Saturday, November 21, 2009

Inside The Hobby- Ranking the Manufacturers' Social Network Marketing Skills

Now, more than ever, WOM (word of mouth) advertising and UGC (user generated content) is key to the success or failure of a brand, product, business or service. From Angie's List to Yelp, consumers have the ability to add immense value to a company's image or, conversely, irreparable harm. Social Networking, and its intrinsic ability for a marketer to engage and influence its consumer audience with regards to buying decisions, is something that many organizations, in and outside, of The Hobby struggle with.

Social Network Marketing essentially takes WOM to a whole new level. In the past, when a consumer was dissatisfied with a company regardless of reason, the end result, after the process of calling customer service, writing a letter if need be, etc, was ultimately complaining about it to a friend over the phone or over lunch. Then much like the old commercial, " . . . and then they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on and so one." In today's "plugged in" media age of social networking and online communities like Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, My Space, YouTube, Pandora, Last.FM, Digg, StumbleUpon, Redi, Bebo, Linkedin, just to name a few, it is more important than ever to have a say in the voice of your brand, product or service, and engage with your target market in a way that is not only informative but creates what any company wants- brand loyalty.

So, with that Social Networking 101 lecture behind us, how do the manufacturers rate and compare in their efforts. There are several components to look at when evaluating the strengths or weaknesses of an organizations social network marketing campaign. Without getting too detailed in the minutia and to keep things simple, let's evaluate and judge each of the card manufacturers on how well they utilize these, three, key social networking components:

Information Dissemination- Getting product information into the hands of your target market.

Audience Engagement- How do you interact with the people you are disseminating your information too? Are you engaging or broadcasting?

Driving Web Traffic- A company's website is still the core or hub of which all other technology related marketing efforts revolve, whether that be mobile marketing, social networking, etc.

We'll also refer to the following matrix to show you their presence (or lack there of) on various social networking communities.

#1 Upper Deck
The clear leader in audience engagement and not simply due to their use of every featured social networking channel. It's not enough to simply have one of these elements, it's how you use it. Upper Deck makes excellent use of every opportunity to provide collectors multiple means of distributing product information whether that be about upcoming products, redemptions or including them in the conversation for choosing players in a checklist and soliciting content ideas.

Through the use of their @UpperDeckHockey Twitter account for example, they have shared with collectors information on the signing process for various athletes, and have even asked collectors who to include and who to feature on dual autographs. The designated account users even reply to user submitted questions both publicly and privately through direct messages and public replies.

Upper Deck's Facebook page provides collectors a wealth of product information and new posts to their fan page are also auto updated via Twitter. From image galleries to contests, redemption status to events, their integrated use of multiple social networking platforms by multiple brands (Upper Deck, Upper Deck Retail, Upper Deck Blog, Upper Deck Hockey) helps collectors feel valued and connected to the best interests of the company's design and marketing efforts.

They even accept user generated content via their blog and video channels on YouTube but more typically through their self branded video outlet, Diamond Vision, where they have encouraged users to submit their video box-breaks. Hosting UGC is one of the most cost-effective advertising tools and has carry over value with WOM and Social Networking through the potential to "go viral" where a popular video simply explodes with views, in essence acting as a free commercial.

Upper Deck also provides a relatively new Message Board community for collectors to network. The moderation is fair, accepting constructive criticism to be posted. They could do a lot more as far as promoting the community message boards to grow the audience and their moderators need to replicate their engagement efforts on Twitter and Facebook to make the environment more of a two-way dialogue.

#2 Panini/Donruss
Panini is still trying to feel their way through the social networking phenomenon. But has at least identified it's importance by being a relatively early adopter of channels such as Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. However, the company has failed to use them for audience engagement instead deciding to use them for strictly broadcasting and information distribution purposes.

#3 Tri-Star
While currently using only two channels (Twitter and Facebook) they use them frequently. unfortunately they use them strictly for broadcasting and information distribution purposes similar to Panini.

#4 Topps
Unfortunately as you might imagine, as we reach the lower ranks, we are starting to see a noticeable trend, and that trend is lack of engagement. They have a rarely used Twitter account but to their credit when they do use it, it is to disseminate very useful information above the simple announcement of a product being live or posting preview images. Topps has used Twitter to notify collectors about fulfilled redemptions, and as most collectors would agree is a very beneficial piece of information. Topps does provide a Message Board and was actually a very early adopter of this. Their moderator is fair and engaging. However, amazing to note, they do NOT have a Facebook page, which to me is almost unthinkable in this day and age. To Topps credit they do actively embrace the brick and mortar Hobby shop and it's patrons by hosting product "Rip Parties" that they the feature on their YouTube channel.

#5 Press Pass
Until recently, they have always been a little standoff-ish with collectors preferring to keep them at arms length, with very little in the way of any engaging or interacting with their audience. They have recently engaged the blogger community and even have a Blog of their own which details some cool behind the scenes look at collectibles in production. Their Facebook page is primarily used for communication information with little talk-back via the comments section.

#6 but tied for #1 Razor
It's almost not even fair to put them on the list. As a much smaller company they have fewer resources to allocate for such marketing efforts. However, that said, Brian Gray, the President and CEO is the most accessible person a collector will ever find ,with his personal email address in a prominent and visible position on their website. Brian will take and return your phone calls as well. So when it comes to social networking the direct connection of going straight to the source for answers and information can't be beat and for that he deserves a lot of credit and respect. He does have a Facebook page place holder and you'll even catch him sending out the occasional Tweet but if you really want information on Razor, forget the bells and whistles and enjoy the luxury of going right to the CEO.


James said...

Great article.
I think the big social media piece is listening and engagement. You can't use the tools to shout, but using them to listen to customers and hear what their interests are. It's like a constant stream of getting updated buyer personas.

Again - great article are recap. I think your list is dead on.

GCA said...

Heck, I'd just like to see Topps maintain a regular (and usable) WEBSITE, much less these other things....

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