Friday, 29 May 2009

Southwest Airlines gets that social vibe

It has been a long week, reading trite soundbites from really negative people slating social media sites like Twitter as smokescreens with no relevance to the business world. I'm all for exchanging conflicting views and opening up the debate but recently there has been a bit of vitriol from'experts' denouncing us new media darlings are being oh so naive and a bit too eager to jump on board.

So imagine my delight when I discovered perhaps the best story I've read about how a major brand has embraced social media into its company culture and empowered its employees to use it to engage with the wider world. I stumbled upon this story in Hubspot's internet marketing blog.

Southwest Airlines appointed a Manager of Emerging Media, Paula Bergs, who is responsible for driving their social media plans. They have an interesting model whereby each social channel is owned by a different person and that person decides how the company's message can best be communicated via that channel. The communication is not regulated by a central legal or brand department, instead employees are empowered to positively represent the company.

I really like this approach. It does not involve one person banging the drum whilst others do as they are told. It is participative, it builds trust and encourages people to take ownership and have a personal attachment to the social media channel they are working with. It also means that each person will build up a strong understanding of the customers they are engaging with which will then benefit the overall social media strategy. Listen to Paula talk and you can clearly see that she is both passionate and excited about what Southwest is doing - that sort of passion is infectious and will rub off on her team.

But what got me most excited was the video of David Holmes, a cabin crew employee, who has become a legend for rapping the inflight safety instructions to liven up the flight for his passengers. The rap was filmed by a passenger and put onto YouTube. Southwest Airlines got hold of this and, instead of criticising David for deviating from company policy, embraced what he had done and started to promote it themselves. He has now appeared on major TV networks (Leno, Oprah etc) and been interviewed online and for radio. He has become somewhat of a celebrity off the back of his own spontaneity and individuality.

What's more the top boys & girls at Southwest have encourage this and it has been absorbed as part of the company's attitude to encouraging its employees to engage with and delight their customers. What a truly refreshing attitude.

What do you think? Does this put a smile on your face as well?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Smirnoff - Social in mainstream advertising

It's rare that a newspaper advert gets my attention, I'm so stauchly online that i rarely acknowledge adverts in offline publications.

However, the other day, sat in the office kitchen aimlessly scanning Metro for something engaging to read (other than more woes of shameless MPs bleeding taxpayers dry!), my eyes stumbled upon a very cool and interesting Smirnoff advert.

The advert had an impactful headline: "Create the Next Smirnoff Event!". I was intrigued to know what event. I then indulged my classic 'get to the end' impatience and checked the advert footer - I saw something even more interesting; the reply URL was a Facebook page. I was intrigued enough to go back and read the full advert. And then click through to Facebook.......

Below: Facebook landing page for the "urthenight" promotion:

I liked what Smirnoff had done. They had dreamed up a new event, staged it at the O2 in London which is perfect for their target audience - fun, funky, lively & full of alcopopped teenagers with a crazed look in their eyes.

To get people engaged they created a competition to have a personalised journey to the event by boat on the Thames. All you have to do to enter is tell Smirnoff how you would start the evening, they will then "pimp up a boat with your design for an exclusive warm-up party and transport to the venue". 

The only way you can enter is via the Facebook app. A Facebook poll on their fan page will then decide the winning idea. Great way to engage people via Facebook and then let the community decide. Smirnoff has over 48,000 fans on its Facebook fan page..... yes it's only a number but that is a large number to communicate with.

The ad copy suggests this isn't the only interative element to the night and encourages people to check every Thursday for more ways to have fun with Smirnoff. I think this is a great example of a brand using social in the offline space to engage with its target audience and give them something to influence using their social networks. 

What do you think? A clever bit of offline integration into social media planning or nothing to get excited about? Let me know your take on this.

Friday, 15 May 2009

It's ok to flash in public!

No I don't mean the dirty mack and shifty look in a local park but at least the heading made you read on. What i'm referring to is the thrill of flash mob events that seems to have sparked the imagination of us Brits. Perhaps it is the adrenaline of such an instantaneous burst of activity or perhaps it's the Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame narcissim, the Big Brother obsession with being on TV. Either way, there are some brands and agencies that are nailing the viral element of the social media evolution and creating incredible brand engagement.

If you haven't stumbled across the idea of flash mobs (where have you been all this time?!), it involves bringing together large numbers of people to act out a specific event in public locations. T-Mobile seems to have embraced this with open arms and you can see footage of their recent sing-a-long in Trafalgar Square using this Chinwag link. Scroll down to the 4 min edit and keep an eye out for Pink....actually, you don't need to do that, there is more to life. Want more examples, you can give this site a go.

The event itself is creative but it's the online marketing impact that excites me. This video has more than 450,000 views on YouTube and 1,483 ratings...not bad eh? Just think of the full social potential if the viral effect is fully exploited nationally, globally?

Having spoken to someone involved in this event (Saatchi & Saatchi organised the whole thing), it's not the free spirited utopia that you might think. Organising these events requires massive co-ordination with the local council and Police. That's inevitable, for one there has to be cover in case of an accident - who would foot the bill if hundreds of people got injured by crowd frenzy?

Do flash mobs have a direct financial benefit? I don't know how you could qualify that unless you ask people why they bought on your website/in-store and list "the flash mob in Trafalgar Square inspired me" as an option.....

However, perhaps that is missing the point. From a brand awareness point of view, it is an amazing outlet. Thousands of people coming together in waves of exaltation, hundreds of thousands perhaps millions more engaging with the creative online via social networks/seeding.

What do you think? Is flash mobbing a flash in the pan or can it become a sustainable engagement tool? Is it only for global brands that have at the core of their brand values a sense of bringing people together, like the mobile operators?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Should email be more social?

I get too much email. Fact. I'm signed up to hundreds of retailers, industry bodies, bloggers, gurus etc in the search for illusory perfection. I want to find the best elements of every aspect of email marketing to blend them into something fantastic for our Clients. For the past few weeks i've been tracking who adds a social element to their emails and there are surprisingly few examples. Which got me thinking. Yes, rare I know.

What do I mean by social elements to email? I mean giving people the ability to interact with and share your content across their social networks and to join your networks, such as:
  • Linking to your blog
  • Providing social bookmarking 
  • Showcasing your social profiles on sites like Facebook & Flickr
  • Including Twitter follow links
  • Highlighting your online forums
Of course, not everyone is feeling social despite it being the latest obsession of the marketing world. However, for most brands there is a compelling reason to make emails more social - not everyone wants to buy from you right now, so you need to keep them engaged with your brand until their purchase desire is ripe. If they get a flat email with no reason to pay attention, they're gone. Unless your next emails then land at the exact point they are considering a purchase, you are likely to lose the sale to someone else.

So what do I recommend?

Firstly, get to know your audience and start with the basics. Put social bookmarking on your email - you can use free tools like Add This and embed the code into your html. Then tell people about it and get them excited - tell them to share with their friends and post the content to their preferred network so they can access it whenever they want.

Secondly, test the impact of your social media presence. Start simple with something like Twitter. Add a "Follow me on Twitter" section to the email and then track the volume of clicks. If your tracking & analytics is effective, you can then measure how non-Twitter email customers compare with Twitter email customers for site traffic & conversion. Having spoken to Littlewoods Deals, they generate 50 to 100 visits to their website from Twitter daily.

Once you've got them to follow you on Twitter, you can use your tweets to keep them engaged with you and your brand (important you keep this informal and personal), alerting them to offers and promotions as well as new products/services. Twitter is a much lower cost communication tool than email - no design, build or distribution costs. Imagine if you could get 1,000 of your customers to follow you on Twitter - you then have a daily communication opportunity, the only cost is your time.

A good example of this in action is......drum alarms and no surprises......ASOS!

I know everyone bangs their drum but they just get it. They embrace online and the love talking to their customers. A recent ASOS email invited people to follow their Tweeps and if you look in the footer of all their emails, there are links to their social network profiles.

Another brand mixing email & social well is Coke Zone - targeted at the younger audience but great offers and clean creative. Check them out.

Do you agree with me? Do you think that brands should be integrating their social & email marketing? 

Let me know of any good/bad examples you have discovered.