With the "launching pad" SheSpeaks, brands can come away with invaluable insight into their products and an entire community of advocates at their disposal.
Modern media buyers don't have it easy. Not only are they saddled with the exacting task of securing targeted exposure and meaningful conversions, they're also increasingly relied upon to be the purveyors of consumer engagement.
There's no question that social media has helped the cause, but Facebook and Twitter are but empty shells without a killer strategy. Some companies are offering that strategy while still making good use of social sites – and luring the world's biggest brands to their door. But it takes more than consumer engagement to keep them there.
"Our communities are a launching pad," says Aliza Freud, founder and CEO of SheSpeaks. When it started in 2007, SheSpeaks helped companies gather customer insight and research on target consumers. Today, it provides brands with a way to engage them. "By virtue of asking women what they thought about a brand, they would become advocates for the brand," Freud says. "Women want to blog about a product, to put something about it on Facebook. We give them a voice with the brands."
Those brands include Pepsi, Heinz, the OWN Network, American Express, Rubbermaid, and Procter & Gamble, each of which has worked with SheSpeaks to develop a customized, branded product microsite. What makes this service different from other platforms is that much of each microsite isn't open to the public. Instead of making its content and communities available to the masses and relying on advertising to draw in the right kind of users, SheSpeaks uses the brand's consumer criteria to select users from its existing community of 170,000 members, 30 percent of which is comprised of bloggers. Each "seeding group" typically includes about 10,000 members, and it's these consumers who benefit from the brand's program, in turn providing the brand with feedback and consumer-generated content.
In the case of P&G, the CPG giant wanted to promote the fact that many of its products are environmentally friendly. With the support of a dozen of its brands, P&G launched the Future Friendly program to encourage women to educate their children about conserving resources, and SheSpeaks created a microsite to match. Some content is available for public consumption, but most – including a discussion forum and evaluation quiz – are for members' eyes only.
On Johnsonville's microsite, everyone is invited to upload videos and photos of themselves using Johnsonville Italian Sausage, but only members receive coupons for a product trial.
It's this exclusivity that keeps consumers participating, and builds a momentum that takes these brand programs beyond the page. "Emotional value is compelling," Freud says, noting that the company's members aren't paid to sign up or to participate in individual programs. "The incentive is having access to products before other people do."
That can translate into considerable media exposure. Participants in the programs are encouraged to blog and tweet about their experiences, and do they ever comply. "Tostitos Artisan recipes Roasted Garlic & Black Bean chips are unbelievably good," tweeted one participant in a Tostitos SheSpeaks program, adding, "This is not an ad, it's a love affair."
Apart from creating product advocates, these brands are gathering fodder for marketing materials and future ad campaigns. Post-microsite initiative they can build ad units using member testimonials, the results of which Freud says can deliver double the click-through and conversion rates of other ads.
Adding an element of consumer engagement to a media buy requires a delicate balance of branding and conversions, participation, and long-term loyalty. SheSpeaks is taking social media a step beyond the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts brands know they need by incorporating elements of direct marketing and focus groups while still leveraging the big social platforms. It may be a "launching pad," but brands can come away with invaluable insight into their products and an entire community of advocates at their disposal.
Check back next week for a look at another company that's helping buyers and planners to generate consumer engagement for their clients.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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