Social Media Campaigns or Conversations?

Is your company or organisation flocking to social media because it seems like “the place to be?” While it is great that they see the need for an online presence, it is important that they approach the online community strategically. The social web is not just another channel to broadcast messages to a group of people. It gives you the opportunity to engage with your audience by allowing them taking part in the conversation. How can you expect them to listen when you are not listening to them?

Social media is an effective way to reach your audience. But just like any other communication strategy, it needs to be carefully planned and executed to its full extent.

Great, you’re ahead of the game. You created a Facebook page, secured your Twitter ID, and even established a hashtag. Now what?


Think about what you are trying to achieve. What are your goals? Who is your target audience? How can you get them involved?

If you are starting to learn about social media and need some direction, check out this slide show from brand infiltration. They tell it how it is, with no additional fluff:

Below I examine two social media campaigns that I feel could have been carried out more effectively. If they had taken the time to communicate with their audience, they would have received higher levels of engagement creating more loyalty towards their brands. Perhaps I should stop referring to the users as the “audience.” Jay Rosen calls them “the people formally known as the audience,” because social media has enabled them to produce content just as easily as they consume it.

Case Study 1: Sculpture by the Sea

In their words (copied from their Facebook page), “Sculpture by the Sea is staged on the spectacular 2km Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk in Sydney. The exhibition sites over 100 sculptures from Australian and overseas artists over 3 weeks for an estimated 500,000 visitors.”

Sculpture by the Sea has developed an online presence across multiple networks. At the same time, people have produced copious amounts of content about the event. While both parties are sharing information with online communities, there is a lack of interaction between the two.


  • Facebook page with over 1,200 fans (the page was created for last years event).
  • Twitter account to share information (over 300 followers)
  • Flickr Group for Sculpture by the Sea photos (275 members, 2 years old)
  • Established a hashtag to be used for Twitter and Flickr (#sxsbondi)
  • Added links on their homepage to inform people of their online presence


  • Facebook: Over 1,200 fans is a decent number. But when 500,000 people are expected to visit the event (and I’m sure the majority of them are on Facebook), the page could be more active. Even without more fans, Sculpture by the Sea should have taken a more active approach. While they developed a fun voice, their updates were quite sporadic. Some yielded comments, and it would have been great for Sculpture by the Sea to respond to some comments to keep the conversations going. In addition, there are only 86 fan photos, only 2 of which are from this year. If they had sent updates encouraging users to upload their photos, I can safely say they would have generated a large response. For example, take this clipping from the page:

All they would have to do is comment back saying “Great photos! It would be great if you could add these to our Fan page to share your photos on Facebook!”

In addition, they could have created best photo contests, or even just encouraged people to to share their thoughts on their favourite pieces of art.

  • Twitter: Following 52 people, and 44 tweets sent out. That pretty much sums it up. If you search twitter for #sxsbondi, you will find 2 pages of results, @sculpturebysea returns 19 tweets, and sculpture by the sea, returns almost 300 tweets! Keep in mind this is only for the past nine days. This is by no means a complete report of tweets about the event, but it gets the point across. If you look at the tweets from @sculpturebysea, you will see that all they are doing is broadcasting information. No @replies, no retweets, and only one or two asking for participation. If they had monitored the topic, they would have seen numerous users tweeting about the event, looking to share their photographs, blogs, and opinions. They could have followed people talking about the event, retweeted user-generated content, and asked the community about their thoughts. This would increase the overall chatter, and would encourage others to continue to share information. In addition, they could have used a social bookmarking site like delicious to aggregate the content. This would be very useful for obtaining future sponsors and would help continue the buzz when the event finished. Lastly, monitoring Twitter is amazing insight into your audience. Take this tweet for example:

This is great insight into a new feature they tried to integrate into Sculpture by the Sea, augmented reality. @sculpturebysea could have responded inquiring about the problems, or even just thanked him for the feedback. By acknowledging the problem the event would gain credibility and could possibly attempt to fix it.

  • Flickr: Everyone enjoyed taking photos of Sculpture by the Sea, myself included. There are thousands of photos from the event, taken by amateurs and professionals. While the Flickr group is very active, there are many more users that are not aware of the group, or the sxsbondi tag for that matter. In a search, I found over 3,600 photos that were taken at this year’s Sculpture by the Sea, but they were not tagged with sxsbondi. If the event had vocalised the tag through Twitter, Facebook, and more apparently on their website, I believe more photos would be posted, and there would be a more organised collection of content. Overall I think they provided a good space for photosharing, but more collaboration would have enriched the experience.

There are a few additional steps I would take to make the event more interactive online.

  • Continued emphasis of hashtag throughout all mediums – this helps in aggregating the content and provides consistency when searching for information. I would also argue that it fosters a sense of community and ownership by making people want to tag their content with #sxsbondi.
  • Use of Google Maps – Google allows users to create custom maps with information and linking content. I would have created a map outlining the route. It would emphasise winning sculptures, bus routes, and other information points. Photos could also be incorporated to show where specific art was located.

As we could see from Twitter, blog, and Flickr posts, the online community will be active about something they are interested in regardless of the affiliated organisation. BUT… if the organisation takes the extra step to engage the community, they will develop a better reputation, create more buzz, and learn from the insight of the users.

Case Study 2: – A Twitter Scholarship

Synopsis of the Organisation: “The College Scholarships Foundation is the non-profit entity behind the scholarships provided here on this site. This foundation offers many varieties of funding such as traditional scholarships for minorities and women, while also introducing popular offers such as the First Ever Blogging Scholarship.”

As a pioneer in social media scholarships, @scholarship decided to create a “Twitter Scholarship.” The guidelines are simple. Send a tweet on the following topic: “In 140 characters or less, write a Tweet highlighting how we can use Twitter to improve the world.” Then send them an @reply with a link to the tweet, and use the #scholarship hashtag (which is evidently used by others as well).

Simple enough. Right?

Originally, the scholarship was worth $14,000!!! That should get everyone applying. The winner would be getting paid $100 a character! So the entries started rolling in…or did they?

Only a few days after announcing the competition, @scholarship was “underwhelmed” by the number of entries. They released a blog explaining their efforts, along with their decision to decrease the scholarship to $1,400 for first prize.

While they said they aggressively promoted the scholarship, I beg to differ. Here were their actions:

  • making a custom logo for it
  • promoting it across hundreds of pages on our widely read site
  • mentioning it on our blog
  • pinging some of our contacts in the industry and emailed a few bloggers about it
  • promoting it on Twitter
  • and we even went as far as buying Google AdWords ads to help get the word out

And how did they promote the Twitter scholarship on Twitter?

One tweet.

Let’s take a look at their Twitter stats:

  • When the announced the scholarship, they had 231 followers
  • They are following 5 users
  • They have 29 tweets
  • Majority of tweets are broadcast oriented

Last time I checked, that isn’t going to get the message to many Twitter users. I believe they should have researched the community before jumping into unknown territory. Here is how I would have approached it:

  • Research the community. Find out how many college students are on Twitter, and how they are using it.
  • Look into other online communities. A good resource for them would have been 20 Something Bloggers, a ning network of exactly that, 20 something bloggers.
  • Find and reach out to other scholarship and college oriented sites that are on twitter. Engage in conversation with them and contribute by retweeting relevant articles.
  • Use Twitter to promote the College Scholarship Blog, and encourage comments on the posts. (and respond to those comments!)
  • Create a Facebook page – find college students where they are already spending a majority of their time, and interact with them there.

Once they establish their brand and voice on the networks, THEN release the scholarship. People will be more willing to spread the message, especially if they already have a connection. If they make this an annual scholarship, hopefully they will be a part of the community before they try to get people to participate.

Sidenote/Disclosure: I learned about this scholarship through a tweet. The tweet was regarding a case study where a social media campaign failed. Of course I was intrigued by the study, and spent some time crafting my response to the scholarship. Luckily for me, I understand the social web and the power of twitter, and won first place with this tweet:

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