“We should be doing something with Twitter/ Facebook. What’s our strategy in this channel?!” is something on the minds of a lot of webby companies’ managers. 

Knowing what to do besides setting up a page and profile and then seeing what happens next can be difficult when many of the success stories bandied about are from brands with huge marketing budgets, legions of staff, millions of existing customers and a PR agency frothing excitedly at the mouth.

A case in point: Mercedes US last week ran ‘the first ever tweet race. Four teams raced from various starting points across the US towards Dallas, their speed being determined by the number of inbound tweets received for each team. 

The campaign was supported by a Twitter profile, promoted trending topics driving traffic to Mercedes’ Facebook profile, high production cost videos on their YouTube channel, celebrity team captains and a campaign website. 

They also gave not one but two C-class coupes to the winning team and tens of thousands of dollars to charity, not to mention the cost of the geekery required to link up the cars’ dashboards, websites and other gadgetry with the Twitterphone. In other words, it was a very expensive (and complicated) marketing campaign.

Back in the real world, young companies would be slightly mad to decide to dedicate that sort of spend to a social media campaign in the absence of at least some indication of the ROI on their spend, be it direct sales, life time value or some other measurable metric. 

Here at Flowers HQ we find it genuinely frustrating to know what to do in the social media space given the absence of clear commercial models and measurable ROI.

Instead of thinking “We should be doing something with twitter/ Facebook” we like to think to ourselves “We should be doing somethingsimple but effective with Facebook/ Twitter given how busy we are on other things”. 

The tweet race was effective, but exhaustingly expensive and really complicated. The result page says that the race got “thousands of tweets” during the course of the campaign, and they themselves have been tweeting a lot (with a whopping 116 tweets on their biggest day).

The result is the build up of a significant following (70k followers in the course of the last ten weeks. Of course, the campaign was part of a much larger strategy culminating in a super bowl commercial on Sunday night (arguably the most expensive commercial slot on TV). 

Interestingly, the hashtag for the campaign started to get clogged up with spam as the campaign grew and opportunistic marketers jumped on the back of it.

We reckon it’s possible to get hits without spending a fortune.  One of our most recent gadgets is Flowers and Fun, a simple web form which makes a virtual card with flowers you can send to your friends. Simple enough. 

Within the website, however, is a clever little tool which searches through Twitter’s tweet stream via Twitter’s API and uses an algorithm we wrote to determine from tweets whether or not it’s someone’s birthday. 

If the tweets meets all the stringent criteria, we send them a simple birthday card from a dedicated Twitter account…it even sent President Obama a birthday card a while back, though it’s a shame he didn’t retweet it to his 6.5m followers. 

However, a birthday tweet to the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev was picked up by the Russian press, which was nice.

The Flowers and Fun app has been sending out Birthday cards for nearly a year and over a couple of accounts and has sent nearly 230,000 cards.

Because the targeting is so specific, the messaging cheerful and the landing page non-commercial, we get a brilliant response both in terms of people being happy and surprised, and in terms of response volume; up to 100 re-tweets a week, 80-odd replies a day (which are almost all positive) and 10’s of thousands of visits a month. Pretty good for something which took a couple of days to build and a few hours of tweaking and maintenance. 

Another simple way of getting exposure is to target big days and events. Mattel is using Valentine’s as a hook to run a “get Ken and Barbie back together” campaign, complete with Twitter, Facebook and even FourSquare integrations; a similar kitchen sink approach to the Mercedes campaign. 

A rather simpler bit of fun around Valentine’s is the “Be My Anti Valentine” mini site set up by Meg Pickard, railing AGAINST the idea of Valentine’s.

Whilst, being florists, we naturally couldn’t possibly agree with such a sentiment, the tone of the site is amusing and the >1k Facebook likes and the hundreds of shares are testament to the success you can have with a simple (but good) idea.

An idea that we shamelessly appropriated from one of the large US flower companies was to create a specific non-conversion driving Valentine’s Wishes page encouraging people to ‘like’ products from our Valentine’s range, in order for them to appear in their Facebook feeds (giving their potential Valentine’s hints as to what they might like). 

It was veryeasy to set up and uses our existing “Like” button integration, but gives it a fun twist and, hopefully, will convert some of the traffic to our site into referrals / brand awareness via Facebook. We will see how successful this is over coming days as traffic starts hitting the Valentines page.

Targeting peak periods and events can be a bit hit and miss (eg a world cup flowers video we made was fraught with issues that delayed us getting it live, so we pretty much missed the boat. 500 views was rather lower than our hoped for viewing figure! 

But, given it was just a few days work, this was no major loss; you win some, you lose some. Trying to target trending Twitter topics can also get you suspended by Twitter and / or you could join the long list of brands who score an own goal (with Kenneth Cole being the most recent addition to that list). Caution is advised.

As a young company, activities that drive direct return on investment always take priority in our marketing and we don’t find social media drives much revenue. 

What it does give us is exposure (especially important during key commercial times), free traffic, potential benefits to our SEO and it helps us understand our customers.

There are still effective things that young companies can do in the social media space without a Mercedes-sized budget; we spend probably a maximum of 5% of management time on social media marketing with the central tenet being that it’s not the end of the world if the idea falls flat on its face.

By keeping things simple, the downside is limited and there is still the upside of an idea, like our Twitter app “Flowers and Fun”, being a great success. 

  • Do make the idea simple – you can always build on an idea in the future, but can’t recoup lost spend if it falls flat.
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations in terms of converting a social media campaign into sales.
  • Do make it non-commercial. People like to be entertained in the social space, not just marketed to.
  • Don’t piggy-back on events or situations with hashtag spam (we know plenty of examples of this going wrong), instead approach them with thoughts about what the users may enjoy.
  • Do have fun with it.  It can be a fun thing for all your employees to get involved with.
  • Don’t forget to track performance. You may not get any hard metrics, but you’ll get an idea if something works or not.