Sharvanboskirk [Posted by Shar VanBoskirk]

The results are in.  And the collective effort of the four teams partipating in P&G’s digital night sold 3,000 Loads of Hope t-shirts and raised $50,000 for charity.  Tide actually matched the money raised, putting the total disaster relief donation to $100,000 for four hours of effort. Thank you to all who bought t-shirts!

If you are just tuning in, Forrester analysts Lisa Bradner, Sucharita Mulpuru and I participated in a P&G-organized event with about 150 digital media experts this past Wednesday focused on understanding how digital media, social networking and word of mouth could drive site traffic and sell product (in this case, vintage Tide t-shirts which raise money for disaster victims.)

While the activity driven by this event was intense, I return to some of my former cynacism about social media (sorry, Jeremiah).  Here are the marketing lessons I learned from this experiment:

*WOM still doesn’t have the reach of more mainstream (and dare I say, traditional) channels.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I was jazzed about how quickly we created buzz (and sales) on Wednesday night.  But then I got to thinking.  We had some of the biggest social media powerhouses out there (David Armano, Pete Kim, Deb Schultz, Pete Blackshaw) pushing this initiative hard to their network and we only sold 3000 shirts.  When I started translating this into pallets of product I suddently realized that the total audience we had reached was quite small.

*WOM drives site traffic, but the on-site experience closes the deal.  Conversion rates across the four teams hovered right around 7% — which according to Sucharita is really good for retail sites.  But I couldn’t help feeling that conversion should be much higher.  All of the traffic coming online to buy was coming in response to a direct personal reference.  So presumably, they were an audience more qualified than your typical site visitor.  If we had been able to prevent site errors, limit the amount of information required from users at purchase, even merchandised the t-shirts on the site a bit we would have made more good out of our site traffic. 

*The big deals were relationship sales.  My team sold a lot of onesies and twosies, but what really moved our dashboard were a few 50 and 100 t-shirt sales.  And these deals were made personally through phone calls to contacts who might need matching shirts in volume for teams, schools, work groups — not through digital/online outreach.

Overall, the experiment was definitely a succesful way to feel the power of social media.  My conclusion?  Social media is still young and best used only in tandem with other interactive and traditional tools to drive engagement around brands or issues.