Online social media is essential for any business hoping to gain favor among today’s consumers. An active Facebook page can mean the difference between serious buzz and being ignored. But for all their amazing qualities, do online communities really drive offline behavior? We say yes. There are plenty of innovative techniques for pushing consumers to act outside the digital sphere and providing results. Here are five of our favorite examples, pulled from a variety of areas.
Before we dive in, let’s look at some statistics. According to ComScore, millennials control $170 billion in the United States, and 88 percent of them are now online. Bazaarvoice indicates that most of them feel that “other consumers care more about their opinions than companies do.” This logic applies beyond the millennial generation; consumers are wary of brand messaging, and they respond to unique approaches and personalized experiences online. Here’s our advice: Brands should talk to consumers like fellow human beings, determine tangible benefits and employ user-generated content.
1. Establish Tangible Incentives
For the arrival of the Ben & Jerry’s new line of Greek frozen yogurt, the ice-cream powerhouse took to Twitter. Consumers can tweet to the Ben & Jerry’s truck, asking the brand to send an ice-cream truck full of frozen-yogurt samples. The truck covertly traveled to various locations, creating joyful surprises for the communities and thereby creating longtime brand advocates. This strategy works because it connects online and offline behavior. The Ben & Jerry’s Twitter account is not just a place for coupons or an arena for rehashing stale information about the brand’s flavors and philosophy. Instead, fans get tangible rewards for being community members and, in turn, feel compelled to contribute to brand-curated discussions.
2. Inspire Associations
As one of the most popular brands on Pinterest, Kate Spade New York manages to stand apart from other fashion labels with a highly active Pin strategy and lighthearted attitude. As we all know, one of the keys to success in the digital arena is content that goes beyond hawking merchandise. Kate Spade seamlessly integrates its designer handbags, shoes and clothing with lifestyle imagery that helps create a strong brand identity beyond the products themselves. Its “Colorfully” campaign creates immediate associations in the consumer’s mind: When they see a vibrant green mailbox, they may be reminded of a similar image from a Kate Spade Pinterest board. Keeping the designer’s name as a consistent feature on Pinterest (and thereby in the minds of consumers) is a great way to ensure constant exposure without a media spend.
3. Get Them Talking
Pretty Little Liars, the “cult favorite” drama on ABC Family, has been a surprise success. The show has all the elements for a teen hit—drama, mystery, betrayal, beautiful people; the only thing missing is vampires. But Pretty Little Liars is certainly not unique, and it is not part of a major network with a huge ad spend. Why, then, has it been such a hit? Well, it is one of the most popular check-ins on GetGlue and has an active Facebook page with more than 8 million fans. There are plenty of secrets and buzz-worthy moments baked into the show, so it’s perfect for social speculation. Although there is not a direct statistical correlation between online buzz and television tune-in, an active online community certainly contributes to the buzz about a particular show and may draw fans in to see what the fuss is all about. According to Natan Edelsburg, as quoted in USA Today, “when you empower fans to tweet or post to Facebook while a show is on the air, you’re telling all your friends to watch it. That has the potential to improve ratings.”
4. Stick to Your Identity
Moms are all over the Internet. In some cases, they are more active than women without children. According to a study by Performics, “moms are 38 percent more likely than other women to purchase from those brands they ‘like’ on Facebook.” Of course, many moms are coupon fiends who are only scouting for a deal, but some consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands manage to find success with content rather than a coupon strategy. Little Debbie, for example, stays true to its friendly, wholesome brand voice on Twitter and Facebook without cheapening its brand through excessive couponing. It celebrates holidays and features fun content that doesn’t stray from its core identity. The brand reminds the consumer about Little Debbie products and nudges, rather than pushes, toward purchase.
5. Use Twitter to Generate Buzz
Twitter is a huge driving force for brands online. A recent study found that Twitter is actually more influential than Facebook in steering purchase. Promoting tweets is a relatively inexpensive way to earn followers and get a message out: it focuses a lot of eyeballs on a 140-character advertising message. Consumers see these tweets along with their regular feeds, and it plants ideas in their heads. McDonald’s recently used Twitter to create buzz for its classic Shamrock Shake. Usually available only in selected locations, this popular shake went nationwide for one month, overlapping with St. Patrick’s Day. “Shamrock Shake” was a featured hashtag; it made consumers aware of the shake and got them talking. McDonald’s also kicked off a month of random giveaways based on trivia questions and general discussion about luck, sharing, the Shamrock Shake and McCafe. There have been numerous success stories of brands using Twitter to drive purchase, and the technique is especially successful for a limited-run product; buzz is key, and Twitter is all about buzz.
So what’s the moral of this story? Social media is important for developing a brand identity, and a vibrant social community based on this brand identity can help drive offline behavior. A classic marketing strategy may not always work well online, however. Brands must tailor their online experiences to work within individual social spheres and be active in the conversations taking place there. Becoming an expert on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and the other big platforms is essential to staying in touch with current consumers and their changing interests.
Have you seen good examples of online conversation driving offline behavior? Do you think social media is really influential in the marketplace?