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Social Marketing: K-mart goes to the twits

As promised, today we’re looking at one of social marketing’s success stories.

At the start of the 2008 Christmas season, Izea decided to try their hand at social marketing for Kmart. Their goals were: awareness, brand perception, education, traffic, and insight.

Right at the start you should be seeing a couple of red flags. First of all, what keeps Kmart alive? Is it public awareness of their stores? Is it an educated consumer? And just what the hell does “insight” mean?

No, what keeps Kmart alive is the volume of their sales. And “sales,” you may note, is not one of the goals of this campaign. That’s probably a good thing; makes it much harder to declare the campaign a failure.

What Izea did was to take six “influential bloggers, each of whom received a $500 Kmart gift card along with another $500 gift card which they could give away to a selected reader. Each of these bloggers (with full disclosure on the “sponsored nature of the post”) then had to write a blog post about “their shopping experience” with their gift card, and host a contest to give away the second gift card. To enter the contest, their readers were told to go on a “virtual shopping spree” at the Kmart.com website, then come back and list what they would buy if they won the gift certificate. They could enter a second time by means of a “specified Tweet on Twitter,” thereby ensuring “that news of the contest appeared in the timelines of over 2.5 million direct followers.” Meanwhile, over on SocialSpark (which connects bloggers with blog marketers), bloggers were “given the paid opportunity to run ads on their blogs promoting any one of the six primary bloggers in the campaign.”

So then, you have (1) six primary bloggers and their readers,(2)  community bloggers on SocialSpark being paid to send traffic to these bloogers, and (3) news of the contest going out to 2.5 million Twitterers ( Tweets? Twits?).

What was the result?

“By the time the contest period ended,” says Wendy Piersall, one of the six primary bloggers, “there were 3,481 comments left across the 6 blog posts, and over 3200 Twittered contest entries. Most impressively, Kmart (green line indicator) increased their Social Media Index as measured by Vitrue a whopping 59%, outpacing parent company Sears and completely overtaking JC Penney.”

Have you got that? 3,481 comments and 3,200 Tweets. Did any of these people buy anything at Kmart? Well, we suppose the commenters who won the extra gift cards probably did. and maybe a few more people went to the company web site — possibly as many as 6,000 or so, although we have to remember that the 3,200 Twits didn’t go to the site, they merely reposted a Twit, or some such thing. Still. They may have gone. Can’t prove they didn’t.

And then we have to remember the Vitrue figures showing Kmart’s Social Media Index was 59%, which basically means that those people who use social media stood a decent chance of being exposed to the campaign.

As far as meeting its goals went, the campaign was a success. Not sure about the “insight” section, but since we still don’t know what it means — what the hell, we’ll consider that a success too.

Did they sell a single item more than they would have without the campaign? I don’t know. Neither do they. When it comes to social network marketing, success comes in simply doing it — not whether doing it actually boosts sales. I would presume they did. It’s most likely that some of those 6,000 or so people may have gone to Kmart and picked up something. But let’s keep this in perspective: that’s a possible fraction of 6,000 people for a company that has a yearly sales figure in the tens of billions of dollars. If each of the 6,000 people went to Kmart and bought $100 worth of merchandise, that would represent roughly three and a half one hundredths of one percent of their revenue. (To be precise, it would be 0.003529411764705882% — but let’s not get picky.)

The upside, of course, is that these social marketing experiments don’t cost much — but neither are they as inexpensive as their proponents would like us to believe, and they still take up time and resources.

Does this mean that social marketing is without value? No, merely that whatever value it may have remains still largely unproven by any measurement that doesn’t include “insight” or “brand identification.” Furthermore, for smaller companies, especially entrepreneurial operations, social marketing can prove remarkably effective (but that’s a topic for another post).

The real point here is simply this: social network marketing is a vast, unproven, and problematic field. Don’t get rushed into forgoing real advertising in favour of pie-in-the-sky schemes.

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