Want to be a social media genius? Just say PING!

1) Innovate like FordWhen Ford decided that they wanted to introduce a new model into the US market – the Ford Fiesta – they decided to go about the launch in a rather unusual way. Ford imported 100 Fiestas and gave them to drivers for six months for free, provided that they documented their experiences via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites.

Over 4,000 people applied, and the process of selection became a media story in itself. Everything is documented on a single website, fiestamovement.com, including photos, videos, Tweets and blogs. The drivers are known as "agents", and their exploits can be followed individually online. Agents are given monthly missions based around a theme (for example style and design), and their reports are shared on the website.

Ford’s head of social media, Scott Monty, has a pragmatic view of social media: ”Let’s not kid ourselves. Using social media as part of your marketing mix is far more than recruiting some über-connected individual who can bring attention to your brand. It starts with crafting a strategy and understanding what your business objectives are. And it means never, ever taking your eye off the customer and doing what matters – providing value to them. After all, isn’t that what you’re in business for?”

2) Measure, measure, measure One of the greatest examples of using power of social media for PR has been the promotion of the Phoenix Suns basketball team and their star player, Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neal, during his time there. The person responsible is Phoenix-based PR expert, Amy Martin (known as @digitalroyalty on Twitter). She now helps to manage Shaq’s online presence, using a range of sophisticated measurement tools.

Due largely to Amy’s efforts, Shaq has close to two million Twitter followers, and is regularly mentioned in the traditional press as an example of how to use social media well (creating yet more buzz).

So how does it all work? I spoke to Amy on several occasions to find out. A crucial factor is the speed and detail of monitoring the response to “tweets” and updates on various social media sites. Amy has refined the functions of measurement software to allow her to see the effect of a single message. She calls it Return on Influence (a new form of ROI), which is distilled down to an index, showing whether the efforts have had a positive or negative impact on the brand, as well as by how much. She says: “If you can’t measure it, how do you know if it works?”

3) Use your customers as advocates Dell Outlet collects the equipment that is returned to Dell, so their stock levels can fluctuate quite a lot. Their challenge was to figure out a quick, cheap and easy way to generate more traffic and greater demand for their products. They came up with the idea that Twitter could be a solution, by offering Twitter-specific promotions and featured products. By connecting with this group of potential customers that are likely to influence others who are not as technical or connected to social media, there could be a possibility of also influencing others beyond Twitter, since word of mouth is a very powerful strategy. Their Twitter campaign is very successful, and Dell Outlet will continue to use this form of promotion in the future. They are frequently cited as one of the great Twitter success stories, having made millions of dollars worth of sales since the campaign began.

4) Don’t be afraid to change Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) is almost 100 years old. It wanted to find a way to reach a wider market. The company enjoys strong brand awareness and sales in core markets in the Northwest USA but wanted to expand to other regions. Allison McCormick, senior manager, says: ”It’s harder and harder to reach the people you need to reach through traditional media. Last year, when we were planning the 100th anniversary campaign, we decided we should carve some time, and some budget, to move where the consumers are. And they’re online.”

The TCCA created a fan club on Facebook, supported by messages on both online and offline media. Heidi Luquette, corporate communications manager at TCCA in Tillamook, sees social networking as more than a cheese-spreading tool. It’s like a comment card that a visitor might fill out in the TCCA Visitor’s Centre, but even more accessible. “I see it as an opportunity to learn more about Tillamook fans. Every day, it seems, we get an email from someone sharing a Tillamook story. Up until now, those stories have been hard to capture unless they’re right here in front of us,“ Luquette says. ”People tell us the good and the bad, and the memories they have. I think I understand more what people are saying, because they now have a new venue to say it.“

5) Stay in the lead First Direct (or as they style themselves, first direct) is a telephone and online bank in the UK, a division of HSBC. They have no branches, and are based in Leeds. They have been in business for over 20 years, and were launched with a quirky PR and advertising campaign around the slogan black and white banking. They have retained the same style ever since, but have only recently experimented with social media. In collaboration with the social media specialist public relations consultancy Wolfstar, the bank has now set up a social media newsroom to provide a service for professional PR people, bloggers and Tweeters. ,”Increasingly”, said Amanda Brown, PR and communications director, “People are turning to online methods of media consumption and as a brand we have to go where the audience is. With the social media newsroom, we wanted to create one central hub for all our communications online and we wanted to make those communications as portable and shareable online as possible. We create a lot of content that could add value to the conversations already going on online. The newsroom is a step on the way to engaging in that dialogue. A lot goes on at first direct which would not necessarily be newsworthy but says a lot about the business. It allows me to say someone has been sitting in a phone box all day to raise £3,000 for Childline. It gives people more insight into how we operate, and helps us stay ahead of the competition”.

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