Honda’s fan love and how community is the most important asset to your brand

Another look into the forthcoming industry report, Brandopolis (set to land in a few weeks time) this post comes from Lydia Laurenson once more as she catches up with the Creative Social Media Director at RPA, J. Barbush. 

"Social media is something that people live, versus something they need to learn,"

said J. Barbush during a phone interview.  He's Creative Social Media Director at RPA, the agency that recently won a Cannes Bronze Lion for a Honda campaign.

Separating good marketers from great ones

"It's such a blurred line between business and personal use," he added.  "A lot of the stuff that we've learned comes from personal use.  The thing about a lot of these platforms is that they're so nuanced.  If you can find a way to play on that nuance, that's what separates good marketers from great marketers.  That really comes from rolling up your sleeves and getting in there."

Yet alongside this emphasis on personal use, RPA has employees share social media innovation in a structured way, too.  There are events like lunch-and-learns about new platforms.  "Within RPA, we also sort of incubate," Barbush told me.  "We have internal contests, with stuff like 'Summer Theme!  Send us your pictures of summer on Instagram!'  Sometimes it feels like we're the yearbook committee in a high school."

Barbush said this with an air of good-natured humility, but hey, yearbooks are popular -- and the RPA campaigns for Honda have been impressive.  In 2012, just as Pinterest exploded, they ran a Pinterest campaign that cleverly capitalized on the world's collective Internet exhaustion: they offered five top pinners $500 each to take a break.

Each pinner had a particular topic -- say, cooking -- that consumed many hours of time on Pinterest.  So each pinner took a "Pintermission" to go and actually engage in their hobby in the real world, while test-driving a new Honda.  They left behind Honda-branded graphics with taglines like: "I can't cook any of the recipes on my boards because I spend all my time pinning about them.  I need a #Pintermission."

Then, of course, those users came back to Pinterest to talk about their Pintermission.  And to thank Honda.

I asked Barbush whether something specific inspired Pintermission, and he said that the idea arose after they saw Starbucks' collaborative pinboard.  On Pinterest, boards can be set for either a solo creator or to allow outside users.  Most brands weren't allowing outside users, but Starbucks was set to be collaborative -- "maybe by accident," said Barbush.  Starbucks didn't appear to be doing anything special with its collaborative board, and non-employees were certainly using it.  "We saw that Starbucks had left themselves exposed, or open," said Barbush, and his team decided to figure out whether they could use the collaborative capabilities while controlling the process a bit more.

Another clever campaign took place on Facebook, after the company noticed that a lot of Honda fans are amazingly into Honda.  Some fans, for example, get Honda tattoos, or shave Honda on their heads, or sculpt the Honda logo onto their lawns.  So when Honda's Facebook page hit a million Likes, fans were thanked with a "Honda Loves You Back" campaign: Honda associates did things like get fans' names shaved onto their own heads, and one Honda office carved a fan's name into their own lawn.  Talk about user engagement.

Most of Honda's social marketing activity has been about branding rather than direct sales.  I spoke to Alicia Jones, head of the social media team at Honda, and she said that "the car-buying process is long, with a 6-8 year gap between buys.  So the media opportunity for us is more brand-building and loyalty.  Our goal is to be present and top of mind during those 6-8 years."  She added: "Pre-internet, our main touch point was just the dealership."

Since dealerships are independent businesses, feedback can't always be tracked efficiently.  But now Honda can use tools like NetBase to monitor online sentiment, engagement, etc.

Your online community is your biggest brand asset

Many digital marketers have been struggling to find ways to prove the impact of social media branding efforts.  Marketing Magazine reported that Pintermission got more than 16 million impressions.  NetBase's sentiment analysis is another good approach.  But perhaps the most effective way to drill down is to direct social media users to a website the brand owns, since an owned site can be examined most easily by the brand itself.

Accordingly, Jones said, "We're now increasingly working to track the effect that our efforts on social are having in driving actions on the website."  It seems that although people can't buy cars on the Honda site, they can use a website tool called Build Your Honda to play around with what their imaginary car might look like.  So Honda knows everything from what colors users are looking at, to how people are pricing out cars, and can use traffic sources to extrapolate how buyers started thinking about their options.

Honda is lucky enough to have fans that are totally wild about the brand: those fans are the brand's most important asset in the social media sphere.  After that, though, the creativity of people like Barbush and Jones is crucial in both directing fans' passion and understanding its impact.  The question of how to measure social media impact is far from settled -- and I'm looking forward to seeing more interesting innovations evolve.

We’ll be launching the full report on 23rd October – to be one of the first to see it, register your interest here.

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