Live from SmartBrief’s panel discussion, “How to Create a Viral Marketing Success”

Here’s a live look at some of the highlights from today’s SmartBrief panel discussion featuring GasPedal’s Andy Sernovitz, Stacey Kane of California Tortilla, Brendan Hart of National Geographic, and Stephanie Miller of Return Path — moderated by Guy Kawasaki.

11:28 – Andy begins with the “why” — describes why it’s important to make love to earn word of mouth.

11:28 Andy: Now is the time to build an army of fans who talk about you for love and not for money. When people fall in love with your brand and get excited and want to share you, that is renewable and it never runs out. It’s a recession proof, competitive advantage. If you’re getting it for free, you can always beat someone who’s paying for it.

11:31 Andy: Marketing is what you do, not what you say.

11:31 Andy: Word of mouth only works for the good guys. The ones that make people happy.

11:32 Andy: Half of you are thinking, “I make widgets, I make dull stuff, nobody will ever fall in love with me.” But time and time again, we see examples of “boring companies” getting lots of word of mouth. Andy shares examples such as Skittles and its fans on Facebook, Dell’s Outlet on Twitter, and Duck brand duct tape’s competition of giving out scholarships to the kids with the best prom attire made from duct tape.

11:34 Andy: If you want love, you need some romance. Word of mouth marketing is about the special gestures you do — the romance.

11:35 Andy: The final lesson of earning love is you have to get off the couch. You have to participate, you have to engage and be where everyone else is hanging out.

11:36 Guy to the panel: What is the basis for love? Why do people love your stuff?

11:37 California Tortilla’s Stacey Kane: I was lucky that the founder of our company had this quirky voice. People didn’t feel like they were coming to a restaurant, they felt like they were coming to a home. Stacey describes the Taco Talk newsletter — the home for this voice, that is now transitioned to Facebook and Twitter.

11:37 Stacey: First thing I had to figure out was, “What are we going to give them to talk about?” Stacey describes their goofy promotions that people loved to talk about and talks about how Howard Stern is a successful radio host because he took down the walls and brought people into the studio and discussed arguments with staff, etc — and Stacey says she does much of the same and shares candid, behind-the-scenes information.

11:45 National Geographic’s Brendan Hart begins by discussing how fans love National Geographic for a wide range of reasons.

11:46 Brendan: In 2000, we had very limited resources to share everything — flash forward to today, and we have all these tools; but it comes down to the fundamental: I have a connection with this brand.

11:48 Brendan: Our view on social is, let’s engage as many people as possible and see what happens. We’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

11:49 Brendan describes some of the online stuff they’re sharing, such as how you can climb Everest in 20 minutes by watching a compilation of videos they put together.

11:50 Brendan: When you open each edition of the magazine, one of the first things you’ll come across is Your Shot — which is fans submitting photos and they’re publishing them in the magazine.

11:52 Brendan discusses citizen journalists, the future of social media, considers them all “big TBD’s” — says he doesn’t believe he’ll ever see National Geographic as a completely digital publication in his lifetime.

11:55 Guy to Stephanie: Is email dead?

11:55 Return Path’s Stephanie Miller: We’re used to getting that question. When social media came out, everyone was saying email is dead. But the reason why email still works really well is that there’s a lot of reach there, but there’s also a lot of engagement.

11:56 Stephanie: I think the place to start as a marketer is, How can I be helpful? If you start there, I think you will have a content strategy that will naturally evolve over these channels. You don’t have to abandon email for social media or new tools, in fact, they all work really well together.

11:59 Stephanie: Think about not just re-purposing your email codes on Twitter — that’s not very interesting — email might be great for sending promotions, content, or taking polls or surveys, whereas Facebook is great for engaging folks on what your new ads should look like or what the next cover of your magazine should be.

12:00 Stephanie: The content strategy is the place to discover how to integrate email and social media channels.

12:03 Andy: I personally find it very hard to truly engage. I’m still very much a broadcaster, people comment on my blog, and I just can’t find enough hours in the day to respond.

12:03 Andy: This is a much more interesting question: How do we deliver this content. The answer is: However they want it — which is what Brendan was getting to.

12:05 Stephanie: Discusses how the channel matters, how, for example, Twitter values brevity; she shares the example of how Coke could ask fans on Facebook at what time of day they most enjoy a Coke — got 10,000 responses, whereas they couldn’t have done that with other channels.

12:07 Stacey: How do you convince the president of your company it makes sense to spend 2-3 hours a day on social media? My biggest painpoint — and it still sometimes comes up — it’s a constant thing of: What’s in it for the company?

12:10 Andy: We think about the simplicity of it, but we forget about the multiplier. Every time you spend 5 minutes to upload a coupon on Facebook, and 300 people click it (and share it with their 100 friends), you’ve just reached 30,000 people.

12:12 Guy, to the panel: What is your single biggest tip for social media?

12:13 Andy: Just ask. People want to help you. They want to share your stuff. When you ask someone to pass it on, they’ll do it. It gets back to this love thing: It feels good to help.

12:14 Stephanie: Don’t try too hard. If you have to force it, you’re probably stretching too hard. If you’re using email to create viral campaigns, if you’re inundating me with things and I’m not interested — there’s a penalty in email that doesn’t exist in other channels, which is the “Report as a Spammer” button. It goes back to helping your subscribers. If it’s legitimate, people will be happy to love you. But you have to earn it.

12:15 Stacey: I really agree that you need to get your constituents involved. Everybody wants to feel smart. That’s why people wait in the really long lines to get into the VIP section in Las Vegas. We all want to feel like we’re the cool kids and we want to know. We ask people for advice all the time. We have a radio campaign starting Monday because we won Best Burrito in Washington D.C., so I asked all our fans and followers to submit spots for us. People really, really got into it. I think that that can translate into the world of associations — you all have conferences to plan. Ask people what they want to see.

12:16 Brendan: In social, it’s customer first. Basically, that’s what the platform is telling us. We each have an individual voice and want to communicate one-to-one. For us, in particular, it was very easy to prove business value for social media. Social media, when you group all audiences together, it’s going to be almost a second tier to search engines in driving traffic. I certainly wouldn’t have expected that two years ago.

12:19 Guy talks about his TweetMe button on his blog and how it’s been the single most powerful button and describes how he thinks it’s better to give less options. Guy: If 500 people retweet it, and they have 250 followers each, 125,000 people have just been exposed to this post.

12:21 Andy: It’s lowering the bar to participate.

12:22 Andy: Above all else, if you’re in a fight with your IT department, and you want to make it easy for people to share your online stuff, go to and add their simple tool.

12:25 Question from the audience: How do you make a social media message personal?

12:26 Stephanie: Use the power of suggestion, and ask people to forward it on. But, the more you do that, the less control you have over your message. Whatever you do, ensure you’re link is maintained when you pass it on.

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