General Mills: Reaching Influencers in Social Media — Live from BlogWell

4:30 – Andy Sernovitz introduces David Witt, Manager, Brand Public Relations at General Mills.

4:31 – General Mills brands are found in virtually every household in America – Pillsbury, Yoplait, Cherios, etc.  General Mills is in the process of going social and different brands are in different places.  For example, Betty Crocker has been getting letters from consumers for many, many years.

4:32 – Today  David is going to focus on Fiber One 50-Calorie Yogurt from April 2009 – March 2010.  Social Media is a broad term that covers all consumer engagement areas – forums, ratings, reviews, twitter, Facebook, etc.

4:33 – Fiber One snack bars launch showed that online conversations were the second most important driver of sales (after being on shelf).  The sales and conversations are very highly correlated.

4:34 – Hungry Girl is a blogger who sends a daily email, and said  that Fiber One bars taste better than Snickers.  She has over 1 million subscribers to her email.  Fiber One actually has Hungry Girl as an endorser on  the package.

4:35 – Objectives & Strategies are important so that you can measure success.  For Fiber One the objective was to build awareness and position the Yogurt as a great dieting tool.  They planned to leverage Hungry Girl as the spokesperson.  The goal was to drive trial and conversation.

4:36 – General Mills has a program called “Pssst…” that provides “insiders” with special information about the company and a preview of news.  For example they got a “behind the scenes” preview of the Betty Crocker kitchen and are the first to know about new products.  They also get free product or high value coupons.  The newsletter included Fiber One Yogurt messaging with a coupon.  They also featured a  video message from Hungry Girl and a Hungry Girl book giveaway.  They also did a personal mailing to people in the “Psst…” community who were active dieters and sent them free product.  They got very positive feedback from the people in their community who they sent the mailer to.

4:39 – To launch the product they also worked with Bloggers in a program called My Blog Spark.  They send bloggers product on a relationship basis to let them know about new products.  They created a “snack attack” video featuring Hungry Girl and  her staff and did some early product seeding – bloggers had the opportunity to try the product first and share a product review.

4:42 – General Mills also connected to Facebook and Twitter where consumers like to talk about Yogurt.

4:42 – Fiber One also connected with consumers through key partners like SparkPeople (a diet/fitness site).

4:42 – The biggest watch-out is not getting involved.  Bloggers want to get involved and they want to interact with the company as an insider through one-on-one engagement.

4:43 – Part of the key is to find tools that the bloggers want to use.  Fiber One created a Embeddable Microsite that provided blog readers with coupons and free product.  This makes it easier for bloggers to share their opinions.  As a part of a live taste-testing the brand recorded consumer testimonials that were then available to bloggers.

4:44 – Fiber One also created some online games.

4:45 – Key learnings:  Consumers are willing to participate and be included with brands.  There is a natural gravitational pull towards a niche (like a weight management community).  Provide meaningful and relevant  brand experiences for consumers.  Provide content in a format and in a location that they find useful and familiar.

4:46 – Be respectful and treat consumers as friends.  Be respectful.  Don’t lie to or embarrass your consumers or “friends”.

4:47 – The brand experience must be remarkable.  Set clear objectives upfront but test and learn as you go.

Q/A

Q: How much of your time, effort and brainpower is dedicated to planning upfront and analysis as you go?

A: Probably at least a quarter of the time is involved in listening and in planning, but it really depends on the particular initiative.  For example we know a lot about the weight management space because we have had a lot of launches in this space.  This makes it easier as we go.

Q: There is a lot of value in engaging bloggers and influencers – how do you measure?

A: It is early days for measurement.  David doesn’t pretend that there is a specific way to measure ROI from blogger outreach but they do know that there is a specific correlation.  Over time the metrics will get better.

Q: When you launched My Blog Spark what are the blogger disclosure guidelines?

A: When we created the blogging network of My Blog Spark one of our key elements was disclosure.  My Blog Spark already had guidelines similar to the new FTC guidelines.  My Blog Spark requires bloggers to disclose that they get product for free and if they get a free flipcam.  They also request that bloggers do not make product claims that can not be substantiated.  The key to working with legal is to ask them “what is needed for you to say yes?” and engage them.  The two key areas are product claim liability and disclosure.

Q: How do you coordinate the one-on-one blogger relationships?

A: We manage our company by brands and each brand is in a different stage and handles it differently.  They have integrated marketing teams that own these relationships.  General Mills is looking to move towards Community Managers on a brand level to manage these relationships.

4:56 – Comment from Andy Sernovitz – Part of dealing with bloggers is just giving them products.  If you have a great product people will naturally talk about it.

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