Like fireworks, dozens of small dots flare up and fade over a map of the world on a big screen on Lars Silberbauer’s office wall at LEGO’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark. Each dot represents a social media conversation happening in real time across the toy maker’s 130 markets. Three other 60-inch screens show the stream of what consumers are saying about LEGO on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, the Chinese microblogigng platform Sina Weibo and an array of other platforms.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” says Silberbauer, LEGO’s global director of social media. “Everyone is talking about products across the world and connecting products with some kind of social media experience.”
As a digital whirlwind of change shakes the world of marketing, social media teams at LEGO and other global brands are tasked with harnessing new forms of engagement to help their businesses grow. Their chief marketing officers may still struggle to pinpoint social media’s exact return on investment but they also realize that the risk of not being there could be even greater.
“It’s not an option that’s up to the brand,” says Silberbauer. Lego’s popularity on social media, he explains, is due not only to company-led campaigns but also to viral fan-generated content that attracts hundreds of thousands of shares and millions more views. “Your consumers are doing it,” he says. “Your brand is already on social media anyway. You can only choose as a brand if you want to be there or not. And if you’re not there, someone else will represent you.”
In a global survey by Forrester Research earlier this year some 96% of marketers said they believe the use of new technologies in marketing approaches will continue to accelerate in the coming years as online social activity, new digital channels and rapidly evolving personal technology develop.
It is no surprise then that “Rethinking Communication” and “The New Role Of the Marketing Director” will be a focus at SIME 2013, an annual conference in Stockholm that brings together over 1,600 top executives and marketing professionals from the media, Internet, advertising and IT industry to discuss how digital impacts business.
At LEGO, thinking about everything in terms of blocks comes naturally, Silberbauer says, and social media is no exception. “Everything should fit together like building bricks and every brick should build on top of another. It should not be that there’s one campaign, then it’s on and off. It’s more like building a continuous long-term engagement. We are all about creating connections and then building those relationships. It’s not an overnight thing, it’s a long-term thing. It crosses generations.”
The foundation of any LEGO social media initiative is to “listen and focus on the human element,” Silberbauer says. “There are two needs that are extremely important. It’s true not just for LEGO — it’s basic human nature — we want to play together. We also want to show off what we created to other people, so we want the peer recognition.”
As an example of how LEGO uses social media to give its fans the opportunity to play together and show pride in their creations, he points to the global “Happy Holiplay” campaign, where fans from 119 countries uploaded photos to the campaign website. Over three weeks in December 2012, the campaign generated more the 150,000 views on YouTube and many more comments, likes and shares on LEGO’s Facebook page.
Another campaign was “Life of George,” which Silberbauer describes as a “$100 campaign” because that is the amount the company spent on it. They encouraged people around the world to build the same character, George, with their bricks and then submit photos of him in cool places. Thousands of people sent in photos of George in Australia, in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, or vacationing in Hawaii. The high level of engagement was apparent as people started creating story lines such as “George’s wedding” and “what happened when George’s ex-girlfriend crashed the reception,” Silberbauer says.
The key to understanding social media, he says, is to look beyond superficial, passive numbers such as “likes” or numbers of fans and to aim for meaningful interactions.
“Sometimes I think we forget in social media that it’s about people,” Silberbauer says. “It’s about connecting people with others and them having a conversation.”
That said, the campaigns also needs to connect to the business strategy, he adds. “We don’t do social media just to do social media.”
LEGO’s social media team looks at four factors to gauge the value they create. They measure increases in sales, growth in brand affinity, improvements in marketing efficiency and how they are “mitigating risks, or doing damage control, to make sure the brand doesn’t get hurt in social media,” Silberbauer says.
A strong social media presence is also crucial for maintaining brand momentum at Absolut Vodka’s Stockholm headquarters.
“For a long time, fans of the brand would tear print ads out of a magazine and put them on their wall,” Global Brand Director Mathias Westphal says. “Now, it's about creating the kind of interesting content that they want to put on their Facebook wall instead. The main idea of creating something interesting that is an expression of our brand hasn’t changed; however, the places that our fans share their love of the brand has.”
Westphal says Absolut’s current “Transform Today” campaign illustrates how social media, especially web videos, have become an essential complement to its iconic print ads, billboards and TV spots.
“Since a large part of this target grew up as digital natives, we knew that the old model of placing our ads on the back of magazines wouldn’t work anymore; therefore our media strategy took a very close look at where and how millennials consume media, and put the focus there,” Westphal says.
The campaign is built around 90 second- to four-minute-long digital films — much longer than traditional 30-second TV ads — about four artists: a musician/director, a fashion designer, a digital artist, and a graphic novelist — looking at what inspires them and their creative processes.
“The goal of the campaign is to reaffirm Absolut’s position as a creative and inspiring brand,” Westphal says, admitting it’s not an easy outcome to measure.
“We have an analytics team that tracks a series of identified key words around the brand and our campaigns,” he says. “They are able to look at the change in brand perception by focusing on overall changes in both volume and quality of mentions. To us, it’s less about just the quantity, and more about whether we are making a strong impression of the brand — which is something we have to track over a long period of time.”
For brands “the challenge is knowing which new technologies, which new devices and which new platforms to respond to,” says Sarah Wood, co-founder and COO of London-based marketing technology company Unruly Media, which helps brands analyze and predict the shareability of their social video content.
Unruly also helps brands identify content that resonates so they can join social conversations and create their own content.
There’s a growing consensus that social shareability is a basic requirement for brand content, she says, pointing to recent comments by Coca-Cola’s Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Joe Tripodi and Ford Chief Marketing Officer Jim Farley that stressed the importance of all content being compelling and shareable.
“It’s much harder to capture attention now. We’re all bombarded by marketing messages, nobody wants to look at ads. So brands that want to get cut-through… have to be creating content that people want to share … people are much more likely to enjoy content if it’s been shared with them by someone in their network,” Wood says. “If you enjoy content, you’re much more likely to buy from that brand.”
Unilever, she says is a brand that excels at this. The multinational's 2013 Cannes Lion Grand Prix-winning ad for Dove “Beauty Sketches” has become one of the most viewed ads of all time. “It’s not showy, it’s not spectacular,” she says, but it shows the brand “understands the importance of making an intense emotional connection if you want to get your content watched and shared.”