NEW YORK—It's no surprise that the participants at an event called the Conversational Marketing (CM) Summit might tend to be the talkative sort. Held at the Hudson Theater here this week in conjunction with Internet Week NY 2010, the CM Summit included executives from some of the world's largest companies, swapping war stories about marketing in real time and reaching today's social consumer.
Twitter Chief Operating Officer Dick Costolo, for example, spoke with John Battelle, chairman and chief executive officer of CM Summit organizer Federated Media Publishing, about Twitter's evolving business model;
top leaders from Google shared stories from the company's early days as a pure-play search-engine start-up, and its ongoing quest to stay current and expand its domain;
the CEO of Moxie Interactive - a company with a far lower public profile than some of its CM Summit compatriots - enlightened attendees on social media's parallels with gaming; and
Starbucks' vice president of brand, content, and online spoke about the coffee chain's social media marketing efforts.
In addition to the emergence of a common theme—listen to the customer voice—five important lessons came out of the presentations:
1. Figure out when to be cut-and-dried - and when to be complicated.
The purpose of the complex model, Costolo said, was to be careful about member engagement. If a Promoted Tweet (essentially a corporate tweet sponsored to appear in a prime location) doesn't hit its "resonance threshold," then the tweet itself - which in this case had become an ad - is demoted from "Promoted Tweet" status.
The program has already seen some early success, Costolo said - faster and to a greater degree than he or the company had anticipated. "When we rolled this out, I fully expected to iterate on the model 10 times before it worked," Costolo said; already a hit with 10 charter advertisers, though, Costolo told the audience that there was only one conclusion to draw: "Man, is it working."
2. Embrace the geeks-in-the-garage mentality.
Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management for Google, cleared up a misconception about the original office set up by company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin: "It actually wasn't a garage," she said, acknowledging the archetype of the Silicon Valley startup culture. "But they entered the garage." What's more, she added, the space only had access to the washer and dryer, and not the kitchen. Wojcicki's stint with Google dates all the way back to 1999 and some of its earliest days; her colleague Dennis Woodside, who signed on in 2003 and is now vice president of Americas Operations, shared a perspective only slightly altered by the company's expanded profile: "[Google even then] was still on an edge of chaos in how things got done," Woodside recalled. "My first office was a closet."
Despite Google's monumental growth, Wojcicki hinted that the company's day-to-day operations still retain a flavor of the frenetic - which is a good thing, she argued. Given the pace of change in the industry, she told the audience, "I've always seen the chaos as an advantage."
Google may be influential enough and gone sufficiently mainstream to have (reluctantly) seen its corporate brand become a verb, but the company still holds close the tech-geek mentality that fostered its earliest successes. Within each sales team, Woodside said, are technologists who live and breathe the products.
"You want people who understand the technology to make decisions," Woodside said, adding that a rapidly evolving online space means companies can't afford not to geek out. "Google was built on the wired Web, and we are all moving to wireless," he noted. "If Google can't get that transition, there will be an issue."
3. Think in terms of video games: Recognize and reward status.
Joel Lunenfeld, CEO of Moxie Interactive, promoted the idea that social media is becoming closely aligned with gaming. Individuals in both arenas love to be recognized for their influence and status. Companies can tap into an individual's network by identifying, for example, the number of followers she has, or the number of retweets or hits to her videos those followers are generating. Just as gamers love gauging how they stack up against competitors, social network participants tend to value public achievements, and they want to be rewarded for completing actions or tasks.
4. Admit what you don't know.
Chris Bruzzo, vice president of brand, content, and online at Starbucks, took the stage with an air of modesty. "We really don't know very much," Bruzzo told attendees. "We know very little about this space; but we do know Starbucks very well."
That modesty has proved to be valuable for the coffee chain: Last year, Altimeter Group named Starbucks the most-engaged brand online.
5. Let social determine your traditional messaging.
"We were a social brand," Bruzzo insisted. "People want to engage and have shared moments [with Starbucks]." Building on that premise, Starbucks has asked its online advocates to help in other mediums—like traditional television advertising. Take for instance, Starbucks' recent Frappuccino campaign. The idea for the commercial, Bruzzo said, came from the Frappuccino Facebook page.
Fans were posting not just their preferred variations on the product, but their descriptions of what they love about the icy drinks themselves. "They tended toward expressions of emotion," Bruzzo said.
"We do just enough traditional media to fire up in-store messaging and everything we do in social," Bruzzo insisted, citing as an example another campaign, for the launch of its new Via instant coffee, in which Starbucks used social networks to ignite the buzz. After the initial effort to get the message out, Starbucks made the campaign social in a different way by challenging employees to come out from behind counter to engage with customers, and challenge customers to taste the difference between fresh-brewed and instant coffee. "We unlocked powerful behaviors," Bruzzo said, "and [those behaviors] have showed up in physical ways in stores."
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