As regular readers of Forrester’s blogs already know my colleagues Lisa Bradner, Shar VanBoskirk and I (Sucharita Mulpuru) were part of last week’s Digital Hack Night at Procter and Gamble. (If you missed the story can read about the event in detail at Ad Age here ). In four hours digital experts and P&G employees were divided into teams and challenged to sell as many Tide shirts as possible using their social networks and digital skills. Proceeds of the Tide shirts benefit Tide’s Loads of Hope charity. The objective of the event was to give a hands-on experience for traditional brand marketers at P&G the impact of social media. While debate about the event has raged online we thought it worthwhile to step back and take a look at the longer term lessons we observed from this event. These lessons aren’t P&G specific-they’re food for thought for every marketer trying to get smart in social media. So, what did we observe? For starters:

  • Cause matters. Each attendee at the event was asked to tap their personal network to ask friends, colleagues and family to purchase on behalf of charity. That we were all so comfortable doing so speaks to the trust we had in the integrity of the P&G team and the value we saw in their charitable cause. Most of us, I think, would have hesitated to ask those same people in our networks to go out and buy something not related to charitable giving.

What it means for marketers: Marketers looking to access people’s personal social networks must think long and hard about what they’re asking those networks to do and whether the influencers have social currency they can provide ( a great cause, a great deal, or insider knowledge). Without that your effort is likely to feel like shilling and get very little pick up.

  • Personal networks trump paid placements. Over and over again we saw that the highest responses and conversion percentages came from people’s personal networks not from online ads. Exceedingly well connected bloggers like David Armano and Jory DesJardin tapped a deep well of good will and social currency to move Tide’s message forward. What it means for marketers: cultivating deep relationships with key influencers will reap greater rewards than spray and pray. Don’t simply put out a message hoping it will get pick up: identify the key players in your market place and the value your product or service brings to their readers.. Think about what you can bring to those connected people-advance access to new products, engaging them in a customer advisory capacity, etc. Can’t identify your value-add? You’re probably not going to get very far.
  • Social media is a full time commitment. Across the teams those who were able to generate the greatest number of sales were full time bloggers (or at least full time social media gurus). Even among the so called digerati those of us for whom social isn’t our sole focus were left in the dust by those who do it for a living. What it means for marketers: don’t think you’re going to make an impact asking your current digital marketing manager to add Twittering and blogging to their current job description. Figure out what your role should be in the social media space and staff with people knowledgeable and connected who thrive on contributing to and participating in that space. Social media isn’t something you turn on and off for a campaign; it’s something you live and breathe every day.
  • Suspicion runs rampant. No sooner had the project begun than the comments started coming back: who is this for, whom does it benefit, why should I give, how do I know this is legitimate? Fortunately Tide had provided teams with information, images and a website with full program details. Even so, most people needed a lot of proof points before they would embrace talking about the program. What it means for marketers: Anyone who thinks corporate America is welcome at the social party hasn’t been paying a lot of attention. Corporate messages and their bearers are viewed with suspicion and in some cases, derision. Overcoming it takes patience, information and most importantly truly good intentions at the root of your efforts.
  • You can’t please all the people all the time. No matter what some people seem to believe that most corporate efforts spring from bad intent. Some people were angered there were no plus sized t shirts, some were outraged that P&G was involved at all wondering why they didn’t just send their money to a charity. Most of these concerns were mitigated with a healthy discussion and an honest mea culpa when appropriate (the T shirt size issue was, admittedly, an oversight but certainly not a slight) but some of them spring from the conflict that comes from companies who need to sell goods and services entering a space that has been largely non-commercial. What it means for marketers. Take time to plan for worst case scenarios: how could your intentions be misconstrued and how and when do you respond? Accept that you will never be welcomed by all but with a good faith effort, honesty, transparency and a long term commitment you can at least get a chance to tell your side of the story.