June 1, 2011

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Masters of the Medium

Friending. Tweeting. Blogging. If you live in Utah, chances are pretty good t...Read More

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Article

Masters of the Medium

Utah Entrepreneurs are on Top of the Social Media Heap

Spencer Sutherland

June 1, 2011


Friending. Tweeting. Blogging. If you live in Utah, chances are pretty good that you’re doing some or all of these things every day. Salt Lake City is quickly becoming known as a social media hot spot, recently ranking in the top 10 in both Men’s Journal’s list of “most socially networked cities in the U.S.” and the Huffington Post’s top “Social Media Savvy Cities.” Pete Codella, CEO of Codella Marketing and co-founder of the Social Media Club of Salt Lake City, isn’t surprised that Utah ranks so high on these lists. “Utah has an entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “The state is filled with businesses that are interested in tools that help them get the word out affordably and quickly. Social media is perfect for that.” Working professionals throughout the state are using social media platforms to do more than just keep in touch with high school friends. They’re turning to the internet to tell their story, position their products and even gather support for humanitarian projects. Goodbye Infomercial, Hello YouTube When Advertising Age named its top 10 social media campaigns of 2010, the list was filled with big-name brands like Coke, Pepsi and General Electric. Among the mega-corporations was an unlikely contender, a 14-employee outfit from Provo called Orabrush. A few years ago, Dr. Bob Wagstaff was doing all he could to sell his tongue cleaning invention. After repeated pitches to retailers and even an unsuccessful infomercial, Wagstaff enlisted the help of BYU marketing class. At the conclusion of the marketing project, the team of students recommended that Wagstaff not waste his time selling the product on the internet, as their research showed that 92 percent of the market would be unwilling to buy a tongue brush online. One student, however, saw it differently. Jeffrey Harmon raised his hand and asked, “What about the other 8 percent? That’s millions of people.” Harmon pulled Wagstaff aside and told him he was sure he could help market the product. While working on the project, Harmon came across a YouTube video explaining how to know if you have bad breath. After securing permission for the video and posting it on the Orabrush site, Harmon, who is now the company’s chief marketing officer, says sales conversion increased by three times. This led to another idea—why not take the video a step further and explain how to get rid of that bad breath? With some film school buddies handling the acting and directing—and with Wagstaff holding the mic—the Orabrush crew made their own YouTube video for a few hundred bucks. And then something amazing happened. The video went viral, gathering hundreds, and then thousands, of views. “How to Tell When Your Breath Stinks” has now been viewed nearly 14 million times. Within six weeks of posting the video, Orabrush had sold more than 10,000 units. More importantly, retailers—as well as investors—started calling. “We got calls from the UK saying, ‘People are walking into our store and asking for your product. How do we get it?’” Harmon recalls. Orabrush is now in 3,000 retail stores worldwide, with that number anticipated to reach 10,000 by the end of 2011. With all of the success, the company hasn’t forgotten the medium that provided its big break. “Once we had more cash, we began a web series called ‘Diary of a Dirty Tongue,’” Harmon explains. The videos feature “Morgan” the Orabrush tongue, a human in a full-sized tongue costume. “Each week [Morgan] releases a video talking about his life. He’s a representation of what you don’t want your tongue to be.” These videos, too, have racked up millions of views. “You have to regularly engage your consumers around your brand or eventually you’ll lose them,” Harmon says of his company’s continued social media push. “Once you’ve lost them, your only other option is to plaster them with ads and spend millions of dollars doing old-fashioned branding. I don’t think that cuts it anymore.” Mom (Bloggers) Know Best Where do you turn when you’re looking for a doctor, a daycare or even a plumber? Though there are plenty of resources available, there is no more valuable review than one that comes from a friend. Thanks to the internet—and social media in particular—opinion can spread faster and further than ever before. And so-called “mommy bloggers” are leading the charge. “The old adage is true—mom knows best,” says Jyl Johnson Pattee, CEO of Draper-based Mom it Forward. “We love to share, we love to connect. Whether we’re making a purchasing decision or trying to impact change, moms are very influential.” What moms say on their blogs or Facebook pages carries a lot of weight. Pattee created Mom it Forward as a way to connect brands with influential mommy bloggers or groups of women. Her company organizes “Girls’ Night Out (#GNO)” Twitter parties—events that Pattee describes as “a virtual cocktail party with a theme”—where women come together online and discuss a specific issue. Rather than pushing their products or hosting a stuffy focus group, sponsoring brands have the opportunity to take part in candid discussions with key audiences. “People come alive [at the parties]. They feel like themselves and can be candid. [The conversations] get to the heart of what women really care about around a certain topic,” Pattee says. This, in turn, allows brands to shift their approach and messaging accordingly. “Though there is an advertising and brand component, it’s really all about talking and sharing and listening.” Mom it Forward also helps women bloggers connect with humanitarian efforts. The company recently completed a campaign with Libby’s canned food and Habitat for Humanity. Influential bloggers in six U.S. markets were invited to help build a Habitat for Humanity home, whose food was stocked by Libby’s. They were then asked to share their experiences via their social networks. Pattee explains why this benefits everyone involved. “Habitat for Humanity gets help with exposure and is able to build more homes. The [housing] recipients get food and shelter. The bloggers get to be involved in something that is absolutely phenomenal and also get compensated for their involvement. Libby’s not only gets to be involved with an awesome group like Habitat for Humanity, but they also get to work with influential mom bloggers. At the end of the day, all these groups are working together to change communities.” Looking for the Magic Bullet Those who are new to the social media realm may mistakenly think that building a company Facebook page, creating a Twitter feed or befriending a mommy blogger will instantly boost their sales or replace any other communication efforts. Pete Codella, whose firm specializes in helping companies deliver their messages through digital devices, reminds his clients that social media is just one part of a larger whole. “Social media is a tool to communicate; it’s not a magic bullet,” Codella says. “Used in conjunction with all that you’re doing and used wisely, it can build stronger relationships and foster engagement with constituents that previously wasn’t possible.” Codella recommends integrating social media efforts with more traditional media efforts and stresses the importance of “not putting all of your eggs in one social media basket.” Like everything on the internet, social media sites are constantly in flux—terms of use or privacy agreements can change, companies can be bought out or servers can go down. There is also always the possibility, as happened almost overnight with Myspace, that a particular social network can simply lose popularity. “As an organization, you need a mechanism through which you can achieve your objectives on your own,” Codella advises. For most companies, that means maintaining a robust website, a blog and a newsroom with high-resolution videos. This site then becomes a home base—where you control the terms and own the rights—that helps your audiences find their way to each of your social media spaces. Though managing all of these messages and media is no easy task, it is certainly worth the trouble. “In a way, technology is a great equalizer. If they know what they’re doing, a small company with really limited resources can have just as big an impact as a multi-million dollar company,” Codella says. So You’ve Decided to Start a Blog For more than a decade, Heather Armstrong has been sharing her life with the world on her website, dooce.com. What started as just an excuse to write about music, TV and dating has now become a full-time job for the mother of two (three if you count her dog, Chuck). With more than 1.5 million Twitter followers and around 5 million blog page views each month, Armstrong knows a thing or two about social media. On Holding Your Tongue In the early days of her blog, Armstrong branched out from commenting on pop culture to telling stories about her coworkers. “We all know where that got me—fired and collecting unemployment checks,” she says. The ensuing press about her blog-related dismissal brought a huge push in web traffic, from about 400–500 visitors each day to more than 12,000. Armstrong quickly learned that she needed some ground rules about what she would and wouldn’t share. “One thing I always tell people when they’re starting a website is, ‘No matter how much you try to prevent it, the person you least want to read your website will find it and read it.’ So you always have to go in with that knowledge. I decided that I would never publish anything about anyone in my life that I wouldn’t say out loud in a room full of 50 strangers.” On Privacy and Safety For many moms, there is a constant fear that blogging about their family will result in their kids being snatched or their home burglarized. Armstrong doesn’t buy it. “Have you ever heard of a mommy blogger’s kid being stolen from school? There is a big boogieman running around and scaring people when it comes to the internet.” Rather than being scared, Armstrong chooses to be smart about her online safety, requiring fans of the blog to mail to a P.O. box, never publishing pictures of the outside of her house or revealing the name of her daughter’s school. On the Importance of Sharing Over the years, fans of Armstrong’s site have watched her grow up—from a single woman in Los Angeles, to a newlywed in Salt Lake City, to a mother suffering from postpartum depression. Though many blogs may have similar content, Armstrong says there is a definite value in collective sharing. “Yes, every story is the same. But we’ve lost our village and these stories bring us together and help us feel less alone.”
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