Monthly Archives: October 2009

General Mills goes social

Here’s the killer chart…


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During the launch of the Fiber One Bar, General Mills could see a nearly exact correlation between weekly online postings and volume.  As Mark Roddicks, General Mills’ CMO, points out in his inspiring presentation General Mills Goes Social, it’s the kind of chart you can take to management to prove the value of consumer participation in the development and launch of products through social media tools.

General Mills has a stable of well-known, iconic food brands, including such favorites as Pillsbury, Cheerios, Green Giant and that venerable but ageless queen of the kitchen, Betty Crocker.  Back in the 40’s, the Betty Crocker brand received up to 3,000 letters a day from passionate homemakers.  Social communities built around brands have existed for decades.  Only now, thanks to today’s online social tools, General Mills can leverage the power and passion of those communities in unprecedented ways.

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Here’s just a few examples of how General Mills is “going social,” because, as Addicks says, the company has only recently started on this journey and continues to learn as they go.

General Mills regularly gets new products into the hands, and kitchens, of engaged consumers before they launch.  The company uses social media tools to encourage those consumers to talk about the product, share experiences and feed back opinions and suggestions.  Not all the feedback is positive, but that’s how the company learns.

Two tools they use for this are My Block Spark and Pssst…, which invite connected consumers and bloggers to participate and provide them with platforms to share and provide feedback.

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By leveraging communities in this way, General Mills builds early awareness and involvement among influencers, which facilitates fast word of mouth when the product actually launches.  Progresso Broth was launched through the Pssst… community with almost no support from traditional media.

One way General Mills gets the conversation going is by saying to consumers, here’s why we created this product, here’s how we think it works, tell us what you think.  Feedback can be in different forms, including video, and the ensuing dialogue provides rich insights for the product developers and food experts.

General Mills brands also support a number of causes.  The effectiveness of these programs has been enhanced through web 2.0 tools put in consumers’ hands.  The Yoplait “Save Lids to Save Lives” initiative in support of  Susan G. Komen for the cure saw participation increase by nearly 50% when women were provided with online tools to set up their own teams behind the program.

Addicks understands that going social with consumers with this degree of transparency can seem pretty radical to C-suite members who are used to a traditional tell and sell approach.  One way he suggests to get started is within the company itself.  One of the first things General Mills did was to create a common portal inside the organization, which enabled employees to form communities, discussion groups and interactive best practices.  This helped senior management understand the power of becoming social by demonstrating the power of the organization to help itself through these kind of tools.

Inspiring stuff.  You can see the presentation deck, as well as a video of Addicks presenting it, at the Business Building Blog.

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On Digg, related content appears next to your ad, instead of your ad appearing next to related content

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Digg is experimenting with a new ad format it’s calling Digg-fed content ads.  When you place this new kind of banner ad on Digg, it appears with links to former stories from the Digg homepage relating to your product or category or the interests of your prospective buyers.  Let’s say you’re advertising a food product with an ingredient that’s believed to reduce cholesterol.  Your banner ad could contain links to former Digg stories that support your claims of cholesterol reduction.

Sounds like an interesting way to monetize by leveraging the specific qualities of Digg’s information aggregation and rating model.  Digg thinks “ads will feel more relevant (and thus work better for brands) if they feature the kind of content we look for online.” I guess that’s true, because they provide the reader with background information, immediately accessible, that can help him or her evaluate assertions or claims made in the ad.  On the other hand, the advertiser can apparently control which links show up, and which don’t, which means the featured Diggs won’t necessarily paint an objective picture.  It also blurs the boundaries between the traditional separation of editorial and advertising content.

I thought the whole thing is also an interesting twist on the Google model of ads showing up next to related content.  In the Digg model, the content shows up next to the related ad.

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Forget expensive dinners, Facebook is the new place to get to know your clients

Back in the eighties, when I started in the ad biz in New York, it was par for the course to take clients out for drinks, to dinner, the theater and other events.  For many, such outings happened weekly or even more often.  It wasn’t as excessive as in Madmen — those were really the good old days! — but there was quite a bit of it. It was part of the job.

I hated it.  Once I got to the bar or restaurant, or whatever the venue was, I managed to get into the swing of things.  But I always had to push myself, and deep down I resented it.  Those after hours professional commitments were an unwelcome inroad into my time away from the job.  And Lord knows, if you worked in advertising, personal time was a scarce commodity, even back then.  But that was one way we cultivated closer relationships with clients.

Flash forward to 2009. Now there’s a new way to nourish that personal connection.  It’s called Facebook.  And I like it a lot more.

There’s much discussion about the social web breaking down the boundaries between our personal and professional lives.  And for me this is true, not only in relationship to co-workers, but to clients too.  I have several clients as Facebook friends.  In the beginning, I wondered whether this was a good idea, or if it would come back to bite me.  But so far it works.  And I think one of the reasons it works is that there are some unspoken guidelines that we all seem to follow.  For one, we never talk about business.  That, of course, would be foolish,  because everything on the social web is public.  But there’s more to it than that.  Facebook is about sharing the private and personal, and for most people it’s a social, leisure-time activity.  So business talk just isn’t appropriate.

How my clients (and everyone) see me on Facebook today

How my clients (and everyone) see me on Facebook today

And it’s also that private dimension that I think makes Facebook a more genuine way of building bonds with Clients.  In Facebook you and your clients reveal aspects of your lives that you’d never really get to see at one of those after-hour alcoholic meet-ups of yesteryear.  My clients have seen me on video dancing with my parrot.  And I’ve seen them playing with their kids.  It’s those ongoing glimpses into the small, private, intimate moments of life that make possible personal connections with clients that one never would have imagined, with the occasional exception of course, 20 years ago.

One could argue this isn’t a good thing.   That it’s an inappropriate kind of interaction with our clients.  I don’t agree.  The personal has always been a fundamental component of business.  Facebook and other social media just enable it to happen more naturally, spontaneously and, I think, genuinely.  And in a way that fits comfortably into a new kind of post-Lehman Brothers value set in which expensive client dinners and excessive nights on the town no longer feel quite like the right way to behave.

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Peer Squared fast forwards the convergence of online marketing and social networks

Peer Squared is a new platform that allows people to share commercial messages with their online communities and earn points that are redeemable on Amazon.  It’s an interesting concept and the first one I’m aware of that actively encourages people to share brand messages on their personal social networks by offering tangible rewards for doing so.

Peer Squared Ducati

The motorcycle manufacturer Ducati just got on board, but I haven’t heard of any of the other four brands that so far have “programs” on the site.  So when Peer Squared calls itself “a peer-endorsed online marketing platform that rewards you for promoting the brands and products you love across the internet,” that’s only true if 1) a brand that you happen to love is there, 2) your motivation for promoting the brand is that you truly love it, vs. you’re only 1000 points away from that Sony speaker system you’ve been dying to get for free.

There’s the rub.  It’s one thing for brand enthusiasts to share messages and brand content out of their true love for the brand, with no motivation beyond the fact that when we find something we think is really good, there’s nothing more rewarding than being the source for others to discover and enjoy it for themselves.  And it’s perfectly legitimate for brands to help enable that, through widgets, links and sharable content.  That’s the beauty of social media marketing.  Your customers do the marketing, out of love for your brand, and that marketing achieves a new level of integrity and effectiveness.  But it’s quite another thing when someone’s motive for sharing information about the brand isn’t simply out of love, but out of a more self-serving objective — to get stuff in return.

And what does it say to our online social connections when we throw commercial messages in their faces, for products we in fact may not really believe in, for the sake of a few thousand Amazon reward points?  Is that what the social web is becoming?  A platform for shilling products to our friends?  “Hi friend, I interrupt my Facebook feed for this short commercial message.” With friends like that …, well, you know how the rest of the saying goes.

I’ve started a little experiment. I’ve signed up to Peer Squared and placed content on my Facebook page, Twitter and elsewhere.  I’m curious to see how fast I can accumulate points, and whether my social network notices, is indifferent or protests.

I’ll keep you posted.

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