduling content? Is it too much automation, or is it the best way to control the content you publish?

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Buy Me, Maybe?

Every so often, there’s a song so simple yet catchy that everyone knows the chorus. And right now, love it or hate it, that song is definitely “Call Me, Maybe?” Wherever you turn, everyone from Olympians to even the president is covering the song (okay, so he’s not really singing it, but close enough).

Since the song is so viral, I began to think about the pros and cons of using current viral content in advertising. The idea is similar to using memes in advertising, which has already been done. Just as I was pondering the possibilities, I learned that Urban Decay was having a sale, and make-up junkie that I am I diligently went to their website, only to see this scrolling banner:

Pardon their French.

Given Urban Decay’s target audience (trendy, edgy women) and their brand image (darker and more risqué than typical makeup brands… just look at the names of their eye shadows), I thought this take on the lyrics was spot on. And since they are only using the song in the banner for the duration of their sale, it’s guaranteed that customers will only see the promotion while the song is still popular.

To me, those two elements are key to using viral content in advertising: the content resonates with the target audience and the content doesn’t become dated. Just because content is popular does not mean that it will immediately be a good fit with all brands, and I think that in this case giving the lyrics a more Urban Decay flair felt more genuine than using a blander version. And the lifespan of viral content is unpredictable, so planning a short-term campaign is a better way to go.

How do you think marketers can take advantage of viral content before it grows stale?

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A Reason to Teach Multicultural Marketing

I’m used to seeing my alma mater, Florida State, in articles about aspects of campus life that aren’t exactly academic. I’m proud to be an FSU alumni because I feel that I received a quality education, so I’m ecstatic that for once I’ve read an article that praises an academic program at FSU. And even better, it’s an academic program that I was part of: multicultural marketing.

Edward T. Rincón laments the fact that multicultural marketing isn’t a more widespread practice, and he thinks this is caused by a lack of multicultural education in universities. He points to FSU’s multicultural marketing program as “the best model of multicultural marketing education,” but doesn’t see much being done elsewhere.

I was FSU’s second recipient of the Graduate Certificate in Multicultural Marketing, and as a graduate student I was a teaching assistant for Hispanic marketing. Now, I’ve been promoted to main instructor and when the fall semester starts in a few weeks I will teach multicultural marketing communication.

In my opinion, Rincón is right: students who aren’t exposed to the multicultural segment are less likely to become professionals who are conscious of opportunities with multicultural consumers simply because they aren’t aware of the potential. When I’ve shared my resume with other professionals, I’ve been asked why it is necessary to have a separate course for Hispanic marketing. While I do feel that the same basic principles of researching the audience and finding what it values are applied across all segments, without some sort of exposure to the multicultural segment I don’t think marketers would take the initiative to reach out to this segment as easily.

When I teach multicultural marketing, there are two main things I want my students to take away from the course. First, that there is life beyond the general market (and as my Hispanic marketing professor says, who is the general market anyway? Is there even such a thing as the average American consumer?). Multicultural consumers with huge purchasing power are ripe for the taking if only brands would target them with culturally sensitive communication. And second, that culture matters in marketing. Targeting any consumer necessarily means researching their culture and finding what they value. If my students can understand those two very basic ideas, I know that they will be motivated and empowered to target the multicultural audience. The rest is giving them the tools they need to research the consumer and develop a strategy.

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What Social Media Managers Under 25 Need

It’s been two months since my move to Washington, and I’m glad to report that I’ve found a way to get more involved with my new city: I’m volunteering as social media coordinator for the neighborhood of South Park, Seattle. Aside from gaining the satisfaction of volunteering, I’m also brushing up a useful skill that was not at all part of my graduate school curriculum.

Recently, I had a conversation with a social media strategist about the skills that employers look for in a social media coordinator, and I also read  Augie Ray’s response to the article “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” There was a common vein in the conversation and in the article: to be taken seriously in the world of social media, you need experience in a client-facing position. A thousand Facebook friends do not a social media expert make. And I agree. Of course, that doesn’t mean I think that no recent grad (like, you know, me) should be hired as social media managers. Instead, I think that universities should recognize that social media will be an important part of their marketing and communication alumni’s jobs and incorporate practical experience into the curriculum.

One of my favorite projects in graduate school was generating an integrated marketing strategy in Foundations of Integrated Marketing because the professor found us a real client to work with, the Tallahassee Roller Girls. We were able to have a meeting with them to find what they wanted from a marketing standpoint and later present our strategy to them, which were useful practical experiences. I envision a class that takes the same practical approach to social media management, where students are partnered with real clients who need a social media presence. I was fortunate to learn some aspects of social media management at my internship at Onyx Group, like using applications to find and manage content, but a course that went in depth about the analytics aspect of social media would have been amazing.

If you’re curious about what I’m doing with South Park’s social media presence, you can visit the neighborhood’s Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest page. I worked on a strategy with the president of the neighborhood association, I’m providing content for the pages, and I am focusing on growing the accounts. Twitter launched this week and I am happy with the exposure the page has been getting through mentions and retweets.

What skills do you think a social media manager needs?

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What is a Social Media Win?

Social media is unpredictable and uncontrollable. For marketers, this is both good and bad. On one hand, consumers view comments on social media as honest opinions, so any praise for the brand is taken at face value. On the other hand, attempts to spark conversation can backfire (see #McDStories). But in my opinion, trying to take the reins and control the conversation in social media can be more damaging to a company’s reputation because it silences the honest opinions that consumers are really looking for.

The recent scenario of Pitbull’s Alaska exile is a great example of how brands have learned to roll with whatever social media throws their way. Pitbull had teamed with Walmart to schedule an appearance at the Walmart store with the most new likes to their Facebook page. A typical social media promotion. That is, until David Thorpe of The Boston Phoenix got involved, encouraging his readers to send him to Kodiak, Alaska, a city with the whopping population of 22,000. Pitbull, ever committed to his title of Mr. Worldwide, said “Dale!” and assured his fans and Thorpe that he will, indeed, visit Kodiak.

Clearly, this is not what Walmart had intended, and Thorpe expressed his disappointment that the company will try to present it as a “Big Social Media win.” But why does he think that this is a losing situation? Like I said, social media is unpredictable and uncontrollable, and both Walmart and Pitbull did the right thing in letting it run its course. Calling off the promotion due to the intervention would have damaged both of their brands because it would be an attempt to control social media. And while the Walmart in Kodiak may have a smaller turnout than a store in a more populated location, the story has gotten much more publicity thanks to Thorpe’s prank than it would have if no one had intervened. So in a sense, Thorpe has contributed to making the situation a big social media win.

Who do you think is the winner in this situation? How do you think companies should cope with social media’s uncontrollable nature?

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