Pay-out and payoff

If social media and Web 2.0 tools can turn a nobody into a household name, what can they do for your brand? Some marketers are grappling with that question, while others are jumping in and 'joining the conversation.' Strategy explores the ins and outs of making friends online in part one of a two-part series.

If social media and Web 2.0 tools can turn a nobody into a household name, what can they do for your brand? Some marketers are grappling with that question, while others are jumping in and ‘joining the conversation.’ Strategy explores the ins and outs of making friends online in part one of a two-part series.

It’s all good if you have sticky content, such as music or video assets, to reel in fans, but can marketers from any category succeed in the social media space? Will consumers befriend a product just because it has Web 2.0 presence? And which is better: a thousand views on YouTube, or one brand advocate joining your community?

To get some answers, and to explore the social potential of diverse categories, we checked in on what Canadian banks and book publishers are doing with social media. Why banks and books? They represent two ends of the marketing spectrum: one has marketing dough but not a lot of story; the other has content to share, but far less wherewithal to get the word out. Also, both categories have been playing around in this space for some time now, and their strategies are evolving based on what they’ve learned.

This month, we look at the banks. Next month, we’ll report on the book publishers.

RBC dangles dollar bills to trigger online R&D

RBC Royal Bank of Canada has embraced social media as a means of moving into a new era of collaboration with consumers. Last year, the bank entered the online space in a big way with the Next Great Innovator competition, developed with Toronto’s Delvinia Interactive, which reached out to the very well-networked and well-connected student segment. This pilot launch in the fall of 2006 sowed the seeds for RBC’s current Web 2.0 strategy.

University and college students were asked to describe an innovative idea that financial institutions should consider implementing. Working in teams, students submitted proposals, hoping to win a chunk of the $45,000 prize pot. RBC marketed the competition at 18 schools, using posters, campus newspaper ads, recruiting sessions, interaction with clubs, word of mouth and its fall campus flyer. Submissions arrived from 45 institutions (a total of 269 teams of three to four students each). And within a window of about six months (September through to the awards in February), NextGreatInnovator.com recorded 43,175 unique user sessions, 176,000 page views and 8,913 views of the first public-facing blog by a financial institution.

‘That speaks to the viral nature of the way communication spreads and the way initiatives take off with this demographic – which is part and parcel of the social networking phenomenon,’ says RBC’s head of innovation and process design, Dr. Anita Sands. ‘Given that our target was to have 50 teams register, and that we only marketed at 18 institutions in the pilot year, we view this as an inordinate success.’

This year, RBC upped the number of schools targeted to 24. The bank is repeating last year’s tactics, but it kicked off the contest with an earlier awareness phase in August, establishing contact with professors, clubs and administrators. In 2006, only one professor embedded the challenge into the curriculum. This year, seven professors at five schools have done so.

There’s also a mobile extension called ‘Innovation Idol,’ in which students can sign up for text alerts about the competition. By the end of October, there were 150 active teams and interested observers enrolled in the contest’s SMS component.

Using the mobile component to drive students back online, RBC has also added features to NextGreatInnovator.com, including a Google mashup map, which tracks team submissions geographically and links to team profile pages that include user-generated content. There’s also an innovator quiz hosted by an avatar named May, which was adapted to a Facebook game in October. And users can get involved in choosing the winners. One of the five finalists will be chosen by students with an online peer-voting initiative in January.

NextGreatInnovator.com went live in the third week of September, and the number of first-month user sessions was triple that of the competition’s first-month success in 2006. RBC Campus Connection, a sponsored Facebook group, went live at the end of August and helped to drive that growth. By mid-November, the sponsored group had more than 2,760 members, and Sands says about 25% of Innovator referral traffic at the beginning of October came through Facebook.

‘We were determined, given our understanding of this particular segment, to invoke as many Web 2.0 and social media tools in the creation of the website as we could,’ says Sands. ‘This is what they use all of the time. And it’s a very effective way for us to redefine our relationship with this particular client group.’

And RBC reaped the benefits of engaging an idea-soaked demo. One of the proposals submitted laid the foundation for RBC p2p – the bank’s own peer-to-peer online forum, which aims to become a student-managed community for sharing financial concerns and ideas.

RBCp2p.com, also developed with Delvinia, went live in time for the back-to-school season, with former college student Michel Savoie as host. The bank is offering a laptop, digital cameras and part-time wages for six postsecondary student bloggers who will represent their peers on RBCp2p.com, with winners announced in January. Users uploaded videos to the site until the end of October, while Savoie hit the road to capture on-the-spot video submissions at various campuses. By mid-November, the site was hosting pages and pages of user-generated videos by students pitching themselves for the job, while RBC encouraged visitors to rate submissions – many of which racked up hundreds of views.

RBC’s internal marketing and HR staff narrowed the list of applicants down to the top 12. This month, the site was set to hand control over to students at RBCp2p.com by kicking the contest into its peer-voting phase.

By February, RBC expects even better results, with Next Great Innovator wrapping up its second awards show and RBCp2p.com engaging students with six new demo-tapped bloggers. Until then, the bank is promoting the two initiatives on Facebook.

‘We use that as a sort of portal to pull in all of the Net-Gen-related activities we have going on,’ says Sands. The platform also drives users to RBC’s student VISA and banking programs, scholarships, on-campus promos and RBCroyalbank.com/student, where the bank is using several Delvinia-produced podcasts (which also stream directly to Facebook) as a marketing vehicle.

‘We view this as a way of redefining our relationship with these clients,’ says Sands. ‘What we’re seeing is that these social networking forums are connecting with our clients in a way that resonates.’

And the bank is also entertaining its Facebook friends. For the month of October, for instance, the top-of-page content on RBC Campus Connection was the ‘Crime Doesn’t Pay – Our Free Banking Does’ slogan, developed by BBDO Proximity Canada and tied to bathroom posters, campus events and a Facebook video series by the fictional CIAAA (Campus Investigations And Apprehension Agency). Students don’t have a lot of money, one investigator says via mock-video, and so sometimes they take things. In true college humour form, the video follows the investigator into a washroom stall to wait for Toilet-Paper-Taker Thompson, and antics ensue.

There was also a student mugshot section, where users could retrieve shots taken during on-site campus visits by RBC, and a free-trip-to-Australia contest for those who signed up for free student banking. By mid-November, RBC had changed up the Facebook group to promote RBCp2p.com, urging students to ‘Be a Celebrity. Only Smarter.’ Streaming video featured students who’d pitched themselves at RBCp2p.com, with an invite to rate the content.

‘Our definition of innovation is that it connects what’s possible to what’s valuable to our clients,’ says Sands. ‘We recognize that the world is moving into a new era of consumer-designed products and services. So a model of open innovation and collaboration with our clients is a much better way to sort the ideas that matter to them.

‘This is a group that very much wants to engage, to share opinions and to be heard, and is used to being incredibly well-networked and well-connected. It’s a new era of collaboration with clients and how we react to those kinds of dynamics.’

Students like free stuff: Why TD has 11,815 friends

RBC dipped its student outreach strategy into an existing social media platform and managed to build its own. By contrast, TD Canada Trust’s student outreach has focused solely on Facebook. Interestingly, while TD’s social media strategy is still in its early stages, the bank has lapped its larger competitor when it comes to making friends.

The TD Money Lounge hit Facebook in mid-August in a bid to reach the 18-to-24 student demo. Calling it a pilot project, TD approached the social networking utility as an experiment, setting an initial goal of 10,000 members. The number seemed reasonable, considering what others had achieved with Facebook. (At the time, the Molson Canadian Nation Facebook group had over 14,000 members.) The TD Money Lounge passed its target in about seven weeks and by the middle of November had 11,815 members – more than four times the membership of RBC Campus Connection. The only things promoting TD Money Lounge are on-site campus events and banner ads on Facebook, although the bank’s announcement of the pilot did get picked up by the Toronto Star, NOW magazine and the National Post.

TD Canada Trust VP marketing Sue McVey says the bank learned one thing right out of the starting gate when it launched TD Money Lounge: ‘Students like free stuff.’ That, combined with ties to TD’s environmental initiatives, helped drive growth and make the Money Lounge sticky with students.

The first phase of the pilot featured $10 coupons for Roots, Zellers, Best Buy and Empire Theatres, as well as a tie to the Great Canadian Shore Clean-up. On Oct. 1, the bank changed the creative and promoted buy-one-get-one-free Domino’s Pizza coupons (the ‘Roommate Special’), along with a new environmental initiative that promises the bank will donate $1 to its TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for every Facebook user who refers a friend to the group. By the end of the month, the green thermometer measuring the status of the drive showed that $1,500 of the $5,000 target had been raised.

New content hit the TD Money Lounge group in mid-November, including the $100,000 Go Green Challenge, which offers four prizes of $25,000 each to student teams who draft feasible ideas about how to improve the environment. All creative for the Facebook program was produced by Janice Diner, CD for Segal Communications.

The page also links to student-targeted content, such as career tips, the 2008 National Student Entrepreneur Competition (worth a $10,000 cash prize) and TD’s own Facebook application $plit It, which helps roomies divide up their bills. The bank lets users log in to their TD accounts without leaving Facebook.

McVey says the bank’s pilot project is helping to define a model for interacting with consumers in the social media space.

‘There is no benchmark on how many people you’ll get and when, and what drives membership and stickiness,’ says McVey. ‘The big reason we’re in this is to learn. It’s not about ROI or about selling products at this point. This is about understanding this media, and how we’re going to interact within it. Where we’re really learning is in the dialogue, the wall posts, the self-generated topics, what happens when we post a topic, and how often we have to go in and out. Nobody’s got it mapped out.’

Scotiabank evolves its email newsletter into the MyVault community

And then there’s the world not according to Facebook. That’s where Scotiabank has put most of its resources when it comes to reaching consumers via Web 2.0 tools.

Scotiabank made some waves in the social media space when director of digital marketing Michael Seaton launched the bank’s first podcast, The Money Clip, in the fall of 2006. Following its debut, The Money Clip quickly shot to #1 in the business category on iTunes, up against content by the likes of the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal. Seaton says The Money Clip and the bank’s second podcast, Find the Money (with investment industry vet Fred Ketchen), are ‘constantly top-ranked in the business category’ on iTunes.

But the bank hasn’t stopped there. Scotiabank’s entry into the world of Web 2.0 and social media, combined with long-running permission-based email programs, have now evolved to include the MyVault site, which went live at the beginning of the summer. The project is an extension of The Vault, a monthly Scotiabank email newsletter targeting retail and small-business clients, and The Money Clip. The website (myvault.scotiabank.com) is content-driven but allows users to participate via personal tools such as functional calendars, community forums and RSS aggregators for MyVault news feeds.

While Seaton would not comment on web traffic or membership details, he did say the project is being promoted to about 1.5 million subscribers of The Vault newsletter, which launched in 2001. Seaton says the MyVault online community essentially gives a ‘home destination’ for The Vault’s subscribers.

‘In the world of ‘wisdom of the crowds’ and open-source communication, we wanted to provide a facility that would have consumers speak to consumers and customers speak to other customers, guided by a library of content,’ says Seaton, who also co-created the Canadian Marketing Association blog and publishes his own, The Client Side. ‘We launched it a few months back, and it’s been basically a word-of-mouth, grassroots type of program where we communicate to the customer base that is currently receiving the emails, getting them to come on board.

‘It’s very early days, but we’re seeing a good percentage of our email subscribers becoming users of the site,’ he adds. ‘And once they become users, they are extremely active within the site. People who are using it are using it a lot.’

Vancity goes beyond the vault for social action

If you build it, will they come? That’s the question. Obviously, there’s got to be a draw of some kind, and it doesn’t have to be about banking. Perhaps one of the best examples of this comes in the form of B.C. credit union Vancity targeting Vancouver and the Lower Mainland with its ChangeEverything.ca social media site. It’s a story about ‘powering’ a community, rather than pushing out content or discussions about money issues.

ChangeEverything.ca emerged in the summer of 2006 from the credit union’s branding campaign with TBWA Vancouver. The campaign drove home the theme that bringing your money to Vancity can change the way it works for you. Working with Social Signal, a Vancouver shop that specializes in building online communities, Vancity has added an innovative community-driven layer to its marketing and brand strategy that has paid off in goodwill among users and an overall halo of positive exposure for the brand.

Originally modelled after the social site 43 Things, ChangeEverything.ca is billed as ‘a community-powered site by Vancity.’ Users share ideas and encouragement about changing their world for the better.

In November 2006, the site’s moderator wrote a blog post titled ‘Got Hats?’ that called for donations of warm clothing for people staying at shelters, and 48 hours later the ChangeEverything.ca community had collected an estimated 4,000 articles of clothing and delivered them to shelters.

In June of this year, Vancity initiated the ChangeEverything.ca bikeshare program, which fits with the company’s image as a promoter of green transportation alternatives and its desire to make a difference in the climate change issue. The company seeded 45 branded Vancity bikes and urged the community to find them, use them for three weeks and then pass them on to a friend. Both ”Got Hats?’ and the bikeshare program delivered major media exposure for ChangeEverything.ca and Vancity.

Registration goals for 2006 (500 users) and 2007 (2,000 users) have been surpassed. By early November, the site’s registered user base had grown to more than 2,600 and recorded more than a half a million page views.

‘From a marketing perspective, certainly there are 2,600 people here,’ says Vancity’s director of brand marketing and communications and acting VP marketing, Sloan Dinning. ‘Some are existing Vancity customers, and many aren’t. But they are all brand advocates. They’re aligned with our value system as an organization, and that really helps in terms of word-of-mouth marketing.’

As to the ROI, Dinning says, ‘I could not make the direct connection by saying we spent a dollar here and we got a dollar back. But we do monitor brand attributes through an ad and brand tracker, and we have seen those remain very strong. During the bikeshare program, we achieved our highest ever share-of-mind advertising awareness. So it definitely added momentum behind the brand.’

ChangeEverything.ca users have also tagged 1,634 photos on the photo-sharing site Flickr. Dinning says Vancity is keeping the community engaged via weekly surveys and contests, and will likely integrate video functionality into the site, possibly by next year. In the meantime, the newest addition to the ChangeEverything.ca community is the ChangeSomething contest, which asked users to suggest causes deserving of a $1,000 donation. The initial list reeled in about 2,000 votes over a few weeks and created a spike in traffic and registered voters for the site.

‘One of the most difficult things with ChangeEverything.ca is how you measure it,’ says Dinning. ‘The community builds the content, for the most part, so it’s hard to know what it’s going to do. You have to be nimble and explore new territory at the same time.’

Many of marketers in the diverse categories strategy has canvassed concur, confessing that they often have no sense of whether they will attract 200, 2,000 or 20,000 responses before they start one of these programs. Fortunately, most failures aren’t high profile, while the gains can include fresh consumer research and even new product ideas.

And if banks can compete for interest with Tila Tequila, what are you waiting for?