RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

Q+A on Niche Social Networks w Gerry Regan

08/10/14

wild_geese_logo_betaGerry Regan, Co-Founder & Executive Producer of  The Wild Geese, was kind enough to not only join a panel on social media for Duke Alums earlier this summer but also to recap some of his observations in the Q+A below.  As you will soon discover Gerry brings a world of experience to his latest venture, a relatively new social network dedicated to the all things Irish.  (Side note: As a social media practitioner, I’m rooting for niche networks like The Wild Geese with the hope they can provide engagement opportunities beyond those currently offered on Facebook and Twitter). And with that bit of cheerleading, here’s Gerry:

Drew:  How did your end up in social media and what are your principal responsibilities?
I found my way into social media through my work as a journalist. After pursuing acting in Durham for a time after my Duke graduation, somewhat half-heartedly, and sampling other pursuits,  I decided to focus on journalism, and received a masters degree toward that end from NYU in 1985. I then worked for several years for Gannett Westchester Newspapers, was let go, and then joined the news team at Prodigy, with AOL a sort of proto-Web. From there I made my way to Newsday Direct, Newsday’s first foray into digital media and the forerunner of newsday.com. It was at that point, in 1996 or thereabouts, that a colleague at Newsday introduced us to HTML and promised us that, together with the burgeoning Internet, these technologies would revolutionize our work.

So in 1997, Joe Gannon, Micah Chandler and I, all three friends, devotees of history and fellow Civil War re-enactors, created TheWildGeese.com, what we anticipated becoming the first of a series of websites designed to facilitate exploring the history that we relished. In the case of The Wild Geese, the focus was the dramatic history of the Ireland and the Irish diaspora. We hadn’t much understanding of how to sustain our efforts as a business, but thought we could figure that out as we went along. We kept our day jobs, though, and kept working on The Wild Geese, using our hand-coded website right till March 2013, when we determined that sustaining a social network held much greater chance for our success than our homespun online magazine. Plus, we saw great value in this opportunity to vastly multiply the voices we could thus bring into the conversations there. Hence, we re-launched The Wild Geese as the only social network focused on exploring and celebrating the epic heritage of the Irish worldwide.

My principal responsibilities these days are crafting and implementing a sustainable revenue model, a pursuit that engages me in building our team, researching digital marketing’s promise and capabilities, exploring our target market’s needs and wants and how to utilize both our team’s passion and technology to cost-effectively deliver on these. I also handle the bookkeeping; write the checks (I’m self-financed for now); write articles (occasionally); suggest and help implement content, community and marketing initiatives; sit in and often lead team meetings; and identify and assign spheres of responsibility, all in an effort to forge a foundation for our mission that will allow us to grow and prosper for years to come.

Drew:  What role if any did Duke prepare you for your future career?
I came to Duke as a world-class introvert, and dreaded public speaking and writing papers, and Duke certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to overcome those phobias. In fact, I chose to major in physics, all in an effort to steer clear of public speaking and paper-writing. When I headed off to Dublin for my third undergraduate year, though, I decided to pursue Irish and British history, along with physics. It was at Trinity College Dublin that I found my metier, discovering that though my perfectionism led to an aversion to writing, when I handed in research papers, I found them hugely satisfying. The storyteller in me emerged, as well as my passion for history and Irish culture. These all have stayed with me. During my final year at Duke, I joined Duke Players and studied public speaking, both, in prospect, very intimidating. But I particularly enjoyed acting and the bon homie it provided. So Duke essentially provided me two things, a vehicle for personal growth and a springboard for professional advancement, even though it took me quite a few years to understand that.

Drew:  You’ve built a very interesting niche business.  How many “members” do you have in your network now and how big would you like to see it?  What do you think it will take to get there?
We’re not a business yet, Drew, in that we’re far from profitable. I think we may need a year or even two to reach that point. We are closing in on 2,300 members, garnered in our 17 months as a network, with very little marketing spend to date. We understand that needs to change, and will. though. We need to grow dramatically if we are to achieve sustainability. We are about to launch our first marketing campaign, with the help of Facebook, and expect within a year to have close to 8,000 members and garner nearly half-a-million page views each month, an eight-fold increase. The page views are really more vital to our sustainability, at least in the short term, than the membership count. We believe that with this marketing thrust, and bringing additional revenue streams into line, such as premium memberships and innovative sponsorships, we have a shot at creating a viable business, and, to us, equally importantly, one that promotes and supports Irish culture ‘wherever green is worn.’

Drew: What are the advantages to potential marketing partners to working with The Wild Geese site?
We believe there is an underserved niche in the cultural space, and particularly in the realm of Irish culture, a space we know increasingly well. Small marketers have limited and cost-effective choices. These options include, most notably, Facebook and Google, but these platforms, while easily managed, lack one ingredient we feel is vital — the human touch. We believe that an engaged, dynamic community of potentially tens of thousands of cultural devotees around the globe affords a ready-made audience for purveyors of Irish culture, for artists, artisans, ‘solopreneurs’ cultural institutions, and businesses large and small who can and do support our members’ passions for exploring the Irish experience worldwide. Using the growing technological and human connections that we aim on our mission has powerful appeal, we’re learning, appeal that provides both reach and the personal touch that the mass social media seem to have no interest in providing. Ultimately, we believe we’re offering members — and marketers — a chance to claim and / or support this passion for their own, to in effect ‘get a piece of the rock.’ Connecting our growing membership with hundreds of Irish marketers in direct and personal ways we believe represents a distinct differential advantage in this space.

Drew: What’s the most exciting part about working at your company right now?
Most exciting to me is seeing our team step up and meet our day-to-day challenges, my work in helping forge this team, and seeing it respond to direction and innovate solutions to our challenges. And seeing The Wild Geese’s influence, along with our reach and revenue, grow!

Drew: Talk a little about your own involvement in social media.  How active are you and on what channels?
I use Facebook to communicate with friends and colleagues, and LinkedIn as a professional resource. I tend to limit my Facebook circle to people I either know or whom I’ve met or at least spoken to. Other colleagues and other networkers I steer to LinkedIn (or The Wild Geese). We auto post to Twitter from our Facebook page, so there’s quite a lot of Irish chatter on it that I don’t personally create. I am beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter, though, as a fascinating real-time news roundup, and may use it more frequently in the months ahead. I’ve used Google+ least of all, but am finding that Google Hangouts are an increasingly important platform for multimedia content for us, so we’re using Google more and more, both for the Hangouts and for chat and talk. It’s become easier and more common for us to post for WG in Google+. I don’t use Google+ for personal use, at least not yet.

Drew: Relative to the other Dukies on the panel, you and I are on the “seasoned” side of our careers.  Do you encounter “agism” when presenting The Wild Geese to younger social media professionals?  Can you speak to the advantages of having more work experience when working in social media?
I’m not aware of age-ism, LOL, perhaps because I never act my age. I don’t have the technical grasp of social media that seems prevalent among our younger peers, and perhaps that’s a plus. I like to operate on a need-to-know basis, which helps keep me better-focused and my life simpler. I understand my limits, but won’t let a disinclination to reach out to those who can and want to help be one of those. These ‘whippersnappers’ inspire in me a sense that with technology (and passion) everything is possible. Drew, when you say ‘more work experience’ do you mean outside of social media? I’ll presume you do. I majored in mathematics at Duke, though  through my years as an undergrad I really found my passion in history and storytelling. I like the approach I stumbled into, that of learning how to think and problem solve as an undergrad, and then pursuing softer sciences and interests later. After all, if one wants to learn a trade, why spend tens of thousands of dollars. I find there’s real power in focusing on what I have in front of me — the challenges and the resources — and looking back for lessons, but not ‘staring’ back. After all, we each have but ‘one day at a time’ to move forward with our dreams and ambitions, no more and no less.

Drew: Finally, how important do you think it is for our peers to be active in social media?  What are they missing if anything?
The average age of a member of The Wild Geese is now 54, and I find that both gratifying and amazing, that is to see how these boomers are increasingly finding their way into not only The Wild Geese, but also Facebook, which is clearly pacing the trend. We have members in their 80s, a few of whom complain that they are having trouble figuring out how our platform works, but, Drew, it’s the individuals who complain that we relish, it’s those who walk away without a word or with a bad word or two to others that we fear. I’m not sure boomers ARE, in fact, missing anything — I sense they are joining the social media revolution in increasing numbers. In the case of The Wild Geese, it would seem many are only waiting for a reason to join. For us at The Wild Geese, that would be ‘coming home’ to our Irish roots,  the satisfaction of looking back, getting answers about our past and our ancestry, and saying, yea, we’ve got a few years on us, and what a journey it continues to be!

Q+A on Social Media w Susan Hammes, American Express

08/3/14

Every once in a while one’s past and present collide in fun and unexpected ways.  Such was the case when several Duke alums gathered for a conversation on social media in front of a crowd of about 150 fellow Dukies.  With the ambitious title, “Like it Or Not: The Pervasive Influence of Social Media,” representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, The Wild Geese and American Express faced the challenge of connecting their time at Duke with their current careers along with the more daunting task of dealing with yours truly as their moderator.  Happily, it turned out to be a vibrant, informative and thought provoking conversation that concluded with an extensive audience Q+A.

susan_hammes_AMEX_MR48407-008Since many more people wanted to attend than the space allowed, I thought follow up interviews with the panelists would be of interest (to at least some of you). First up is Susan Hammes, Vice President, Digital Brand & Social Media Development at American Express. Susan has been in the middle of some truly noteworthy social campaigns at AmEx, a company that in my humble opinion leads the way in social & content marketing (as you’ve read about before on this blog — see interview with AmEx CMO John Hayes).

Drew: How did your end up in working in social media in content marketing?
Started working at traditional Advertising Agencies and over time discovered a passion for digital marketing.  In particular, I’ve always been passionate about finding right person, right message, right context, something that is critically important to social media and content marketing.

Drew: What role if any did Duke prepare you for your future career?
Duke taught me the importance of curiosity, empathy, and passion – the three keys for just about any career, but particularly essential in marketing.  Duke also taught me importance of working hard and playing hard.  These are ingredients that are necessary as a marketing professional.

Drew: What program or programs that you’ve touched at AmEx are you particularly proud of?
Most recently, I worked on a social content program called #PassionProject.  This was a program designed to put the customer at the center and provide them with a tools to help them realize their dreams.  I’m particularly proud of this as not only did it far exceed our business objectives, we also truly impacted the lives of the participants of the programs.  I regularly received notes from the participants that said we had changed their lives – given them the tools, the compass, and confidence to take their passions to the next level.

Drew: What’s the most exciting part about working in SM/Content marketing right now?
The ability to forge a new path forward and to use technology to create stories and experiences for people.

Drew: What’s the most frustrating part?
Measurement.. and not having enough time to experiment and learn all the things we need to learn.

Drew: Do you see a future for “organic” social media (vs. paid) and if so, what does that look like?
Yes. Influencer marketing and Social influencer marketing will continue to be a critical role.  However, like the past, paid social will continue to play a huge rule (although it will continue to evolve as the platforms and users shift their social platforms to an ever broader set of platforms).

Drew: Zeroing in on content, what are some tips you can provide to others about creating successful programs? Feel free to provide pitfalls as well.
Customer First is the most important aspect.  It is critical that you start with what the customer is looking for – which is to be entertained, informed, inspired.

Identify the emotion that you want to elicit.

And finally, ensure that if you’re doing branded content- that there is a clear and authentic role or enablement role for the brand/product.

Pitfall – don’t think that content will just be discovered- need to think through the owned/earned/paid ecosystem of distribution to help the content be searched/discovered.

Drew: Finally, how import do you think it is for marketers to be active in social media themselves?
It is critical that marketers use and follow social media – this is to understand your consumer.

Social Media Innovation + GRAMMYs CMO, Evan Greene

04/21/14

evan greene

As CMO of the Grammys (officially titled National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences),  it would seem that Evan Greene doesn’t have to go out on a limb to create engaging content. Most fans are already engaged, eagerly awaiting the next photo or tweet about their favorite music artist. But he and his team maintain that the biggest contributor to their success is their dedication to listening to those fans and joining them in dialogue, which is not quite as easy as it sounds.

To dig into this more, I had the pleasure of moderating a breakout discussion with Evan at The CMO Club Inspiration &  Innovation Summit in New York City last month.  It was a lively conversation with about 40 other CMOs covering a wide range of social media challenges, many of which Evan and I addressed on the spot (and rather pithily I might add!).  Since I am not a great notetaker, I recorded Evan’s responses, which are transcribed below for your reading pleasure. Given the GRAMMYs extraordinary success overall (ratings were 2nd highest in 21 years) and on social (13.8 million tweets during the show generated 862 million impressions), you’ll want to read on…

Could you talk a little bit about your planning process?
Our campaigns need to engage people and if they don’t, then social media is not going to help and we usually abandon it. It’s really for us about having a very respectful, two-way dialog that we think is engaging on a daily basis. We don’t come from the standpoint that we’re the authority, that we’re the expert, that you should listen to what we say, that we want to tell you what to listen to, who to follow, how to dress, what to do. We simply want to be where music is happening. We want to be a credible voice in music.

And the thing that we’ve discovered, the sort of the universal truth that we’ve hit upon over the last couple of years, is that people generally are looking for two things. They’re looking for discovery and they’re looking for community. And if we can enable the idea of discovery and empower the concept of sharability, then we are, by default, going to be leading to a greater, more robust community.

Can you share some of the innovative things that you’ve done in the last couple of years?
Innovation really is simply how do you add more to the conversation to make it more interesting on a daily basis? So some of the things that we did this year were simple, but engaging. For example, we’ve now live gif-ed our nominations show and the Grammy awards telecast. So we’re now creating gifs in real-time.

We also expanded the size, the scale, and the scope of what we call our social media command center onsite at the Staples Center during the show where we have more bloggers from more diverse areas from more diverse music genres and we try to get more people to tell our story for us. Because it’s one thing if the GRAMMYs talk to you about it and tell you about it. It’s another thing if people that you know and like and respect and trust are telling you about it.

How does content marketing fit into this discussion?
For The GRAMMYs, it’s all about content. Granted, we’re a non-for-profit trade organization, so we don’t have the budgets that you probably think we do. But we’ve made a pretty sizable investment in our content infrastructure because we want and need to be creating a lot of content. For example, we want to be creating engaging, short, episodic video pieces that are easily digestible and easily shareable.

In a lot of ways we’re fortunate because music overlaps and enhances so many different areas. A good example is the intersection between music and sports. So six years ago, at the Beijing Olympics, the biggest story was what’s on Michael Phelps’ iPod as he’s going in to compete for 8 Gold medals.

So we thought, since there’s always been that overlap between music and sports, we created a content program called Champion’s Playlist where we talk to professional athletes and say, “What’s on your iPod? What do you listen to to train, to get motivated before the big game, before the championship?” And this starts to become a shareable experience where you can now overlay what your playlist is with your friends’, you can see how some of these famous athletes, how their playlists overlap with your own. This gives us the opportunity to create a leaderboard, et cetera.

So you’ve done all this stuff. How do you measure it and do you try to differentiate social metrics from your broader metrics?
The easy answer is what are your ratings and how much money are you generating. Well, I look at it another way.  I see all of that as a consequence of everything else that we’re doing right on the front end. If we spend a whole lot of time on the front end, being really true to and respectful of our brand, and really making sure that we do the work to fill the pipeline, and if we create that conversation, if we create that relationship with music fans everywhere, then we’re going to be rewarded by people watching the show, we’re going to be rewarded by 99 percent positive sentiment. We’re going to be rewarded by the fact that our marketing partners are more engaged and happier than they’ve ever been before. Our revenue is going to increase. I think if we focus on the revenue and we focus on the ratings as the objective, it skews the narrative and it skews the story.

It used to be how many Facebook friends you had, right? And then it was, what’s the sentiment? But now the questions are getting a lot more detailed and a lot more sophisticated. And so that’s why listening is changing all the time. That’s why you need people who have access to the full Twitter fire hose. You need people who are doing more than just sort of skimming the surface with Google analytics.

We spent a lot of time talking about listening as a customer service channel and I think everybody recognizes that as a doable thing in social. I’m curious if any of you are listening for customer acquisition opportunities and if you’ve been able to systematize that and talk about that.
It is about credibility, and gaining the trust of your customers. You need to be where your customers are, and not necessarily only your own Web-site, and seek to create evangelists. So if your business is photography sales, you go to a photography forum where people are talking about a new camera. So, from a social media standpoint, don’t try to sell people with a link to your website and a price. Rather than talk about this new camera, utilize the buzz that is already happening organically, and re-tweet or re-post other credible voices in your community. Trust and credibility are powerful tools toward acquisition.

Well, you also brought up an interesting point which is sort of empowering employees to be social voices for the company as opposed to trying to control the conversation centrally.  Can you explain the advantages of this decentralized approach?
The key is, I think there’s so many divergent conversations happening all the time about all our respective businesses and the key is how do you channel those conversations. How do you channel all those disparate conversations into a cohesive dialogue? And I don’t know that there’s one answer to do that but one of the things that we did is we created what we call our Social Media Bible which has all of our correct URLs. It has all of our proper hashtags, all of our handles.

We distribute that to all media, and all of our friends, fans, and followers. We distribute it to artists and managers, labels, anybody that can possibly be having a music conversation. Now whether or not they’ll follow it is another story. But when everybody’s got the same consistent inputs and the same data, the results are usually stronger than they would have been otherwise.

Do you have any ideas as to how one can track word-of-mouth marketing and be able to then put some type of ROI to it?
I think one of the biggest fallacies and one of the biggest misnomers about social media is that it’s free and easy. And I think right now, the next big step is figuring out how you can track word-of-mouth marketing and be able to put an ROI on it.

How do you measure measurement analytics? What’s the value of having a bunch of Facebook friends? Is it the aggregation of tonnage? Is it who’s passing it along? All of that is being parsed right now and I don’t think anybody’s got the answer but there are some companies that are getting a lot smarter about it.

How do you approach social media innovation?
We try a lot of different things and the down side of trying a lot of things is that you fail sometimes. But every once in a while, you get it really right. And if nothing else, we’re always learning. Sometimes we make the right move, sometimes we don’t but we’re always in there. And frankly, the deeper you are into social media, the more you hear about trends first. So you can sort of pivot down the river and play around over here and see if it works and if it does, great! If it doesn’t, you just come back to where you were.

Q + A w CMO Award Winner Chris Brull of Kawasaki

03/30/14

brullEvery once in a while I meet someone whose job sounds like a lot more fun than mine.  After interviewing Chris Brull, Head of Marketing at Kawasaki Motors, I definitely had pangs of jealously.  I mean who wouldn’t want to ride bikes, ATVs and Jet Skis all in the name of customer and product research?  And then there’s the fact that his marketing mission is to reinforce the “wild, unrestrained, amazing fun” that his customers have using Kawasaki products.  Sounds like a winning formula to me and as it turns out, it also resonated with the folks at The CMO Club, who recognized Chris with their Rising Star Award late last year.

As you will see, Brull brings tremendous passion to his job at Kawasaki and is not afraid to take risks.  This sense of adventure made Brull an early proponent of digital, social and mobile, all of which helped build enduring connections with its fan base and drive new fans to Kawasaki dealers.  Read on to learn what Brull means when he refers to marketing Kawasaki not as a brand, but as a “lifestyle.”

Drew: Kawasaki Motors has a famously fanatical customer following. What are the things you are doing to maintain and improve loyalty among your customers?
I think you hit it straight on in terms of the fanatical following. We’re one brand (Kawasaki) and we have 14 different sub-brands, and 84 different models. You have to speak to these targets extremely authentically because these enthusiasts can spot a fake. To connect with them, we really have to know what we’re talking about. There can be no one-size fits all campaigns. You have to be very, very targeted and direct. Not every industry is as hyper connected with their customers as you have to be in power sports. You have to understand how people act, react, and think. We’re becoming real and authentic to the point where we’re almost a family member.

Drew: You said yourself that you have 14 different sub-brands and 84 different models. How do you stay close to your customers when you have so many different segments and so many hyper-focused initiatives?
Our company name is Kawasaki Heavy Industries. We’ve been around since 1870. We build products that are all about bettering people’s lives. Our company actually builds the Shinkansen bullet train. We build the fuselage of the Dreamliner. We build the factories where our products are made. It’s a crazy experience.

This is idea of Kawasaki Strong – the company that builds all of these things is actually the same company that builds these power sport products. If you look at Harley, they just build cruisers. Our engineering comes from something bigger and it’s very compelling for the customer. There’s a new campaign kicking off that will celebrate this engineering prowess.

Drew: Would you call this new campaign a re-launch?
It’s not a re-launch, it’s just re-telling the corporate story. We’re formalizing what the dealers have been doing for the past 15-20 years. There is a lot of story to tell, a lot of sex appeal that separates us from the competition. We call our appeal “intelligent rebel”. We’re not for everyone nor do we want to be. We’re about going further, faster. We’ve always been known for wild high-end performance. No one builds engines like Kawasaki. It’s just this rider feeling that we have created. Almost like you’re one with the product.  This is wild, unrestrained, amazing fun.

Drew: In terms of marketing, have there been any big surprises in terms of what’s really worked well?
We started testing our tools on customers via trial and error. Much of this stuff started to work. We were hooking these guys online long before the online bandwith was widely available. But it worked! We were giving fanatic customers their Kawasaki fix. They wanted to see the next big thing in Kawasaki and we were giving it to them. Our idea was to just give them a little bit. We were taking our content down to bite-sized pieces and giving our customers reasons to buy Kawasaki. The videos were shot in an elegant way that engaged, educated, and excited our customers. Our content strategy was ahead of the curve at that time. And there were skeptics within the company at the time but we were ultimately prophets and the strategy proved itself to be wildly successful.

Drew: As everyone moved online, experiential marketing was somewhat lost. Would you consider going back to experiential to be an innovation?
Personal interaction (especially in our industry) is still so critical. We might have a customer sitting on the website at 2am getting hooked. But at the end of the day, you can’t buy our product online. You still need to get the person to the dealership.

Demo rides are not often offered at dealerships because the dealerships have liability. That’s a strike against us. So, we create opportunities where we can show people the inside of our bikes and compare it to our competitor’s bikes. Tell the customer the Kawasaki story. People are hungry for knowledge. We get them fired up to ride. Now that I’ve told you what features we have inside of the bike, once I’ve showed them to you, then we go ride. I talk through what you’re feeling once we’re riding. It’s very experiential. Then you’re hooked. That’s the Kawasaki experience. We go to where our customers live and create our own experiential events.

Drew: How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing?   
The sale of units is our top goal. But we’re not necessarily holding marketing solely accountable to the sale of the unit. Local sales guys are tasked with the selling. Flat out awareness of the brand is one goal for my team. We are also looking at engagement levels in the digital space and floor traffic into the local dealerships. We also evaluate marks such as the strength of the brand, likelihood to recommend, and likelihood of missing the brand if it were gone. This is all very top line.

Drew: What are a couple things that you’re most proud of as the head of marketing at Kawasaki?
The first thing that comes to mind is our online integration into social and mobile because we were the first to do it in the industry. Another thing that I’m very proud of is the global launch of our products. One of the sexier ones we did was a Times Square launch for Ninja. We had a live broadcast globally and had 1.5 million people show up to the event. No one else in our space had done something on that scale. It was a big risk with a big reward.

One of my biggest accomplishments was actually internal at the company. When I started, trust needed to be built between the factory team and the U.S.-based marketing team. I was able to build an internal coalition within Kawasaki that proved that the U.S. marketing team was able to work with and add value to the home office in Japan. The Times Square experiential launch was the turning point for us. It was the first time that the Kawasaki message was the same globally and the content was the same globally for a product launch. To be able to pull that off and get people to work together and trust each other as part of a global coalition – that was an accomplishment. Now I get to be a team leader of that global coalition.

Drew: Have you been able to use the voice of the customer to affect not just marketing but product development?  
When I started at Kawasaki, marketing didn’t find out about a product until 6 months before launch. There was an inherent distrust. Now through the trust that we’ve built, our company has realized that it’s critical to listen to the voice of our customers. We also realized that product marketing was critical to separate ourselves in the market. We needed to understand the real reasons why certain products weren’t selling. One of the things we realized was that certain products sell better in certain places. For instance, 4 wheel products sell great in the US and not in Japan. How could a customer tell you about advancement? They can’t. But they’re giving clues all the time as long as you’re listening.

Drew: It would be remiss of me not to ask about social media. You have 800,000 fans on Facebook, a fair amount of activity on Twitter. Let’s talk about it from a customer service standpoint. Are you set up to deal with customer issues on social?
We were the first in our industry to have a social presence. So that’s something to be proud of. For me, it wasn’t enough to post a bunch of cool shots of cool bikes. It was really about the voice of our customers. We have our social team set up to respond almost 24/7. It’s critically important that we are sensitive to what’s going on with our customers. These hyper enthusiasts are our “friends”. They expect that Kawasaki the brand respond in real time. Our communities will often police itself and many times they take care of their own before we have to. We’re looking at it as social business more than social media. It’s almost a lead tool. The conversations actually go pretty deep. We’re sharing riding tips, riding locations, history of the brand, dealership locations. Another nice thing is that we’ve never bought a single fan on social. Our 800,000 fans are hard earned.

Drew: You talked about the interest in all of this related content. How far have you gone with product related content to keep customers interested and engaged?
We think that content related to “how the product works” is critical to our audience. Then there’s the “what it is” content. This is the physical product, how it’s supposed to performs, etc. Then you get to the most important piece: why. Why do you ride? Is it the wind in the face? Is it the escape? Leaving friends and family behind? Or is it riding with a big pack? It’s the inspirational part of riding. It’s a very mature market and being able to tap into that with our 26 different targets. When you get into our content, we’re hitting the why, the how, and the what, when we’re trying to excite these people. We tap into the lifestyle. We show people what goes on at Daytona Bike Week. Let me show you what’s going on with our Ninja ZX14 when they’re actually drag racing it. Let me show you what happens in Europe at the Isle of Mann TT. People are hanging on every morsel that comes out of the Kawasaki Corporation. They want to connect. They want to belong. So the product itself is almost a ticket to the Kawasaki party. The all-access content is a hook. This type of marketing is hard to pull off. The deeper we go, the more rewarded we are. After all, I’m selling a lifestyle.

Content Marketing is No Joke (Unless You Work at College Humor)

02/22/14

A rabbi, a priest, and a content marketer walk into a bar…. Bet you want to know what happens next, right? Well, patience, Vine-brain–you’ll just have to wait until I’m good and ready. Before then, I must establish why CollegeHumor may be the best source for lessons on content marketing in the known universe–lessons I gleaned from a recent interview with their CEO, Paul Greenberg. (Author’s note–this article first appeared several months ago on FastCompany.com and is more relevant than ever even though Greenberg has since moved on.)

Greenberg took over as CEO in 2011 and since then CollegeHumor, a division of IAC, has laughed its way to the bank as site traffic has jumped to 15 million unique visitors per month and annual traffic was up 40% in 2011 and 20% in 2012. With over 4.5 million subscribers, CollegeHumor is also a top-ranked YouTube channel. Along with the 100 million monthly video streams, CollegeHumor fans also devour a smorgasbord of non-video content like comics, articles, and even a feature film,Coffee Town, that’s coming out next month.

So yes, there’s some funny business going on over at CollegeHumor. Their videos seem to go “viral” more often than bunnies make bunnies. Their 1 million Facebook fans are maybe the only happy army in the world, sharing silliness with serious consistency. Okay, with their bona fides established, here are the 18 things CollegeHumor can teach you about content marketing (and 1 they won’t).

1. Start With Talented People

Before you say, “Duh, Drew, I hope the other 17 aren’t so obvious,” let me just remind you that most marketer-created content is unadulterated dreck and the good stuff is more rare than an amusing mortician. Great content starts with great writers. Period. Explains Greenberg: “We have a phenomenal team of very creative people who are very good at what they do.”

2. Get Out of the Way

With content marketing becoming an increasingly important part of the mix, it might be natural to involve senior management. Not so fast, bored-room-breath–if the CEO of a company that is in the business of creating content stays out of it, then perhaps you should, too. Reports Greenberg, “I don’t see any need to micromanage the content team–I just get obstacles out of their way and let them do what they do.”

3. Don’t Start at the Bottom Line

Long before he became CEO at CollegeHumor, Greenberg had firsthand experience as on-air talent (radio announcer, voice-over artist) and with production at MTV Networks. He believes these experiences set up him up for success in his current role, adding, “If there is someone who has never been a creative before and never been on the talent side, you’re going to make decisions purely based on the bottom line–and probably the wrong ones.”

4. Foster a Fear-Free Zone

Even with a talented team, not every piece of content will be a huge hit and some might even bomb. Greenberg admits that even CollegeHumor only expects two or three of the 50 videos a month they produce to generate multimillion views. “You can’t be afraid to fail; you have to be willing to put yourself out there every day with something new,” he advises.

5. Crank It Out

While you need not create as much content as CollegeHumor unless you, too, are only in the content business, you still will need to produce a lot more than one (albeit scintillating) blog post per week. Reports Greenberg, “We’ve got [a video] that comes out every single day and sometimes more than once a day.” Even B2B brands will want to publish a steady stream of quality content, especially as your audience grows.

6. Muster All the Mediums

In addition to creating lots and lots of content for your primary channel, whether that be a blog or YouTube or whatever, you are well advised to be wherever else your customers and prospects might consume your stuff. “We actually do a fair amount of articles, comics, and funny pictures that drive 30% of our traffic, which adds up to three to four original non-video pieces a day,” says Greenberg. “We have a well-oiled machine that is constantly making sure that we’re getting our tentacles out everywhere,” he adds.

7. Master All the Mediums

Even though you’re now thinking broadly about your channel options, don’t think you can simply make hay by putting the same stuff on each platform. Greenberg has a separate production and writing staff for the articles like “8 New Punctuation Marks We Desperately Need,” an article that got over a million views, “because it just got shared everywhere.”

8. Plan On Having a Penurious Plan

Knowing all the channels and types of content you’ll be creating gets you a few steps closer to having a content marketing plan. CollegeHumor plans out their content on a monthly basis and from one production budget. Greenberg tells his staff, “Here’s your pot for the month; some of you are going to spend more on some and less on others, and you know what you have to do.”

9. Seek Out Your Series

I may be going out on limb here, but chances are you aren’t rebranding your company or product every week. Then why the heck are you creating content pieces that are essentially one-offs? Says Greenberg: “We try to be consistent and let people know when things are coming out–that’s the best way to build an audience.” Creating a series of videos or articles will also increase the odds of building up a fan base over the long term. “People will discover ‘Very Mary-Kate‘ on its tenth episode and go back and watch all of them,” he notes.

10. Show Some Patience, Young Lucas

As they say up in Alaska, “Nome wasn’t built a day.” Accordingly, even if you are lucky enough to land on a great idea for a content series and go on to produce fabulous segments, don’t expect the whole thing to be an overnight sensation. “With the series you are less apt to get into [a topical] zeitgeist really quickly, so you’ll build an audience over time,” Greenberg cautions. “They’re not all going to be gems, but you get enough hits so that people start to realize, ‘Wow, these guys have something interesting going on,’” he adds.

11. Listen Like You Have Two Ears and One Funny Bone

Once your content is flo-ing like Progressive’s spokesperson, it’s more than an insurance policy to listen to your audience. By way of example, Greenberg tells the story of CollegeHumor’s live-action “Dora the Explorer” parody that started out as a movie trailer. “The Dora trailer was an enormous hit and our fans wished this was a real movie… so we made a 12-minute movie in three installments,” he explains.

12. Plan for the Unplannable

As they say in the latrine business, “Humor happens,” and when it does, CollegeHumor is prepared to squeeze it for all its worth. Greenberg points to “Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends,” which they released right after Election Day. “It went crazy because it hit a nerve–it was really topical and it was well done,” he recalls. Like CollegeHumor, marketers also need to be prepared to execute quickly when topical opportunities arise.

13. Experiment Elsewhere

Not all content ideas are ready for prime time, so it’s a good idea for brands to have a safe haven to experiment. CollegeHumor accomplishes this by having a microsite called Hardly Working. “It’s a sort-of playground for us, so that’s where we put these weird ideas in motion,” notes Greenberg. Brands can accomplish the same thing by sharing content ideas with a carefully picked customer advisory group or via an employee-only intranet.

14. Support It in Social

Obvious O’Brien here just wants to remind you that once you’ve created your splendiferous content, don’t forget to share it on your social channels and monitor those channels accordingly. Greenberg has one manager “who spends all her time on social networks, is completely in the loop on what’s happening, and [also] pushes stuff to our PR partners.”

15. Dive Into the Data

If there’s something funny about your data, it’s probably not a good thing unless, of course, you work at CollegeHumor. “We have a lot of data [and] we spend a lot of time analyzing it,” declares Greenberg. “We’ll look at the ratio between likes and views: Is this getting shared a lot but not watched a lot?” This data also helps determine if a new piece of content should be serialized or given an extra boost (see next point).

16. Be Prepared to Push

If you take but one thing away from this article, let it be this: Viral doesn’t just happen. Even the best content needs a catalyst–a spark, if you will–to start the fire that, swears the arsonist, just happened. Admits Greenberg, “Once [a video] gets to the half a million level, we start to really pay attention and ask, ‘Do we need to give it a little push somewhere?’” Such a boost could be featuring it on the homepage again or reposting it on their various social media channels.

17. Lighten Up, People

If your content falls in the forest and nobody reads it, even your mother won’t care. Content marketing only works when your target wants to consume it and share it, which is why a touch of levity can turn your dry opus into liquid gold. This doesn’t mean you need to start hiring class clowns and making videos about college kids puking, but it wouldn’t hurt if your writers knew the difference between a punch line and punch bowl.

18. Short Is Sweet

Now it’s go time. You’ve got a plan, a channel or six, social media on standby, a newfound sense of humor and even an epic writer lined up. The only problem now is that your writer penned an epic. Cut. And I mean cut. When it comes to videos, short isn’t just sweet, it’s like being a Doritos salesman when the munchies set in. Confirms Greenberg, “We try to keep [our videos] under 2 or 2½ minutes–anything longer and people really just glaze.”

There you have it–the 18 things CollegeHumor can teach you about content marketing. As for the one thing they won’t… It turns out that they have something called “The SIV” that Greenberg describes as “our secret formula for viral videos that makes sure that certain videos have certain aspects about them.” Bummer he won’t share. As they say over at Electrolux: “It really sucks.”

As for the rabbi, the priest, and the content marketer, you’ll need to bounce over to this other post on TheDrewBlog for the rest of the story. I dare not sully these pages with such inanities. More importantly, you’ll also find my informative interview with Greenberg.

The Realities of Real-Time Marketing w Adam Naide, Cox TV

01/28/14

This is my fourth and final post on Real-Time Marketing this week!  Here’s the good news–I saved a really meaty one for last as Adam Naide, Executive Director of Social Media for Cox Communications provides a pithy and honest look at what’s worked and not worked in the world of RTM.

Drew: What’s been working for Cox TV in the area of RTM?

First, the Breaking Bad Final Season.  Our objective was to drive fan growth and increase engagement on @CoxTV during the final season of Breaking Bad.  Seeing the volume of social conversation, specifically on Twitter, around the final season of Breaking Bad, our team developed a real-time campaign to cover each episode of the final season with live coverage, engaging custom content, Vine videos, and a RT to win contest. As a result, the campaign attracted 3,145 new followers, nearly doubling the follower base on Twitter. It also led to 5,757 retweets.

National Donut DaySecond, National Donut Day.  Our objective in this case was to capitalize on real-time opportunities as they presented themselves.  In summary, custom creative was produced for Cox’s Facebook page tying The Simpsons to National Donut Day. The post saw immediate lift on Facebook and was promoted to amplify impact. Seeing that #NationalDonutDay was trending on Twitter, the team quickly posted and promoted the creative on Twitter as well.  As a result, the tweet saw 87% higher engagement than average tweets posted to @CoxTV and 67% greater cost efficiency than average promoted posts on the handle.

Drew: Can you give an example of a real-time program that didn’t work as well as you hoped?
Sure.  We had hoped to capitalize on social buzz around the MTV video music awards to engage music fans on Twitter while growing the fan base.  So @CoxTV live-tweeted the awards through an existing brand influencer “Sara” who had previously covered TV and entertainment for the brand. Unfortunately, Sara entered the live- tweeting event with a preexisting personality that didn’t jive with the VMA audience. She wasn’t a fan of the artists being featured and didn’t participate in the conversion in a relatable way.  In this case, the live-tweeting event garnered just 80 new followers and 1,024 retweets,

Drew: Can you gives some examples of brand RTM #fails?

Hashtag hijacking [is the most common #fail.]  Consumers “hijack” brand led hashtags to share negative brand sentiment, to the point that the hashtag is overtaken by the abusers and the original meaning is lost.  Here are three examples of #fails that the press pounced on: #McDStories#IloveWalgreens  and JPMorgan Live Chat.

Drew: Why do think brands fail so often to get RTM right?

Brands assume that the public perceives the brand in the same way that the brand perceives itself.

Drew: How do you avoid this?

Start with the current behavior of consumers and find ways to mimic, play off of, or join that activity. Don’t force an unwanted idea or perception on consumers. Monitor what organically bubbles to the surface in your industry or trending hastags that are relevant to the brand. As you would with a new acquaintance or friend in real life, find a common interest between you and the consumer and talk about that.

Drew: Let’s review some of the logistical issues when dealing with RTM.

DN: Staffing?  AN: Leveraging real-time opportunities requires full-time monitoring. Listening to social activity is the best way to find opportunities that bubble to the surface.

DN: Client Approval Process? AN: To take advantage of real-time opportunities, a level of trust must exist between agency partners and the client. Planned opportunities are created by the agency and approved by the client, but many real-time opportunities must be created and promoted based on shared goals and strategies for the year, without client approval.

DN: Brands Should Avoid? AN: Brands should avoid forcing real-time content. Steer clear of touchy subjects and irrelevant holidays. For example a baking brand should talk about Thanksgiving, but should not talk about Veteran’s Day.

DN: Barriers to Success? AN: Time and resources. Joining in on trending conversations requires the ability to identify the opportunity, ideate on a response, create content, gain approval and post. This process can be complicated on weekends or after business hours.

DN: The Right Metrics? AN:  Real-time marketing is really about exposure and sentiment. Metrics like reach, impressions, retweets, and earned positive buzz are all metrics that should be assessed.

Drew: How do you see customer care evolving in the age of social as real time marketing?

In our category, our competitors employee dedicated sales reps that mine the social chatter for customer complaints on Twitter… then will reach out to these customers with offers to switch. Many times, they will get to these vulnerable customers before the brand does. It’s become a new front in the competitive battle for market share, one tweet at a time.

Drew: Can you summarize with 3 key factors to getting RTM right?

  1. Relevancy: Do what makes sense for your brand, don’t force it.
  2. Creativity: Stand out, in a good way.
  3. Process: Have a plan for the unexpected. Be ready to take on ad hoc opportunities.
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