25 Ways to Engage: Creative Examples of Businesses Using Social Media to Interact with Customers
Recently, a friend posted a cartoon on his personal Facebook page of a a man with his head in his hands because his status update about his views on government received no “likes,” while someone else’s that read, “I went shopping” received over 200. Although it’s creator likely didn’t intend for it to speak to marketers, it does. It so perfectly illustrates exactly what we, as business owners, need to remember about social media: Above all else, people use it for an entertaining, light escape. While it’s true that our customers are using social media to voice their opinions on any number of things, what gains their attention is often entertainment above all else. Now, is someone telling you they went shopping entertaining? No, not really. But the numbers speak–if our customers’ attention can be measured by things like “retweets” and “likes,” then they tend to appreciate entertainment (even sometimes mindless entertainment) more than informative, business related posts. Customer engagement is the single most important aspect of a successful social media campaign. Understanding the basic principle that social media users (read: OUR CUSTOMERS) are there mainly for entertainment, and then applying it to your social media presence can set you apart from the rest. Knowing how to do this, however, may provide a bit of a challenge. Here are 25 (often incredibly entertaining) ideas and examples from businesses that are using the platform effectively.
1. SHOCK OR INTRIGUE WITH YOUR CONFIDENCE
The question every customer asks (typically subconsciously) before buying anything we are offering is, “Why should I choose you?” We believe our products or services are the best; if we didn’t we wouldn’t be in business for ourselves. It boils down to confidence and exuding it is a necessary and effective marketing tool. In social media, if we can find a way to use that confidence in an unexpected way our customer’s will help us spread the word that we are, in fact, the best choice. Although 3M launched this campaign as an installation advertisement, the photo of it is nearly just as effective–and it’s “shareable,” which makes it social media gold.
2. OR JUST SHOCK
It’s been said that a picture speaks a thousand words, which is incredibly convenient in the world of social media marketing where we need at grab attention quickly, say as much as we can as fast as we can, and then hope that what has been said is spread. One of the easiest ways to do this is with an image. The trick is to use an image that someone will want to share, even if they aren’t necessarily in the market for what we’re selling. It will increase brand recognition, get our name out there and likely increase future customer engagement. Take a look at how the Condom Shop used this principle:
3. MAKE YOUR EMPLOYEES STARS
In terms of the social media marketing world, zappos.com simply get’s it. Across the board, they use the platform in an entertaining and effective way. Notably, they began producing short Youtube videos that cater to our society of reality-tv crazed consumers. By using their own employees in videos and by showing not only their products but also the daily atmosphere of their company, they successfully illustrate their ideals and values (and often, they have fun doing it–which gives it the entertainment value it needs to encourage customer engagement).
4. THINK LIKE A CUSTOMER
Regardless of our business type, we all spend time figuring out how to best cater to our client base. Especially in today’s fast-paced world, anytime we can offer convenience, we are promoting ourselves. Because social media is fast-paced by nature, it is the perfect platform to highlight our understanding that our customers are busy, that we value their time and that we’ll keep up with the times to make their lives easier. And while all of those things are being accomplished, we are also spreading our visibility. Take, for example, the restaurant San Chez Bistro out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In an effort to accommodate their customers, they began offering “Tweet-ahead Seating.” By doing this, they are accommodating the customer but also are getting their name out to all the Twitter followers of that customer. It’s like killing two birds with one stone (only we won’t kill the Twitter bird, obviously we like him). An added bonus here is that the restaurant now knows the customer is a Twitter user and therefore probably more likely to be actively involved in additional networks. Once the customer arrives, the restaurant can offer incentives if they check in on Foursquare, which, of course, they do.
5. USE VOTES
As the list continues, we will begin to notice a few reoccurring themes, two of which are people love free stuff and they love talking about themselves. As business owners, we shouldn’t be judgemental about either of those things because for us it translates into incredible marketing opportunities. Regardless of our industry, there is a type of contest that can help us build social media presence. Where contests are concerned, the possibilities are endless. Some business types or products seem to naturally lend themselves to social media marketing (see #21 below) while others may find it helpful to use some external factors (holidays, seasons, etc.). Take for example the Baltimore furniture store, Shofer’s. Before Valentine’s Day, they began a contest for their social media followers: “Two Lovers…One Great Story…Wins a Loveseat.” The store encouraged their followers to share their personal love story and then chose the winner based on votes by other Facebook users. Initially, contestants shared their story on their own page because it was a personal narrative (social media users love them) that was relevant to the upcoming holiday. The real genius in this was that as the contest continued, the contestants shared their story on their own Facebook pages again or mentioned the contest frequently to encourage their friends to go to Shofer’s and vote for their entry. I can personally attest that this works to gain traffic, as I made an effort to vote for a friend of mine that had entered. She ultimately won, a feat I would attribute to her promoting the contest herself…and Shofer’s won, too, because here I am a month later with Shofer’s on my mind, sharing the name more. Does this mean that I will buy from Shofer’s in the future? Not necessarily. But I can promise you that I wouldn’t have considered it before, because the name wasn’t in my mind and this one promotion has changed that. Talk about gaining visibility!
6. TRY TO GO VIRAL
If we want visibility, then we want our name to spread. So if laughter is contagious, than it seems glaringly obvious that using humor could grow our business visibility–perhaps better than anything else, given the social media user’s interest in entertainment. Granted, humor is a matter of taste and there is no way to present something that everyone will find hilarious enough to share. But if you take a look at viral videos, it seems that they are either parodies of a stereotype (like Smirnoff’s wildly popular Tea Partay, below), completely shocking, or absolutely ridiculous (think Evian’s roller skating babies). Videos are a great way to be creative and make the entertainment value of social media work for us.
7. MAKE IT A RACE
The purpose of giving our products or services away is often to gain attention (with the occasional added bonus of our customers subconsciously thinking, “Ooh, I didn’t even know I wanted that, but now I do!”). Since we have determined already that pictures and images are effective marketing tools in social media, it would make sense to use them in a contest format. One of the best examples (and it’s not just me saying that, this campaign won the 2010 Gold Cyber Lion at Cannes), is Ikea’s tagging race.To promote the opening of a new store, Ikea posted a picture of a showroom and the first followers to tag items in the photo, won them. This contest brought them new followers, both individual product and overall brand recognition, and an increased awareness of their social media presence which helped them in future promotions. Just to see how this might work, I took an Ikea image and “tagged” a few items and used actual friend counts from my own Facebook friend list for the hypothetical race. It is amazing how by simply having customers tag themselves in an image gets the image (and the business) visibility! Best part–it is FREE (I’ll say that again, FREE) advertising. Brilliant.
8. MAKE DISCOUNTS INTERACTIVE
Let’s openly discuss deals and discounts as what they really are–bait. We know our customer’s love them and we know by offering them, we will gain business. But the days of Sunday newspapers and monthly mailers have evolved into world where sites like Freebies.com and television shows like Extreme Couponing exist. A coupon is still effective, but social media allows for interactive discounts…and in this context the word “interactive” by it’s definition requires the customer engagement we seek.Healthy Choice executed this idea well, by offering a progressive, interactive coupon on Facebook. The coupon started at $.75 and increased in value as people “liked” their page, ultimately becoming a “Buy One, Get One Free” coupon. By using this simple promotion, the company was able to grow their Facebook following from about 7,000 to 60,000 in a matter of a few weeks.
9. GIVE YOUR FANS STAR-STATUS
Remember the idea of 15 minutes of fame? Well, nowadays social media gives us millions of opportunities to offer 15 SECONDS of fame to our customers and it can be a great way to engage our followers and grow our customer base. Remember Travelocity and the Roaming Gnome ad campaign in 2004? If all of the sudden people traveling all over the world made sure to pack their garden gnomes just to take a photo with it in an exotic location with the sole purpose of submitting it to Travelocity, I think we would all agree it was a successful social media campaign. In the interest of full disclosure, this idea has already manifested itself in prank form (people stealing gnomes and photographing them at national landmarks), but the idea is no less valuable. Proof of this may be best illustrated by ESPN’s campaign geared to give star status to fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers (which, sports team or not, is still a business). “Terrible Towels around the World” encourages Steelers’ fans to upload a picture of themselves with their little, yellow “Terrible Towel” from anywhere and everywhere in the world. We can use this idea in our social media campaigns by asking our customers to show how they are our biggest fan. These campaigns are especially geared toward growing brand recognition and visibility because social media users love to share their contributions on their own Facebook pages.
10. USE YOUR SLOGAN
Some of us are lucky to have a slogan or business that is just perfect for a social media campaign. Harley Davidson with it’s, “American by birth, rebel by choice,” is the perfect example. With very little work, they could launch a wildly successful social media campaign by asking followers to, “Show How Harley Davidson You Are.” They have even used their reputation and slogans to launch an engaging ad campaign that feeds off the Harley-rider stereotypes. For most of us, it may not be so simple and our slogans may not blatantly lend themselves to a social media marketing. It will likely require some creative thinking for us (perhaps even some tweaking of our slogans), but it can be done.
11. WEAR YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE
In social media, the proverbial “sleeve” is our status updates, our Tweets, and anywhere and everywhere else it makes sense to show we have compassion. Engaging customers doesn’t always have to be done by making them laugh or by giving deals or discounts. People love a cause. Social media users love supporting causes (and they will often share that they have supported a cause). Of course this isn’t all about marketing, we wouldn’t pick a cause that isn’t in-line with the values of our business just because it’s trendy or because we feel it may effect the bottom line. But most of us, as business owners, are involved in some sort of charity. Whether it’s support of our local little league team or some huge cause (like wanting to plant trees on the moon) if it matters to us, and it makes business sense to involve our customers, then sharing our passion for charity can help grow our business visibility in the form of an engaging, effect campaign. Larger corporations do this well and we can take ideas from them. Target, for example, once ran the charity campaign “Bullseye Gives,” which encouraged their social media followers to vote on where the company’s pledge would be donated.
12. MAKE IT ABOUT THEM
Let me preface what I’m about to say by pointing out that I am a social media user, so this is in no way a judgement. But let’s be real. There is a level of narcissism that drives social media use. It’s visible every time you read the Facebook news feed. “I just ran around the block;” “Look at this picture of me wearing a ridiculous hat,” “I wish I weren’t such a philanthropist because packing for my trip to aid Tsunami victims is interfering with me studying for the bar exam,” and the simple “Really, how funny is this random thought I just had”–what is all that, if not ego? And there is nothing wrong with it. Better yet, nurturing the narcissism can be an amazing social media marketing tool. How it works is so simple, so basic: Less about us, more about them. Anytime we can highlight the individual (our customer) in our social media interactions, we use ego to our advantage.OfficeMax ran a campaign at Christmastime in which they cropped a picture of each user and pasted the face on a dancing, cartoon elf. I’m not joking. I’m also not joking when I say it was wildly successful. “Elf Yourself” at one point had 10 users per second watching themselves in cartoon tights. But we don’t have to go to those types of extremes to see results. British artist Greg Burney gained around 2,000 Twitter followers in ONE DAY by promising to sketch each of his first 3,000 followers!
13. MAKE IT A GAME
If social media’s entertainment value is so great, then creating a game to engage our customers is understandably effective. Marriott International, one of the social media leaders in the hospitality industry, expanded on the trend of popular games like Farmville and created a game with a business purpose. My Marriott Hotel is an interactive game that allows customers to manage aspects of a virtual hotel. By capitalizing on the social media user’s interest in entertainment, Marriott gains important feedback as to what their customers want and also increase their visibility as a business. Win-win.
14. RETHINK A PURPOSE
It’s probably safe to assume that the company that produced a waffle maker in the 70’s didn’t intend for a man in Oregon to use one to create a rubber sole for a sneaker–but one man did, and Nike was born. People are constantly thinking of innovative or unusual ways to use products and they’re happy to share them. We can engage customer’s not only by asking them to share but also by being a little innovative and creative ourselves. Handy’s Lunch, a diner in Burlington, Vermont, has done a great job of recognizing how their products and services can be marketed in social media. On Twitter (@handyslunch), instead of just promoting their family-owned business for it’s home cooked quality breakfast and lunch (#btvbreakfast and #btvlunch), they have capitalized on the fact that they can gain customers and followers by using the twitter hashtag #btvhangover. It likely wasn’t the family’s original intent, to create great food for those who have overindulged, but they were smart enough to realize some customers frequented their business for just that reason. The bonus is that the hashtag is funny and we’ve already established that using humor is one of the best ways to increase visibility. Handy’s also runs a Twitter feed on their website which allows site visitors to see what is being said about the restaurant at any given moment.
15. PARTNER UP
Huge companies recognize how partnering with one another in social media can help them cross-market. On a large scale, Bing and Farmville’s campaign is a great example. Forbes recognized the “Bing Farmville Engagement,” a collaborative-marketing promotion that gave Facebook users free Farmville cash for “liking” Bing, as one of the most successful social media campaigns of all time. But smaller businesses can effectively use co-marketing in social media, too. Lademan Insurance Agency, a family operated business in Wyandotte, Michigan has partnered with a local pizzaria to offer a free pizza to each user who requests a quote through their Facebook app. The added bonus of partnering with local businesses is it helps to build a successful community, which can also generate business in itself.
16. TRY AN UNEXPECTED WIN
A great way to build customer loyalty through social media is to offer something to your followers even when they don’t ask for it. How often has a business come to you and given you something? Probably pretty rarely. So what a great opportunity we have to leave an unexpected impact! It’s as simple as just choosing a follower at random and giving them something. Edge razors (@EdgeShaveZone) began doing this on Twitter in a campaign they called “Random Acts of Kindness,” to highlight their focus on anti-irritating razors. There are also plenty of opportunities to use what your customer’s are saying (not necessarily to you) in social media for ideas. I once read about a company that, upon noticing a woman mention on Facebook that she was snowed in at work, had a pizza delivered to her. How the pizza got there when she couldn’t get out is another story I’d like to hear (and it’s probably a great marketing opportunity for whatever car or snow mobile company produced the vehicle that got it there, too) but the point is, if we pay attention and we listen to the human voice of our customers we have so many opportunities to make an impact. And we make that impact, our customers get engaged. I’m sure everyone the snowed-in woman knows is aware that XYZ company sent her a pizza “just because they cared.”
17. CAPITALIZE ON WHERE YOU ARE
People associate pride with location. Obviously, patriotism is more than pride in where we live; it’s pride in the ideals of our country. Beyond being a patriot, people are also often fiercely proud of their state, their city, their town (it’s like zooming in on a Google map–at every level, everyone has something to be proud of). So where we are, geographically, can be a powerful tool in helping us engage with customers on social media. Location-based social media posts can highlight inside jokes within a community or just show community loyalty. By doing so as a business, we remind our customers that we, too, are a part of the family. Some creative ways people use location for social media marketing include creating videos that exaggerate local dialect and taking pictures of crazy things they see with captions that read, “You would only see this here _____ (insert country, state, city or town).”
18. RECOGNIZE THE POWER OF THE TRIVIAL
Random trivia can often engage our followers. This is one of the easiest ways to start up a social media interaction. We can simply ask a trivia question and wait for responses–the trick is to remain engaged throughout the interaction. If we’re getting 50 responses in an hour, we should read them and respond every so often before ultimately giving the answer. It may be effective to mention that looking an answer up on Google doesn’t count…but the whole point is it’s all in good fun, so who cares if someone does Google it in order to answer. They’re still interacting. Sports trivia seems to get the most answers. One of the greatest sports’ trivia questions that will likely get responses is, “Name 10 college mascots that don’t end in S.” Remember, the more involved we are in these types of interactions, the better as it helps to emphasize our human voice with our customers.
19. PIGGYBACK CURRENT EVENTS
No matter where we are, there is always something happening that we can use for marketing. Absolutely always. Current events are gems to business owners looking to engage customers because chances are our customers are talking about them and it’s an easy way to jump in on the conversation (or start it ourselves). Remember the train wreck that was Charlie Sheen in 2011? Whether it was a hoax or not, there was a marketing genius out there (at internships.com) who recognized how his publicity could translate into more visibility for their company. #winning (I wish I could take credit for that, but it was actually in the tweet, as shown below).
20. USE MONOTONY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
If social media users are looking for entertainment, it likely means that whatever it was they were doing before they signed on wasn’t enthralling. Sometimes we don’t even have to assume they’re bored, they come right out and tell us (for whatever reason Tuesdays seem to be big “I’m bored” interaction days on the social media outlets I frequent). Those moments are perfect chances for us to swoop in and save the day (or at least the moment) by relieving their boredom, even for a second. A great way to do this is by looking up a strange fact about something that happened “today in history” or by celebrating a ridiculous holiday (there are plenty of websites out there that can give you a reason to celebrate nonsense any day of the year). Just recently, someone chose to celebrate Pi Day (as in 3.14 repeating) on social media and I even saw a post from Ford Motor Company about it. Absurd? Maybe. But I just mentioned it, so Ford is on my mind–which was exactly their intent. Our options are endless when it comes to this. Some “holidays” that would likely start some customer engagement: March 10th is Middle Name Pride Day, National Blueberry Popsicle Month is September…and, oddly, May is both National Hamburger and National Salad month. There is always a way to use one of these to strike up social media conversation.
21. RUN AN AWESOME CONTEST
We’ve already established that giving our customers star status can help us gain visibility. So, why not make it a contest? Captain Morgan has set an awesome example in this arena with their poses contests. By encouraging their customers to pose like the captain on the bottle and then submit their entries, sometimes for prizes and sometimes for charity, they have hit the trifecta of effective, engaging marketing. They have made it entertaining, the have made it about their customers, and they are offering to give something away to the winner. Fun, ego, and freebies: check, check and check. It’s an almost guaranteed engagement with our customers if we can pull off a promotion like this.
22. BE CATCHY, PUNCHY AND RIDICULOUS
“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer…” Is there really even a need for me to finish that sentence? By now it seems like everyone in the world knows the beer preference of, “the most interesting man in the world” (just in case you’ve been under a rock, it’ sDos Equis). The commercials are utterly ridiculous, yet somehow catchy. It likely wasn’t the intent of the company for their “stay thirsty, my friends,” to become a staple of the social media world (or was it?), but it has. In this instance, the commercial has a bit of a cult following not only because it’s catchy but also because it can easily be adapted for other reasons. There are a multitude of variations to the commercial that customers have made themselves. Even though the words of the original ad campaign are changed, when someone reads or sees an altered version, they automatically know it’s Dos Equis. Social media and the company’s customers have worked for them instead of them working overly hard to reach new customers. The lesson here is that we can’t be afraid to let our customers promote our products and services as they choose, because in the end, promotion is promotion.
23. PLAY TO THE PLATFORM
Certain social media outlets cater to certain people. It’s not a stereotype, it’s a useful fact. For example, the majority of Pinterest users are women (relax, Gentlemint is the similar network that men seem to prefer). That’s not to say that there aren’t men that use Pinterest, there is a decent percentage of male users. But recognizing that the majority are woman may help marketing and engaging efforts. Knowing our audience is incredibly important in marketing and social media has removed some of the guessing game involved in tageting a desired demographic. If we have a message that we’d like to share primarily with women (for whatever reason, because it makes business sense), it’s nice to know there are a whole bunch of them on Pinterest at any given moment. Perhaps we want to target professionals. LinkedIn would likely be a good place to start. Sure, demographic information of our customers is available on Facebook but it’s also helpful to remember the other networks that cater to specific groups. It’s a basic principle. If I wanted to sell cosmetics, I wouldn’t go to a fraternity house. Is it possible that I might make a sale at a frat house? Sure. But it probably wouldn’t behoove me to make it my first stop.
24. GO FACE-TO-FACE
As in actual human face to actual human face? Does that even happen anymore? Yes, of course it does–after all, we do actually conduct business with other people from time to time outside of the online world. Most of us likely already combine our social media campaigns with our day to day, human to human interactions (if you’ve ever asked a customer who is sitting right in front of you to “check in,” you’ve done it). But we can expand these little, one-at-a-time efforts. Events are a great way to gain followers and visibility. River’s Edge Gallery, a metro-Detroit art gallery, framing and interior design business has started using each gallery opening as an opportunity to gain followers. Each visitor is encouraged to “check in,” “like,” or otherwise share that they are at the gallery and in return for doing so, the are given a gift of unique art. The gift art itself a great marketing tool. On the front of the postcard is a work created by gallery director and artist Jeremy Hansen, on the back is all of the gallery’s location and contact information.
25. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS…LET THEM DECIDE
It still baffles the mind that people would go crazy over this last example, although now that we understand that social media users care most about entertainment, perhaps it begins to make a little sense. In an effort to promote their King’s TenderCrisp Sandwich in 2001, Burger King filmed a man in a chicken suit who, in real time, would act out the wishes of their customers. Customers came to their website just to order around the chicken, typing in requests like, “Do the moonwalk.” Now, I can’t imagine many marketers who would have ever been able to predict that people would literally go out of their way to tell a man in a chicken suit to, “Do the robot,” or “Hit yourself with a pillow,” but that’s the beauty of it. They didn’t have to know what people would want the chicken to do, they just recognized the entertainment value of ordering around a grown man dressed up as farmyard bird. We can use this model in our own social media campaigns and it doesn’t require much work from us, just recognizing a possibility and being a little creative.