Cyber Sales Game Evolves – London Free Press Biz Monday feature

While I was in sick bay on Monday, my business feature for the London Free press ran as the cover story on the Biz Monday section. I really enjoy writing these feature stories.   In the paper it’s got all sorts of cool pictures and a funky layout.  Here is my text:

From Facebook to Twitter, social networking tools may be the marketer’s new best friend.

The recent, explosive popularity of these sites in the online and smartphone world may have many cynics dismissing them as just a passing fad, but plenty of professional marketers are beginning to understand that’s not the case.

These websites and web applications offer tremendous power to market products and services — and when used properly, they can be as powerful as any traditional advertising.

For the uninitiated, Facebook began as a web-based communication tool for post-secondary students and has now grown beyond its inventors’ wildest expectations to include millions of users from every demographic.

Users of the site invite “friends” to their pages and choose who can view their postings, photos, links and status updates. By doing so, everyone in their friend list can find out about their new job, relationship or favourite food. The depth of the content is up to the user.

Twitter users (or “Twits” in Twitter slang) use a computer-based website application or an application on their smartphone, such as Ubertwitter on their BlackBerry, to post brief updates — 140 characters, max — about what they’re doing. These alerts, or tweets , can be linked to photos or video, but on Twitter, brevity is the key.

Both sites, and others in their genre, have had issues with privacy and unsavoury users. But those problems have generally been short-lived and haven’t turned people off in significant numbers.

While a new generation is growing up with social networking as the norm, the fastest-growing segment of new users on Facebook is women aged 55 to 65. This despite the persistent perception that only kids spend time on these sites.

Labatt Brewing’s marketing strategy focuses largely on social networking to reach its target demographic where it works and plays.

Recently, an organized campaign by Facebook users to bring Bud Light Lime to Canada reached the ears of Labatt’s execs. Distribution was sped up because of the consumer demand.

Matt Ramella, Labatt’s senior manager of media, sponsorship and digital marketing, explains how beer drinkers drove the push for Bud Light Lime, then available only in the U.S.

“Labatt started by reaching out to existing petitioners who had set up groups on Facebook to bring Bud Light Lime to Canada. (There were) over 3,000 groups. Our brand manager reached out to each administrator of each of those groups and as a thank you, we gave them some summer fan kits just as a way to recognize that they are key influencers.”

“It’s the new reality,” he says. “And the opportunity to create that social engagement through social media is one of the key trends driving our business.”

The arrival of Bud Light Lime involved a nod to the Facebook campaigns with a “You asked for it, Canada, now it’s here” ad theme and a contest that drove people to the brand’s Facebook page.

Ramella says there’s a lot of free marketing opportunity online that can be successful if used properly.

When a Facebook member joins a group or makes a statement about a product, it’s seen by everyone on their friend list.

“If a beer drinker becomes a fan of Labatt Blue on Facebook, that becomes a referral to their friends. Fuelling that free media is still important.”

The company integrated Twitter into its strategy with a contest to find a twit for the Toronto International Film Festival linked to the Stella Artois brand.

“We awarded one TIFF insider full access to screenings and events. Part of their responsibility was tweeting (during the festival). We were obviously looking for someone who already loved movies.”

Ramella says Labatt gets involved in online communities and provides them information about their products.

“Part of our strategy is to be very authentic, relevant and timely in our Facebook communities and to have a conversational voice. We’re providing a forum for beer fans to talk to each other.”

Realtor Mike Glasser, of London’s Oliver and Associates Real Estate Brokerage Inc., uses Twitter and Flickr (a photo-sharing application) to share and to keep up with industry trends. His tweets mainly centre on tips about buying or selling homes.

“I find Twitter to be a good medium for multiple reasons: It allows me to reach a wide audience; it helps me keep up to date with industry news; and it allows me to create relationships I otherwise wouldn’t have found.”

Jeff Sage, marketing and communications manager at Fanshawe College, calls social networking a revolution, not a fad.

“Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users. Television took 13 years. The Internet took four years. The iPod took 3 years,” he said.

“Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months.”

It’s a matter of going where the customers of today and tomorrow are spending their time online.

“Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passe. We must evolve to communicate with them,” Sage said.

“If you’re not interested in what people are saying about your brand, you should be. Seventy-eight per cent of consumers trust peer recommendations and only 14% trust advertisements.

“Less and less, as consumers, will we search for products and services. Rather they will find us via social media. This represents a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.”

Finding like-minded people to follow or “friend” you is also easier than it may appear.

Sage, who with his wife, Lindsay, blogs on social networking at, explains the use of a “hashtag,” a combination of a symbol and letters that you add right into your post to indicate a topic, essentially gathering all similar tweets in one spot in the twittersphere.

“I was invited to attend the London Economic Summit a month or so ago. Since it was the type of event that I thought so many Londoners would be interested in, I made frequent tweets throughout the day and added “#ldnecsmt,” which stands for London Economic Summit.

“If you wanted to see all my tweets on the summit all you had to do was type #ldnecsmt into search and could see them all. Or you could click the hashtag right on my tweet, which would bring up a list of tweets specific to (it) — in this instance, the London Economic Summit. My followers knew that I was talking about this summit when they saw the hashtag attached.”

Sage says if businesses ignore social networking on the Internet, they do so at their peril.

“The choice businesses face today isn’t whether they want to participate in this new media landscape. Rather, it’s how they can make best use of these new mediums, even though it means they will have to fundamentally shift how they have always communicated to their clients, staff, stakeholders etc.

“If you own a business and part of it does not entail convening and supporting groups online, it should — and fast.”