Spanish-Speaking Companies and Governments Embrace Social Networking

Ariel Brailovsky beat thousands of consumers to win a dream vacation package. All he had to do with tweet and complete some tasks on Facebook. The contest was launched on behalf of the Spanish government by SrBurns, a firm specialized in helping companies and countries in the Spanish-speaking world leverage social media to increase business. SrBurns is one of dozens of innovative young companies from Spain and Latin America that are expected to particpate in La Red Innova a June 14-15 conference in Madrid.

 Social networking is dramatically impacting the way people interact, play games and do business around the globe. But companies and governments in Spain and Latin America have been slower to integrate it, dismissing it as a service for teenagers. Many wonder how they can make money using social networking tools, says Gaby Castellanos, (pictured on Informilo's home page) chief executive of SrBurns, which specializes in new media advertising.
 
Castellanos, an award- winning Venezuelan advertising executive who has been living in Spain since 1996, intends to try and answer that question on June 15 when she speaks at La Red Innova, a conference that brings investors, opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, and bloggers from Latin America to Spain to mix with the European and U.S. tech communities. The event is supported by the city of Madrid, which is trying to position itself a center of development for Internet and new technologies, and is headed by Jose Maria Figueres, ex-president of Costa Rica and former chief executive of the World Economic Forum.
 
Castellanos, who is listed as of one of the 10 most influential people on the Internet in Spain  in the Spanish language press, says Spain is about six months behind the U.S. in integrating social networking into business while Latin America is as much as three years behind. She is on a mission to change that, telling Spanish-speaking companies that "social media represents the opportunity to change everything about marketing and advertising".    SrBurns (named after the fictional evil character Mr. Burns in the animated television show The Simpsons,) already has a number of case studies to prove that.  Its clients include Lexus, Turespaña, Segittur, Cuatro, Vodafone, Obra Social de La Caixa, Beefeater, Telefonica, Diageo, Save the Children, Endemol and Ono.
 
The Spanish government is also on its client list. A social media campaign for the Spanish tourism office called " Spain, a country to share", was launched in December 2009 by SrBurns. The campaign included a competition called "The Best Feeling Ever" , which attempted to lure more travelers to the country, which has been hit particularly hard by the global downturn. Consumers such as Brailovsky, a 38-year-old systems engineer who works for Apple Computer, were encouraged to answer a daily question on Facebook and complete certain tasks, such as posting photos and telling their life stories.  The winner also had to get the greatest number of votes from friends on Facebook. Braivsoky, an Argentinian living in Miami, gathered 8,500, beating some 3,000 competitors.
 
The social media campaign also included three other contests. One, "Espana es asi", a Facebook application, asked people in Spain to recommend their favorite places in Spain to tourists and offer up tips to travelers.  The suggestions were rated by users of Facebook and the Spaniards behind the winning suggestions  won a trip to anywhere in Spain in the company of a foreign friend.
 
 Another contest urged followers of Spain on Twitter to go a party on a main square in different cities around Europe, including Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and Lisbon. The first person to approach and respond correctly to a question about Spain was instantly awarded a two day trip to a Spanish city. The only catch was the winner had to travel the same day. (Click here to watch a video about that contest).
 
The campaign also included a marketing gimmick that took place in the international arrivals section of the Madrid Barajas Airport. For  three days all visitors landing in Madrid were greeted by their individual names and handed roses and free guides to Spain. The idea was that tourists would tweet about the warm welcome to Spain and post pictures on Facebook, helping market a trip to Spain to their friends. (Click here to see a video about this portion of the campaign.)
 
The campaign created 22,000 Facebook fans and 16,000 Twitter followers for Spain, increasing the country's  brand awareness and selling people on spending their next vacation in Spain.
 
Another series of social media campaigns, for Lexus luxury cars, pegged to the launch of the new hybrid Lexus CT 200h, began in March this year and in one week met 10% of the ultimate goals of the 10-month campaign, says Castellanos.  The campaign included the development of an on-line tennis game that allows users to "play" with tennis star Feliciano Lopez and win VIP tickets to the Madrid Masters Tennis series 2010. Another contest had Internet surfers designing an outfit inspired by the car. Winners were invited to a special dinner with Israeli model Bar Rafaeli, creating a buzz on Twitter and in the fashion blogosphere. A third leg of the campaign involved A Small World, a private on-line social network aimed at financially well-off, socially connected people. The first day of the campaign 1,000 users registered in the Lexus Private Club in order to win tickets for the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid.

Done correctly, integrating social networking into marketing campaigns " can convert the customer into a friend," she says, while also helping sell everything from cars to vacation packages.
 
Castellanos began her career in advertising at the age of 16, learning the business from Roberto "Bobby" Coimbra , a creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather in Venezuela. At age 23 she became the first associate creative director of an agency in Latin America, winning many international awards. After working for adveritsing agencies in Venezuala and Spain, including JWT, McCann Erickson, Lintas, Nettink Carat (Aegis Group), Wysiwyg (a Razorfish Company), The Zoo Animalvertising and BtoB Interactive. She created her own agency, SrBurns, in July, 2008.
 
Following its success in Spain, SrBurns plans to open offices in Miami in the U.S, plus Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia. "There is a big opportunity to help Latin American companies integrate social media," says Castellanos. "Nobody is a leader in this space."