When companies first entered social media they did so largely because they saw it as a "free advertising" medium. It was unfortunate because the real power of the social media opportunity is engage with your audience in a free flowing, two-way dialogue that produces rich insights and long-term benefits for your company and your community.
Let me explain how.
A few years ago, my company Converse Digital partnered with noted diabetes blogger Scott Johnson to begin a multi-year effort to stimulate online discussions about severe diabetic complications. We needed to get folks talking about complications so that diabetics start paying more attention to these things and to create opportunities for my client to engage in conversations.
We also needed a way to understand which members of the diabetic community might or might not be potential end users of the product. And we needed to understand where the natural user need and brand marketing goals naturally intersected. But without that valuable online conversation… that two-way feedback, we were flying blind.
That was it...our entire social media strategy could be summed up in one word – ask. We simply invited members of the diabetic community to join us in private video chats with Scott as moderator. During those chats, which included the client brand team, we asked attendees how we should approach this idea of complications. How should we try and stimulate these conversations online? We asked them to consult with us for free.
Guess what happened?
They answered. They offered all kinds of suggestions and as they began to talk, a funny thing happened.
We, and more importantly, they began discovering deep, underlying motivations and fears that were universally felt by all. Fears and motivations that they themselves didn't even realize were driving so much of their own actions. And as we continued to have these video chats, over the course of 18-months these same underlying fears and motivations kept surfacing even though we were doing nothing to stimulate them.
I've been in marketing for over 20 years. I've sat through more focus groups and read more market research than I care to remember. And I can state unequivocally that I've never seen feedback like we were receiving. And remember, we didn't even ask for that specifically. We just wanted advice to ensure we properly approached the community. But because we took the time to ask, we received so much more.
At one point, these video chats became much bigger than the marketing goal. They became a bonding experience. A chance for a community of people to come together around a video campfire and just talk openly and freely without fear of their words being used against them. It became a chance to explore deep-seated fears, hopes and questions in a safe, private environment of their peers.
And it was all made possible by a brand. Think about that for a moment... your brand as a campfire.
During these discussions we discovered an unmet need in the diabetes world – hope. In summit after summit we would hear bloggers and patients talk about how being diagnosed with severe complications left them feeling hopeless. Or we would hear how just being diagnosed with diabetes created a sense of hopelessness because the disease isn’t curable.
We thought that this lack of hope should change. We thought that someone should take up the mantle of hope and at a minimum, start creating hope by getting people to talk about complications. By talking about it amongst each other, with members of the medical community and yes, even with the pharmaceutical companies that supply the devices and medications for diabetics, we could share knowledge and create hope.
By focusing on creating hope, not selling a product, we would turn a campfire into a bonfire. And whereas our video summits were capped at a dozen or so attendees, we knew we could create a virtual conference that could hold hundreds, even thousands of community members. All gathered together, virtually, in search of hope.
We started spreading the word, crossed our fingers and prayed that someone would show up.
Luckily for all of us, over 250 people showed up. After three hours and three panels made up of panelists spread across the USA, we had succeeded in turning that campfire conversation into a bonfire that would continue to burn for the next year.
Throughout 2013 and into 2014 we continued to host our video campfires. We invested in better technology that allowed us to have as 20-25 concurrent video feeds -- making each campfire even larger. We continued to treat the brand as a campfire brand focusing on the facilitation of conversation vs the sales of a product.
We continued to learn.
And then another really funny thing happened. Our campers started asking questions. Questions about the brand, how it worked, what was the science behind it, and diabetes in general. They began to ask us to use our campfires to educate them about our client’s product. In turn, they used that education to construct their own blog posts, inform their Twitter conversations and help them to stimulate what they deemed an important conversation — diabetic complications.
Each person’s blog post or Facebook Update served to cast the embers of our campfire farther. Starting more little campfires. And in year two, our bonfire (conference) drew just over 500 of those embers who once again came together to spend a half-day stoking the flame of hope.
Bringing 500 members of your brand's community together to talk about important issues that directly effect their lives.
Not a bad way to spend a brand's day or dollars in my opinion.
But what about you? Would that be a good way to spend your brand's day and dollars? If so, why not give it a try. Best case scenario, you'll grow your business. Worst case scenario, you'll make your community stronger and closer and while you get a lot smarter.