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How-To: Using Social Media Strategically (Pt II)

FedEx's 'Launch a Package'
app on Facebook

This how-to was syndicated from a four-part series on social media created by Leigh Householder. Read more about her at the conclusion of the article.

Last week we went over what social media is and explored two ways in which companies commonly use it — letting users support each other, and activating ambassadors.

Now we'll cover two more ways social media is leveraged, and how brands should use it.

How Companies Are Using Social Media (deux!)

#3: Listen for new insights


Imagine if you could get the very best development or marketing ideas you'd never thought of from people who actually use your product?

This is the killer "listening" app of the social web. It works lots of ways:

  • Find conversations that are already happening and pull ideas from them. (Twitter — which enables companies to "listen" for brand mentions and respond to users in real-time — has been great for this.)
  • Create opportunities for vast communities to offer and edit their own ideas
  • Use captive marketing groups to examine human behavior and test new concepts and products.


  • Connects you to the best ideas inside your own company and in your larger community
  • Often very cost effective, leveraging resources you already have


  • Can generate overwhelming amounts of content
  • Can take your brand in inauthentic directions. Make sure you balance what the market wants with what's true to who you are or what your product does

Make sure you:

  • Have a very savvy filter for the input: either let the community vote, OR find someone who can translate ideas into insights

An example: Bell Canada

The CEO of Bell Canada believes in getting feedback from the frontlines.

It started as small meetings, one-on-one interactions. That quickly became unscalable, particularly as employees came to the table with more and more ideas.

To bridge the gap, Bell Canada created an internal suggestion/ideas system. Any employee can submit an idea. All employees are encouraged to log on and evaluate the ideas of others.

Those that get the best community feedback are taken directly to the executive team.

#4: Give people something they need


The toughest way to use social media is also one of the best: give people something they need. Fill a gap, provide a bridge, be the tool people can't live without.


  • Creates significant conversation/word-of-mouth
  • Builds brand perceptions/attachments rather than acting as direct marketing


  • Hard to do. Finding the right idea will challenge you
  • Tends to be a long-term commitment; not a campaign

Make sure you:

  • Test the concept with users of social media before you go live. This is one area where being a little tone-deaf to the medium can have very negative results.

An Example: FexEx Launches a Package

FedEx wanted to participate in social media, but needed a relevant way to do it. So they studied how people use the various tools, looking for a gap.

They found it on Facebook.

One of the limitations of Facebook is that you can't attach a document or image to a message they way you can in email.

FedEx built "Launch a Package," an application that met that need AND fit their core brand perfectly. The results were immediate: 100,000 installs in 48 hours, 1st branded app to make #1 on Facebook’s Most Active page, and 0ver 50% of users returning more than 10 times after install.

How Brands SHOULD Use Social Media

There's just one essential thing to keep in mind: your effort should provide value to the customer and the brand. Examined another way, the following circles could read: true to the core of your brand and new or unexpected.


Landing in the middle is tough to do. And it often has more to do with commitment than the campaign's instant "wow" factor.

Too far to the left/Just information: Most corporate sites (which, after all, were designed to communicate specific information, not to be part of a social conversation).

Too far to the right/Just buzz: The Office Max elves. Remember those delightful holiday dancers? People made over 100 million custom elves, helping Office Max win the distinction of being the #2 holiday greeting site two years in a row.

The problem? It had nothing to do with the brand. Despite the enormous number of impressions, same store sales still dropped 7%.

In the happy middle/Real social: Zappos. You can't talk about social media and not talk about Zappos.

CEO Tony Hsieh set out to do nothing less than create personal 1:1 relationships between his team and shoe-wearing people on the social web. He believes people want to interact with people — not call scripts or ads. They want connect to places where they spend their money and with the people that help them do it.

As a result, hundreds of Zappos customer services employees — including Tony himself — are on Twitter. Some solve service problems. Some just build relationships. 30 to 40 more are writing blogs, but one thing's for sure: all are bringing the Zappos culture to those that want to connect to it.

In Closing: Social Media Etiquette

Technology changes our expectations for behavior, our standards for etiquette. Social media is no exception. The things that are important here are vastly different than the broadcast web. A few live-by rules:

Be real. Be honest about your identity. Speak with your true voice. Share your personality.

Be responsive. Engage in conversation. Reply quickly. Answer questions.

Be a good host. Thank your community. Make people feel comfortable. Translate new terms, insider references, etc.

Set expectations and deliver. Try to be consistent. Focus on a topic. Let people know when things change.

Be personal. Don't broadcast. Don't be one sided. Don't be overly promotional. Don't repeat, repeat, repeat.

Listen, then talk. Know your community. Be relevant. Hear other opinions.

Edit. Don’t overwhelm with frequency. Be brief but compelling.

To further your education, download a Q&A-style PDF on harnessing the social media beast.

Leigh Householder is Associate Strategy Director at Ologie. She helps clients tell clear, compelling stories that resonate in both traditional and conversational media.

Leigh is also the author of, an AdAge Power 150 blog. In addition to blogging, she uses social media — including Twitter, Facebook and wikis — to interact with friends and colleagues, spot emerging trends and facilitate better work processes and outcomes.


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