July 7, 2010

Social Media Tips from the Major Players


Hostway Team

By Monique Martin

Big brands like Comcast and Starbucks are leveraging the power of social media to expand their brand awareness and drive sales. And, for the most part, they’re doing it without spending big business bucks. Winning the social media market doesn’t take a big monetary investment. What it takes is time and passion. It’s not about “selling” or traditional marketing; it’s about building relationships.

Big brands are using social media on multiple sites to create a synergy for their brand, and you should too. You need to do more than write a great blog. You need to create a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube too. It sounds like a lot of work, and at first, it is. But, once you get the feel for the sites, you can get a lot done over your morning cup of coffee. Here’s a quick primer on what some of the biggest and best brands are doing, and how you can make social media an intrinsic part of your business.


More people than ever are using Twitter. The company recently crossed the 100 million user threshold. That’s a lot of tweets. Thousands of companies are using the microblogging site to serve up some soft-spam. But, there’s more to Twitter than 140 characters and a way to offer promotions. Comcast and Zappos, two very different companies, have both embraced Twitter for the same reason — customer service.

Zappos has always been a leader in customer service. They pride themselves on being extremely customer-centric, and Twitter offered them another avenue to show just how dedicated to it they are. And, it all starts with their CEO, Tony Hsieh. He’s engaged, enthusiastic and honest, and it’s paid off. His twitter account has over a million followers. His accessibility sets the standard for Zappos on Twitter. They have over 500 employees using Twitter and even created a special section of their Web site to aggregate all of their tweets.

Zappos’ employees use Twitter to connect with customers and provide real-time customer support. It’s not a replacement for traditional customer support avenues, but a great supplement. And, it’s out there in the open. Zappos’ transparency has made it a brand people are enthusiastic about. They trust Zappos and they can see why they should on Twitter every day.

A company that doesn’t have as many fans, but is working hard to win people’s trust, is Comcast. Comcast was never famous for customer service, but thanks to Frank Eliason and Twitter, that’s changing.

Back in 2008 Eliason began to use Twitter as a way to track customer complaints. He created the account comcastcares to seek out unhappy customers and provide them with the service they were lacking. Today, he has a team of over 10 employees who spend their days on Twitter looking for people to help. The company still has an uphill battle ahead of them, but as CEO Brian Roberts said, “It’s changed the culture of our company.”

Your small business might not need customer relations CPR, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two from Comcast’s Twitter experience. Both Comcast and Zappos use Twitter to actively seek out problems and resolve them. Customer service is typically reactive. You wait for someone to let you know there’s an issue. But, with Twitter, you can be proactive.

And while many businesses use Twitter to say things, the smart ones are using it to listen. Find out what people are saying about you. Resolve problems and elicit feedback. Don’t think of Twitter as a micro-announcement site. It’s more than that if you’re willing to try.


Mountain Dew unleashed their DEWmocracy 2 Facebook campaign at the start of 2010. In it, they used the passion of their fans to create a new flavor (White Out was the winner, by the way) and in letting the fans be a part of the brand, they increased their Facebook fan count by nearly tenfold.

Fans weren’t just talking about the brand, they were participating in it, creating a new flavor. They used multiple sources to drive traffic to their Facebook campaign and it paid off, in spades.

That sort of crowdsourcing may seem like something only a big brand can do, but small businesses can learn from Mountain Dew’s success. What helped them increase their fan base from just over 100,000 fans to nearly one million? Letting the fans be part of something, listening to what they had to say, engaging them in the brand and creating something based on their desires.

If you run a small mountain climbing gear outfit, engage your fans in conversations about their favorite piece of gear, have polls, contests, get the community involved. If they feel they’re being listened to, and can see the results of that, you’ll have a whole new set of uber fans who will advocate for your business.

In the same way, Zappos and others are using Twitter as a CRM tool, brands like AT&T are using Facebook to reach out and touch someone. If you visit the AT&T Facebook page you’ll see lots of posts by AT&T offering real, tangible help to their users. That sort of out in the open customer service can be a boon for a brand and it can be for your business too.

For Skittles, now the third most popular page on Facebook, social media life wasn’t always so sweet. The candy company decided to make its home page their Twitter feed. Unfortunately, some unsavory comments took a bite out of that idea and Skittles changed their homepage to their Facebook page. That didn’t go well either. Finally, after the dust settled and the homepage was reworked, Skittles got down to the business of working the social network. A quick 2-for-1 Facebook-only voucher increased their fan base by 100,000 in just ten days.

A look at their page shows the power of being your brand. The upfront marketing messages aren’t as powerful as those that embody the fun and silliness of the brand. The lesson here for small businesses is two-fold. One, don’t get carried away with social media, you can’t control the beast. And two, be yourself.


According to Website-Monitoring, YouTube boasts more than 2 billion (billion with a B) views a day. The average person spends 15 minutes on YouTube every day. That’s nearly 2 hours a week.

While anyone can upload a video, that doesn’t guarantee any marketing advantage. You need viewers and subscribers. Blendtec’s Will It Blend? campaign showed the power of videos gone viral, while Home Depot’s How-to videos show that slow and steady can win the race too.

In 2006, the then-new marketing director, George Wright heard that CEO Tom Dickson often used unusual objects like wooden boards to demonstrate the power of the company’s blenders. Wright thought that was a fun idea for a video. So, he got a cheap camera and made the first Will It Blend? video and posted it online. He soon convinced Dickson to blend up other strange things including marbles, a rake and a McDonalds Extra Value Meal. The series was an instant success.

In the years since, BlendTec’s Will It Blend? campaign has been featured on every major television network and has over 100 million views on YouTube. The simple idea of “extreme blending” turned into an Internet sensation and catapulted Blendtec’s sales into the stratosphere.

The keys to the Will It Blend? campaigns success are, at least on the surface, simple.

  • Viral videos push emotional buttons. They’re funny, shocking, and play on our innate curiosity.
  • Engage the community. Blendtec took suggestions for their next blend. Find ways to get your customers to participate.
  • Use things that are currently trending to add zip and heat to your videos. Blentec blended Nikes and iPhones. How can you integrate pop culture into your videos?

That sort of extreme product demo isn’t right for every business. Some are better served with providing great, easy to understand how-to videos. Enter, Home Depot.

Home Depot’s YouTube channel isn’t sensational and the videos aren’t viral success, but they’re a boon to business nonetheless. Home Depot has established themselves as trustworthy experts in the world of DIY. You don’t just get the right tools, but the know-how too.

Their videos are easy to follow, straightforward and informative. And, they all features products Home Depot sells. It’s not the hard selling infomercial, but the soft product placement. They’re also not slick high-cost productions. They’re honest and simple.

If your product line lends itself to how-to videos, get to filmin’. It’s a low-cost way to generate great traffic, brand awareness and reputation.

The most important lesson to remember about social media marketing is that it’s about creating relationships. And, like any relationship, that means give and take. Listen to what people are saying, and you might be pleasantly surprised at what you hear.

About the Author

Monique Martin served as chief operating officer for a successful online insurance marketing firm for five years.

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