Tag Archives: online community

Thoughts on a recent German social media debate

Recently a debate emerged among German social media mavens.  The question was whether social media can be successful when companies that use social media channels don’t respond to consumer comments or otherwise enter the conversation.  The debate was ushered in by a post from Mirko Lange on his talkabout blog entitled, Social Media Myth Buster: Successful Social Media Doesn’t Require a “Dialog” (Social Media Myth Buster: Es braucht keinen “Dialog” für erfolgreiche Social Media).

Two aspects of Mirko’s post bugged me.  First, he was fairly unspecific about defining “successful.”  It seemed simply to be the number of fans on Facebook or the number of followers on Twitter.  So one of his successful examples was Lufthansa Germany’s Twitter page.  Lufthansa has 20,000+ followers.  Is that a success?  Perhaps.  Some context would help.  How fast was the growth in followers?  How many of those followers actually engage with Lufthansa via Twitter?  On the face of it, it doesn’t look that good compared to Southwest Airlines, which has over 1 million Twitter followers.

The other point is that as far as I can tell, Lufthansa is indeed “dialoging” with customers via Twitter, much the way Frank Eliason has done with Comcast Cares, by identifying customers with problems and helping out.  One difference is that Frank identifies himself by name to leverage a key strength of social media, the opportunity for companies to behave like people, by having real people with real names engage on behalf of the company. As  Southwest’s Twitter bio aptly notes, ” Airplanes can’t type so @ChristiDay and @Brandy_King are piloting the Twitterverse!”

Nevertheless, I fundamentally agree with Mirko, as well as with Timo Lommatzsch, who, on the current edition of his Social Media PReview Podcast, which discusses Mirko’s post, points to the example of Die Zeit’s Twitter page, with nearly 25,000 followers.  Die Zeit is an erudite German weekly newspaper that covers a broad range of topics including politics, culture, economy and sports.  There’s no dialogue on their Twitter feed, it serves merely to inform followers of the online edition’s latest articles.  But one can imagine that these followers are the type of people who will retweet a post on Die Zeit to all of their followers, which is an effective way to spread the paper’s content across personal networks and potentially bring new readers to the site to the delight of the publication’s online advertisers.

Consider also that consumers aren’t as puritanical about demanding dialogue as social media “experts” assert.  I recall recently a study quoted by Shel Holtz on his For Immediate Release podcast.  It found that the main reason people become fans of brand Facebook pages is to find special deals and price-off promotions.

As long as a social media provides value based on how the community defines it — be it  special deals, product information, help with problems, or the pleasure of sharing one’s passion for the brand with others — the community will grow.

In writing this post, I remembered something I included in the “Who’s on the soapbox?” section when I started this blog in July, 2008.  It said, “I’m Steve Rothman … I have a passion for new media, social media, web 2.0 — whatever your preferred label for the way people are using the web to connect, share and empower each other on the things they care about. And that includes the products and services they buy.”  I didn’t write that those people necessarily had to include the company or the brand.  That’s as true now, as it was then.


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Slay big old Goliath with social media

The May 11th, 2009, issue of The New Yorker features an article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “How David Beats Goliath.  When underdogs break the rules.”  Gladwell reviews principles by which the weaker of two competitors, who under normal circumstances would surely suffer defeat, can shift the odds to come out the winner.

One of the key principles will be familiar to anyone who has read Adam Morgan’s marketing classic, Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders.  Morgan says that in order to succeed, small-share challenger brands, as he calls them, have to change the rules of the game — for example by breaking the conventions of the category.

A great case study of a challenger brand (although I’m not sure it’s mentioned in Eating the Big Fish) is Felix Cat Food.  Originally the number 4 or 5 cat food brand in the UK, Felix advanced up the ranks to challenge the market leader Whiskas with an unconventional, consumer relevant creative approach and by using newspapers as its primary medium, rather than TV.  TV was where most of the other cat food brands were putting their money.

In The New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell’s signature case for this principle is the story of David and Goliath.  Gladwell writes:

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath.  But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said … and picked up those five smooth stones.

When the David’s of this world choose to play by different rules than the Goliath’s, more often than not, they win.


Another great example that Gladwell writes about in some detail is the story of a girls’ junior high basketball team, whose players were neither especially tall, nor especially gifted, but who nevertheless made it to the national championships.  They did it by utilizing a strategy that is basketball’s equivalent of David reaching for the five smooth stones.  It’s called the full-court press.  Many basketball teams practice the full-court press a few minutes at a time, but the Redwood City girl’s basketball team pursued it relentlessly.

There is a convention to playing basketball that most teams follow.  When Team A makes a basket, they immediately run back to their own end of the court to await the approach of Team B, who now has possession of the ball.  As Gladwell explains, this convention favors good teams:

Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end.  Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

The coach of the Redwood City’s team — who, by the way, had never played basketball or coached a basketball team before, and therefore had no preconceived notions of the game’s conventions  — took a different approach.  He coached his girls to exercise the full-court press constantly.  Rather than retreating to their own side of the court after they scored a point, they aggressively challenged the opposing team for the possession of the ball on that team’s side.  Instead of standing behind the single opposing player she was assigned to shadow, to impede her if she received a pass, each Redwood City girl maneuvered herself in front of her opponent, to prevent her from even receiving the pass in the first place.

Often this meant the opponents would lose possession because they would fail to advance the ball across the mid-court within 10 seconds, a rule of the game.  This helped the Redwood City players to regain possession close to their opponents’ basket, which meant they could score more often with an easy lay-up, rather than going for lower percentage, long range shots, which demanded greater skill.

They also aggressively tried to block the inbounds pass, which is when the opposing team throws an out-of-bounds ball back into play.  Most teams don’t bother with this, but the Redwood City girls did.  This often forced the opposing team either to exceed the five second limit for getting the ball back into play (and lose possession) or, panicking, to simply throw the ball away.  In general, the opposing players simply lost their groove against the Redwood City team’s tactics.  Flustered and frustrated, they couldn’t take advantage of the strengths that normally made them so powerful.

iStock_girlbasketballSmallSo what does this have to do with social media?

As I read Gladwell’s article, I began to see interesting parallels between advantages of the full-court press strategy for the Redwood City underdogs and the use of social media for a challenger brand.

First of all, social media is not the conventional choice most big brands will use for communicating with consumers.  They aren’t comfortable with it and continue to focus their efforts, and their budgets, on the standard TV, radio and print media they already know.  But just as Felix replaced TV with newspaper, which was the unconventional medium for the time and the category, a dedicated commitment to social media and the power it has to forge brand-consumer relationships can be a potent strategy for stealing share from the big guys.

Another point Gladwell makes about the full-court press is that it takes much more physical effort than the conventional way of playing the game:

It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing.  We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity.  It’s the other way around.  Effort can trump ability … because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination.

In other words, it’s easier to create and produce a flashy 30″ TV commercial and stick the thing on air, than to be out there in the social media space day in and day out, talking like a human being with individual consumers, engaging with your brand enthusiasts and building your brand’s reputation one consumer at a time.   As my friend Joseph Jaffe says:  in the world of new media, “Marketing isn’t a campaign, it’s a commitment.”

And finally, consider this quote from the Gladwell article:

Redwood City attacked the inbounds pass, the point in a game where a great team is as vulnerable as a weak one.

Putting a positive spin on it, the inbounds pass is the point in a game where the weak team is as powerful as the strong team.  The same can be said for social media.  It doesn’t require a mega-budget for a brand to put together an effective social media effort.  Unlike conventional broadcast media, the playing field in the online social media arena is fairly even, whether you’re the market leader or a smaller challenger brand.  Social media is the place where great ideas can catch on and spread without big budgets, thanks to the connections people have within their communities and their passion to pass on content they love.

So to all you small players out there in the marketing world — think like David and the Redwood City girls basket ball team.  Consider how social media can help you shift the rules of the game to your advantage, and slay big old Goliath.

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New moms are heavy into social media


Despite its reputation as the most natural thing in the world, caring for a new baby is described by many 1st-time moms as the greatest challenge they’ve ever encountered.  Deprived of sleep, coming to terms with fundamental changes of lifestyle and priorities, faced every day with a new questions, new uncertainties, and new decisions to be made, it’s no wonder that new moms seek out advice and support and have a deep need to share their feelings and experiences.  So it’s also not surprising that, according to Nielsen’s report The Global Online Media Landscape released April 22 (d0wnload here), new moms have a high propensity to visit social networking sites compared to the broader 18+ female population and average online consumer.  Experienced moms also participate more in social media than these other groups. (I think these are US data but I couldn’t find a definitive reference.)

Here are a few key findings (indexes vs. average online consumer):

  • Visited social networking site: Female 18+ (119), Experienced Mom (122), New Mom (286)
  • Publish/Own a Blog: Female 18+ (109), Experienced Mom (123), New Mom (270)
  • Visited both blogging site and social networking site: Female 18+ (98), Experienced Mom (110), New Mom (262)
  • Mothers aged 25-35 with at least one child at home are 85% more likely to spend time on Facebook compared to the average online consumer

So if you’re a brand seeking to build strong relationships with new moms, it looks like social media is something you should be thinking about.

In addition to these specific findings about moms, the Nielsen study has a wealth of useful data on the developing of digital and social media, how it’s being used and by whom.  Among other things, it confirms that usage of video and social media are the fastest growing digital categories.


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Everything you ever wanted to know about Twitter (almost) in 2 minutes 25 seconds

Here’s another great “in plain English” video, this time about Twitter.

I recently posted something on my Facebook page that I overheard another Facebook user saying to someone we both know who isn’t on Facebook.  “Now you see … if you were on Facebook, you would already know what I had for dinner last night.”

It’s funny.  We all have to laugh.  But those of us who are on Twitter or Facebook laugh because we know this is exactly the kind of stuff we post all the time.  And the rest who haven’t yet drunk the social media cool-aid laugh at what they see as the silliness of those of us who have.

I honestly think there is something meaningful happening in this new way of sharing short moments of our daily lives.  You can see it as trivial, or you can see it as welcome, bite-sized views into the  fabric of the lives of people we care about.  When woven together over time, they make us feel closer and more intimate with them.  I don’t want to hear from every one of my Facebook or Twitter connections like this, but for a number whom I really care about, it’s a new way of feeling more in touch day to day.  And I often end up discovering surprising little things I didn’t know that enrich my understanding of them.  It gives true meaning to the term “social” media.


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The resurrection of an iconic German ice cream bar through online communities and social media

When I first came to Germany in 1989, I became enamored of an ice cream bar on a stick called Nogger Choc.  It was similar to a  favorite Good Humor bar variety from my childhood, the name of which I no longer remember.  Both had an outer chocolate shell, coating a creamy wedge of ice cream, and in the middle, as a crowning conclusion to the the whole taste experience, a delicious hard, chunky, chewy chocolate core.

In 2001, Nogger Choc was taken off the market by Langnese ice cream, a division of Unilever, never to be heard from again.  At least that’s what Langnese, and many consumers, must have thought.  But in 2008 Langnese reversed course and reintroduced Nogger Choc.  According to a presentation by Edelman Digital, it was the largest selling new product launch from Langnese.

The successful reintroduction of Nogger Choc was initiated by, and executed through, social media and online communities.  Above-the-line communications were not part of the picture.  And the impetus to bring back the brand didn’t originate with Langnese, it was thanks to a group of Nogger Choc passionate consumers.

It all started when Benjamin Gildemeister launched an online petition directed to Langnese, after he discovered that there were many others like himself who longed for the return of their beloved Nogger Choc.  Over five-thousand people signed.  But even more people, over 16,000, became members of the “We miss Nogger Choc” community on StudiVZ, a German online social network for students.

Langnese was impressed by the passion of these brand lovers.  And here’s what they did that was really smart.  They realized this was a business opportunity that could be best fulfilled by collaborating with the very online community that was calling for the comeback of the Nogger Choc.  And they initiated that comeback by starting their communications right where it had all begun — in the social web.

They kicked-off with an online video of the marketing director and brand manager announcing that Nogger Choc was back and thanking the community for alerting Langnese to the “big mistake” it had made in taking the brand off the market.  By engaging with the community to spread the word in blogs, forums and other online communities, Nogger Choc attained 150,000 impressions online.  That established the platform for generating traditional PR around the relaunch in mainstream media generating an additional 40 million impressions. (All figures from the Edelman Digital presentation.)

Blog post announcing Nogger Choc come-back

Blog post announcing Nogger Choc comeback

All-in-all, a winning case for the power of online communities and social media, complete with happy end.  Or is it?  There appear to be a few clouds on the bright new horizon for Nogger Choc.  The same social web that was the springboard for the relaunch is yielding a number of critical voices.  Some Nogger Choc fans claim the product isn’t the same as the one they know and loved.  Among other things, they say the chocolate core is too small and soft.  If that’s the case, Langnese should have known better.  You can’t pull the wool over the eyes, or the taste buds, of your most passionate consumers, whose disappointment and critique will spread like wildfire through the online community.  And from there it could eventually be picked up by more mainstream media, just as the relaunch was.

I haven’t yet tried the resurrected Nogger Choc, so I don’t know if it’s as delicious as the one I learned to love when I first came to Germany.  As soon as I do, I’ll let you know.

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The wisdom of bloggers

As part of the series on blogger relations, Toby of Diva Marketing Blog just posted Part II entitled “A Successful Blogger Relations Strategy.” The post captures perspectives and insights of 99 bloggers who responded to an online survey about what makes a blogger outreach strategy successful. (Ninety-nine sounds so much nicer than 100. Remember the 80’s German pop hit “99 Red Balloons”? Ninety-nine’s got rhythm, 100 feels like a rock.) For all the results you can head over to the blog. It’s an excellent read. I just wanted to highlight a couple of points that I think are especially, well, to the point.

The three big take aways:

• It’s not about you
• Relationships matter
• Honesty is critical

I guess anyone who has some understanding of bloggers knows this. But if there are three “golden rules” of blogger relations we should have tattooed into our gray matter – I guess it’s these three.

It’s a win for the blogger, the brand and the community

This one is an extension of “It’s not about you” and should probably be added as a footnote at that same location in our brains.

A successful strategy isn’t a strategy

I LOVE this thought. Essentially, the whole dynamic of social media is the antithesis of traditional marketing communications, with its one way strategic propositions, USP’s and “on-message” straight-jacket. Conversations aren’t strategic. They’re spontaneous, free flowing and unpredictable. At least the good ones are. It’s a wonderful contradiction. For a blogger relations strategy to be successful, it can’t be strategic. Because it’s rooted in conversation.

It gets the conversation going around the product or service and the discussion builds beyond what was expected.

What’s great here is what’s left unsaid. Bloggers and their communities are happy to hear about your product in the social media space. There’s no sign on the door saying “Brands are not welcome!” They are welcome. As long as they create value for the blogger and the community through, as Joseph Jaffe puts it, the power of community, dialog and partnership. In other words, through mutually beneficial, online conversation among the blogger, the community and living, breathing human beings representing the brand.

Success is when the company establishes timeless relationships with their community of relevant bloggers.

Laurent made this excellent point in a comment to the original post. The greatest potential for mutual benefit will come through an ongoing relationship between the marketer and the blogger. Isn’t that true of most relationships, as we build trust, commitment and knowledge of each other’s needs? Marketers who begin to invest in these relationships need to recognize that this will be a long-term commitment, and ensure that they have adequate structural, technical and financial resources in place before starting out on the journey.

We’re all still learning, so let’s be kind.

I liked the following response from Anita Campbell to the survey question “Who’s doing it wrong?”, as many of us can get quite hot under the collar with regard to social media:

“As for anyone doing it ‘wrong,’ I simply prefer to think of it as them not quite being where they need to be yet … All this openness makes us pass judgment too harshly and too quickly I think. Let’s give companies and people time to learn and grow in their blogging.”

Couldn’t agree more.



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