Failures Don’t Plan To Fail, They Fail To Plan

Consumer focussed social media mega stars Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, YouTube, Facebook and Google have smashed open doors for small businesses over the past 4 years. Arguably two of the most important breakthroughs are:

  1. A leveling of the playing fields – the recent viral success of the Dollar Shave Club launch video is a great example of how a small business, with some creativity and a great product/service, can reach millions in a matter of days and stand alongside an established brand with a significantly larger marketing budget.
  2. A feedback loop – feedback from customers is a great way to improve your products and services. Yelp reviews, for example, give restaurateurs immediate free feedback and provide a previously lost opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

With these new possibilities more readily available, it’s important for businesses to skill up and understand how to take advantage of them. Successful social campaigns are great to see, however many small businesses I run into locally appear to be either focusing on the wrong measurement of success, such as total followers/likes, or not setting one in the first place.

It’s hard not to bump into a ‘Like’ sign as you go about your day. Now synonymous with Facebook, ‘Like’ bridges the digital divide by establishing a bi-directional throughway between the online and the offline. In doing so, Facebook has successfully branded an everyday verb in an interesting twist on the marketing nirvana of yesteryear which was ironically the exact opposite – to turn a brand into a verb. Notable wins went to FedEx (where FedEx-ing became a substitute for shipping in the US), Google (synonymous with search) and Hoover (where hoovering became a substitute for vacuuming in Europe).
Whether it’s a shopping mall, a restaurant, a clothes shop, you name it – we’re asked to ‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Plus 1’, or ‘Check-in’. Even the lettuce in a grocery store wants to be friends according to the message printed on its cellophane wrapping.

Yet as with any other marketing campaign, a successful social campaign has a goal. It also requires an investment of time and resources and needs to be scalable. Any small business owner will tell you time is precious and ruthless prioritization is paramount to success.

So how do you go about running a successful social campaign? Personally I find it beneficial to look at some examples of best practices – the how to’s, and their opposites – the how not to’s. With this in mind below is a tale of the good, the bad and the not so pretty which looks at 3 businesses and their use of social media.

The Good

If you happened to be in a Sprinkles bakery on Monday and whispered, “Happy birthday Shakespeare” to one of their cupcake associates, chances are you would have received a delicious free vanilla cupcake with sprinkles. If you didn’t know about this you are probably not one of their 346K followers on Facebook or 83K followers on Twitter – both of these social channels are used to propagate a secret phrase every day to the cupcake following. The first 50 people to go into their nearest store that day and mutter the phrase receive the free cup cake offered. It’s a win/win. If I ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ Sprinkles on Facebook or Twitter, they provide me with free cupcakes – assuming I make it to the store in time. There is a purpose clearly established.

As the cupcakes are handed over to their new owners, the cupcake associates adds a count to their clipboard. The tally, no doubt reported back to corporate along with any sales and basic demographic information, allows cupcake HQ to measure the effectiveness of the social campaign. The secret pass phrase provides a degree of exclusivity and is more of a tactic in the overall campaign objective to drive more foot traffic into stores and ultimately sell more products. Overall the campaign is genius – once you are in the store not only do you feel compelled to buy something – a cupcake for the other half, kids, friend, colleague or yourself, you also get to try a cupcake you might not have typically tried – most of us after all are creatures of habit.

Sprinkles social campaign was proven so successful it continues to be used even after the campaign was scheduled to end. Having established a following, Sprinkles also invites feedback asking connections to vote on their favorite cupcake. The end result, an engaged following, increased social conversation, and revenue funding growth in the form of Cupcake ATMs and 10 stores in North America.

The Bad

The other day I stopped by a local breakfast place for brunch. On the table was a nicely designed flyer asking patrons to, “Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.”

As I read this sign the age-old CRM adage, “What’s in it for me?” sprung to mind. There was no reason cited as to why I should ‘follow’ them. There was a QR code taking you to their Facebook page. Perhaps to see nutritional information – that could be a good reason, to access a secret menu or a word of the day for a discount. Yet there was nothing. So why would I pull out my phone and go to their Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare page when I’m in the restaurant having a bite with some friends? Perhaps curiosity was the tactic but it’s a stretch.

What is concerning is the tremendous waste especially given the other demands on a small business owner’s time. Think of the effort to have the promotion sitting their on the table and the lost opportunity cost of perhaps using the space to market patrons a new smoothie, menu item or special which I could buy right there and then. Instead this flyer encouraged me to disconnect from my physical presence for a minute and ‘follow’ the restaurant. Out of curiosity I went to their Facebook and their Twitter pages later in the day and found a daily post demonstrating some effort being put into a social campaign yet also missing the mark. Their .com site on the other hand is packed with great information including nutritional information and sign up to their club, which provides a number of two-for-one style benefits.

What is the cost of printing the flyer, maintaining the social sites, placing the card at each table? What is the opportunity cost? What is the distraction value of taking someone somewhere else when they are in front of you and ready to spend? This company is clearly going through the motions and checking the boxes yet are failing to go the last mile at this time. They have all the costs and none of the return.  I fear this company is measuring success by total followers as opposed to new customers or increased sales, which is all to often the mistake.

And the… (not so pretty)

Picture a local pizza joint. There is a sign on the shop frontage and by the register asking patrons to, “Like us on Facebook.” If you go to their Facebook page and scroll back to the date of joining in 2010 it all started with what appears to be a picture a day. The pictures were a good tactic – a packed restaurant, a heart shaped pizza marking Valentines Day but the cadence of these posts dropped after a few months. Over the last 6 months they average less than 3 per month. It’s a local store, posting a picture of the fresh pizza just out the oven at lunch time is not a bad idea. Certainly worth a try.

Establishing a competitive advantage

The shift in how we both find and consume information yields many opportunities for small businesses to leverage social campaigns and platforms for increased revenue. However with so much choice (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+ etc.) not to mention maintaining a website, establishing and building a presence on each of these social sites must feel like the equivilant of carrying 5 or 6 different cell phones at the same time. As an industry we should be able to address this issue and we’re seeing it happen – consolidation through acquisition, the creation of standards, the advancement in tools such as HootsuiteatomkeepSeesmicping.fmtwitterfeed, which allow the management of multiple social profiles or at least the ability to post to multiple profiles, and further innovation. In the mean time, there are some creative examples out there which justify the investment and demonstrate that social is able to provide a distinct competitive advantage.

The key take away – have a plan and work towards a clear goal. As businessman and columist Harvey Mackay once said, “Failures don’t plan to fail, the fail to plan.” Research and discuss techniques and tactics with others including your customers. Adjust your tactics based on your wins. Create a new social experience – something which is unique to your business and resonates with your customers – make the connection. Recognize the advantage over your competitors and know that many will give up. Don’t give up. Solicit feedback from your customers and act on the information accordingly. Data is your friend – remember how Sprinkles is collecting data and sending back to head office. On the tool side both Facebook Insights and Google Social Analytics provide some great dashboards – understanding this data will help you measure engagement along with your own sales information. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Image credit: flickr/55His.com