About a year ago, if you posted a question, complaint or compliment on one of Olive Garden’s social pages, you’d probably be ignored. According to Justin Sikora, Darden director of public relations and social media, it’s not that they didn’t care — just that they weren’t staffed to care.

With a third-party agency creating promotions and campaigns for Olive Garden’s social presence, they were prepared to push messaging, not help customers. In his presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Member Meeting in Chicago, Justin explains how they turned it around with a six-month program and five steps.

Here are a few big ideas from his case study:

  • Take ownership from marketing and give PR the reins: With the public relations team handling social media, they were able to join the tougher conversations about things like breastfeeding in their restaurants, wage discussions and food preparation — not just promotional details.
  • Bring community management in-house: Justin hired two community managers to join the team.
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“Who ‘likes’ ya, baby?” asks Devon Eyer in her recent presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Brands-Only Summit. In her talk, Johnson & Johnson’s director of corporate communications for social media explains how they improved their corporate reputation by engaging with the right social advocates.

Their influencer strategy is all about finding the people who like their brand and giving them the means to spread the word. Here are three key points from her presentation:

  • Listen strategically. Devon encourages brands to listen to what’s being said about them and the things they care about, so that they’re better prepared to enter the conversation. But it’s about more than trawling for comments on every message board. Find the critiques that will inspire improvement.
  • Let data take you to the right influencers. Devon explains that data can lead you to the people leading the conversation about your brand. It’s not about finding the blogger with the most followers — it’s about engaging with the one whose passions and values match the company’s.
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“If you’re going to hire an analyst, hire the one that’s doing the Sudoku puzzles in the waiting room,” says Jim Sterne of eMetrics Summit. But, he says, it’s not all about the numbers.

In his presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Brands-Only Summit, Jim talks about the human side of social media analytics. He focuses on the role an analyst should play within a company and the qualifications they should have to turn social data into effective business practices.

Here are some key points:

  • Tell stories instead of reports. Jim advises analysts to skip over the nitty-gritty numbers. Instead, get right to the insight by focusing on customers and business objectives.
  • Be careful. Jim acknowledges that humans love to find patterns and make assumptions. Unfortunately, there are a lot of traps the brain can fall into when it comes to processing data. He warns analysts not to confuse correlation with causation or to give in to cognitive bias.
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Some of the best marketing advice author Jeff Rohrs ever received was from legendary rock musician Bruce Springsteen: “Audience is not brought to you or given to you; it’s something that you fight for.”

Jeff elaborates on this idea in his book, “AUDIENCE.” He believes that Facebook fans, Twitter followers and e-mail subscribers are among the most important assets a company can have. Marketing just isn’t effective without an engaged customer base.

In his presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Brands-Only Summit, Jeff discusses the importance of investing time and resources into audience development.

Here are three key takeaways:

  • No audience is owned. In social media, people can unfollow, unlike and unsubscribe any time. Jeff says it’s the company’s job to keep customers invested.
  • Grow the right kind of audience. Everybody likes a big crowd. But marketing is about more than just numbers. While purchasing fake fans and followers makes a brand seem popular, it won’t actually create any meaningful engagement.
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Natanya Anderson, director of social media and digital marketing at Whole Foods Market, says Pinterest creates a lot of great opportunities for brands. For Whole Foods, it drives a ton of traffic to their website, creates almost 11 times as much as engagement with their followers than Twitter, and it’s a great platform for working with influencers.

In her presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Brands-Only Summit, Natanya takes us on a tour of Whole Food’s “Pinterest Parthenon” and its three tiers:

  • Philosophy: Natanya calls Whole Foods’ approach to Pinterest “Lifestyle-Centric Curation.” It’s all about collecting the best and most customer-relevant ideas on the Internet and bringing them together onto one inspirational board.
  • Strategy: Whole Foods aims to create images people will share, like a graphic on brining or a recipe card for potato salad. They also reach out to big Pinterest influencers to reach a bigger audience.
  • Accountability: Natanya says measurement is essential to a successful Pinterest strategy.
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