mima-social-mediaBig brand CEOs hear “Facebook home run this” & “YouTube revolution that,” but just try convincing any serious traditional enterprise-project stakeholder that social media hoopla will actually generate measurable ROI and isn’t downright dangerous.

Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) presented a panel of experts last night in Minneapolis for a discussion speaking to issues surrounding how big companies make social media decisions, “implement control programs” and measure ROI on various levels. It’s a pleasure to find quality content like this session so close to home. The excitement was palpable because social media is growing up here in God’s country.

While the temperature is still cold in Minnesota, social media is on fire everywhere. This session provided local insight behind-the-scenes into hallowed big-brand board room thinking. The trendy downtown hall was packed with about 250 Minnesota IT, branding, creative, application development, design, content, research, attorneys and PR folks. It was enjoyable to chance upon TopRank’s Lee Odden who interviewed panelist Jim Cuene and Douglas Pollei (Social Media Club Minneapolis) here.

The theme of the evening was “who controls social media in the enterprise setting. Michael Kraabel, Group Creative Director, Gage moderated and kicked things off and led the group. He was proud to note this was the largest event the MIMA has ever held. The speakers were Jason Kleckner, Manager, Information Architecture, Target Corporation, Jim Cuene, Director, Interactive, General Mills, Brad Smith, VP of eCommerce & Digital Marketing, Fingerhut Direct Marketing, and Gary Koelling, Creative Director, Social Technology, Best Buy.

Target has been undertaking incursions in social media on a small scale aimed at college students. The Target Facebook application has 33,165 users and is growing exponentially,” up from 17,000 last month.” With the membership growth comes exponential participation including comments, picture postings, video postings etc…

Though not much discussed last evening, Target has has been on the same humble learning curve as everyone else. The “unfair advantage” Jason shared is that “everybody loves Target,” which makes incenting viral behavior much easier. The deeper message here is the stark reality: Social media can make a great brand better and a bad brand worse. SMO can’t make a bad brand better.

General Mills is “putting their toe in the water on a brand by brand basis” including video upload applications, MySpace presence and testing of other channels. They’re not “driving activity” on Facebook but are “watching it carefully.” That said General Mills clearly understands that Social media and “meeting the needs of consumers” online is a “huge change” from the mass media campaign mindset historically proffered from large CPG brands and vitally important. Reading deeper into the strategy, it’s a sit-tight, enhance what traditionally works and don’t make any mistakes mentality.

Brad Smith stressed the intimate nature of the “traditional relationship” Fingerhut shares with their customers including the important of classic ratings and reviews. “These are are not events, they are relationships.” When it comes to ROI the most important factor remains serving the customer and honoring those relationships. Social media is becoming a more critical part of the overall brand experience at Fingerhut.

Gary Koelling mentioned how Best Buy has recently been working on an internal social networking site (BlueShirtNation) for its army of employees. It seems Best Buy has learned a lot by experimenting on its own community of workers. As for customers They’ve long “struggled with “what to do with millions of people who raise their hands” and sign up for Best Buy loyalty programs. Gary asked “how do you start to have a real conversation with them?”

To successfully engage, social applications have to truly have be useful. Try asking “am I interesting and am I valuable.” The most successful social technologies out there provide people with actual tools. The best sales people in the world step up to customers and say” how can I help you?” Everyone’s wondering who’s going to come along and teach brands how to handle social media. In reality it’s the customer who’s going to dictate the conversation as they express their needs. Big brand or small agency, best practice is to listen to your customers.

Where’s The ROI Beef Buddy?
The panelists’ perspective on ROI, from their multi-billion dollar vantage points was clearly that intangible factors matter as much as measurable ones. Several on the panel felt that looking at social at social media as a ” product investment in user-experience” is more appropriate than pulling dollars from advertising or PR budgets. Participation is as relevant a return on investment as any other measurable ROI metric. It’s a lot like trying to determine the equity of a logo or other branding collateral in the overall brand experience.

This session featured anecdotal insight as to which major Minnesota companies participate in social media plays. Each marketing department approached Social media’s tough dichotomy (you either rock or ya’ suck) with different style, tactics and creativity. It’s refreshing to drive for only a couple of hours and find the SES/SMX vibe right here close to home.

PS: MIMA attendees. Please drop us a note when you head up our way to Duluth and we’ll put some good food on, open a fine Cabernet’, have a game of air hockey at our historic office and we’ll talk a little SMO shop baby.

  • jeff

    Marty – I didn’t know you were coming down for this. Let us know next time! Drop me a line.