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Social networking embraced as marketing tool

As businesses become more aggressive in marketing their products, especially those related to the World Wide Web, the utilization of social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn is increasing in an attempt to capitalize on the phenomenon known as networking.Facebook

When the Web really started to go mainstream about a decade ago, networking and social media were almost nonexistent.  Now they are all the rage and it seems as if almost every company, across all industries, that is serous about marketing in a digital world is running with this concept as a way to connect more and more people to its products, services and brand.

Hubbell Realty Co., for example, jumped on the Twitter train last week and recently launched a Facebook page under the pseudonym Hailey Brownstone. Hailey, whose last name is Brownstone and who lives in a brownstone, is one of Hubbell’s most recent attempts to market its homes at GreenWay Crossing in West Des Moines.

In conjunction with Hubbell’s marketing department, company spokesman Jarad Bernstein is spearheading the social networking strategy, and is a regular contributor to the Facebook site, which as of Friday had 125 “friends.” He is also the author of Hailey’s blog posts.

It’s “a promotional micro (Web) site,” Bernstein says, adding that the campaign to sell the brownstones is geared toward a target audience whose primary way of gathering information is online rather through print.

They may not get their news from Facebook, but “that’s where they hang out,” he said.

Hubbell has received several inquiries from serious buyers, Bernstein said. But Hailey is attracting more than just potential customers. In fact, the profile, which features the likeness of an account representative for Hubbell Homes’ advertising agency based in Philadelphia, has resulted in more than one request for a date.

As sites such as Facebook continue to gain traction and followers, and the low overhead costs associated with these types of applications become more attractive in this recession, it seems the only limit to the promotional opportunities available with online social networking is the creativity of marketers themselves.

- Todd Razor

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Social media is about connecting with people. Not fictional characters.

Why would anyone read Hailey's blog? It's like reading a commercial for Hubbell. Do they really think consumers are that dumb?

There are two reasons people read blogs. 1) For good content. 2) To build/maintain a relationship with the author.

Social media is about conversations. Shouting marketing messages doesn't work. Until Hubbell realizes this, they'll probably get more date requests than sales from their social media strategy.

Authenticity is the core of social media. It's why everyone uses their real names unless you're hanging out in Second Life.

I think Andy's right. In fact, I suspect Facebook would suspend the account if they knew Hailey was a fictional character.

Imagine how some of those friends are going to feel once they discover that Hailey is actually a guy trying to sell them a condo.

I wholeheartedly applaud Hubbell for jumping into the web 2.0 space. But I'd highly recommend they reach out and get some "here are the rules of the road" guidance before they feel experience the painful downside of social media.

Drew

Drew and Andy - I think you're putting a little too much under the "Hubbell telescope." Creating a fictional person is one of the oldest marketing ploys in the book... Betty Crocker, the Michelin Man, the Campbells kids. If they had had social media when these were created, I bet each would have a facebook page.

If anyone is calling Hubbell customer dumb, it's you, Andy, not Hubbell. Hello? Hailey BROWNSTONE??? Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this is a marketing ploy. (And a darn successful one at that, if you talk to Hubbell's marketing people and get the numbers.)

And what of fictional characters, Drew? Have you been to Disney's website recently? How many kids are checking out the blogs of Hannah Montana and Zack and Cody?

If a guy is silly enough to invest in property based on his thinking below the waist, then he gets what he deserves. I think it's a brilliant move on Hubbell's part.

How about complimenting local businesses who do something well instead of tearing them down for their success?

I agree with Tim and not so much with Andy and Drew. I think you are putting too much emphasis on Hubbell's idea of "social marketing" and need to think of it more as a new and fresh marketing tactic. Hubbell is smart enough to know that traditional marketing, as done in the past for real estate, is NOT going to cut it in today's real estate market. I applaud them for thinking outside of the box and trying something new and different...and I believe it's working, but if it wasn't, didn't they at least get our attention and got us all talking about it? That's what real marketing is!

Well said Rochelle. When I first heard about Hailey's site I thought it was hilarious. And smart. And to echo Tim's comments, if Hailey's "friends" read through the blog posts and other information on the page, it's probably a pretty safe bet that most, if not all, would quickly realize that she is not a real person. It's not like Hubbell's staff is trying to manipulate anyone into buying a home by offering anything more than what they present on the site: A fresh, intelligent and OBVIOUS promotional strategy revolving around the wonders of social media and networking opportunities.

- Todd Razor

I agree that it’s great that Hubbell is trying out social media. The problem I see is that they are using a traditional marketing strategy with a brand new medium that is changing the way marketers think.

Tim, it’s kind of like you said. “Creating a fictional person is one of the oldest marketing ploys in the book.” But traditional marketing tactics are all one sided. They're about the company pushing their message onto the consumer... Social media changes that.

Take the blog, for instance. The point of having a blog is to create conversation and a community. That’s what keeps people visiting. But Hailey’s blog is full of marketing messages. There’s no dialogue. No reason to re-visit. In reality, it’s really not much different than a static webpage…

Instead, why not have real people writing about their experiences living in the homes? They can write about the process they went through to buy a home. Mistakes they've made. Things they've learned. What they would do differently.

I really think that will resonate with potential buyers much more than the traditional marketing messages being used.

Tim,

As long as you've been blogging and living in the social media realm, I have to say I am really surprised to see you comparing Hailey Brownstone to the Campbell kids...a cartoon.

We are talking two ends of the spectrum. Search for Hailey on Facebook and read her profile. Watch her videos. Then tell me it's obvious that she's not a real person.

I too applaud Hubbell for trying something new and stepping into the web 2.0 world. I just think they should have done it as Andy describes above...authentically.

Drew

Ok, I spent some time looking over the blog and webpage... and I have mixed feelings.

For one, I don't really care if she's real or not. I like that she has some personality, and that she mentioned tips that can help make moving into a new house more fun (e.g. stencils from Home Depot).

What I don't like is that it's not explicitly stated that she is a . I feel like that is somewhat deceiving, since so much of her stuff is a blatant advertisement for the company. For example, the video tour of her house sounds really fake and scripted. "I can't believe I used to rent."

I think they need to be careful with her, and need to be more upfront that she's a character. I think she could really be a fun way for customers to relate to their company, but (as with most social media), they need to be very careful that they don't come off as old-time marketers.

Missed part of my sentence...

*What I don't like is that it's not explicitly stated that she is a character.

This is a great discussion. Exactly why the blog was created.

I've expanded on the conversation and asked some of the best social media experts to weigh in. Come see what they have to say.

http://tinyurl.com/4umahc

Drew

I'll have to say I agree more with Andy and Drew. Having a fictional character ultimately breaks the authenticity that is closely woven into social media. It's about sharing and experiencing, not with a fake character, but with an authentic individual. That's what gives a company its face.

Lonely girl was great until people realized it was a total sham (they were lucky enough to have built up a readership in a very "show" like fashion to where the side effect was slighted). Flogs got their name due to similar attempts. And Disney is hardly comparable to what has been done here.

The biggest question that comes to mind for me is why not have the actual person, instead of that person playing a fictional character? Why not go for being as authentic as possible? Are they not trying to establish a relationship with their customers? Are they worried about what happens when that employee leaves (if so, they've got other issues to look at, it seems)?

The problem with starting off inauthentic is you've already breached trust. What happens if the company wants to try even more interesting things, like letting their customers explain their house or why they're selling it? Explain the components that have meaning (what room their kid grew up in, and how great it was, etc?). Would they have their fake character host it? Would the owner be OK with that? Starting off fake makes the real fun stuff, which usually means being authentic, a whole lot harder.

Poorly done. They missed the boat on how to utilize this new medium.

OK, we can continue to have cute little rhetorical arguments about what is acceptable, allowed, and authentic in the realm of social media, but I thought that was what this medium was supposed to cure: the "unapproachable web presence."

I decided to go right to the source and talked to Rachel Flint, director of marketing for Hubbell Realty. In an industry that is effectively in the toilet, she positively gushed about the results they are achieving. They are driving traffic and fielding more inquiries than about any other marketing campaign. The bottom line: IT'S WORKING.

In the Creativity for Business MBA class I teach, we talk about knowing the rules in order to be able to break them. Great jazz musicians do this, as do innovative chefs. What can't this apply to social media? No laws are being broken. Have we become so in love with ourselves that we're already creating sacred cows?

So you can have your arguments about what is allowed and what is acceptable... my focus, as always, will be to look at what is ACCOMPLISHED.

Tim,

You make a valid point. It was working for lonelygirl15 too until she was exposed too.

No one is being sanctimonious here. We're talking about the risks of not being honest.

All they would have to do is clearly disclose that Hailey isn't real and they'd be fine.

My point (I won't speak for the others) is that with some minor tweaks -- they could have gotten even better results and been authentic at the same time.

Hubbell has earned a reputation in this community. It's not worth risking that, when they could have the same results AND be forthright.

Since when is honesty a sacred cow?

Drew

Drew - they're not risking anything. As a matter of fact, there is a disclaimer on the page stating that Hailey Brownstone isn't real.

Because of Hailey, Hubbell is on target to have one of their best Decembers ever, and another community has asked Hubbell to create a Hailey for their community as well.

Does this sound like people getting upset over lack of authenticity or does it sound like Hubbell is getting innovative results?

My point is that we bloggers can sit and chat about it all we want and debate the finer points of social media etiquette... or we can actually TALK to the folks at Hubbell and ask them about results, pros and cons, lessons learned... and find out that this is truly working for them. And I say BRAVO! (And I'll wager a bet that other realty companies will follow suit in the very near future and won't do it nearly as well as Hubbell has... you have my permission to go pick on them.)

Just because lonely girl was a flop doesn't mean that all such efforts will be. (We seem to make that mistake a lot in today's society, and a lot of babies are thrown out with proverbial bathwater.)

Regardless, Todd Razor and the folks at Hubbell should be absolutely, positively cheesing right now that this blog post and their marketing efforts are generating this much discussion and buzz.

That, my friend, is what social media is all about.

Oh, and one other thought... for all of those who are having a conscience problem about creation of a fictional character that motivates people to communicate with them in the hopes of getting something in return... only to find out they aren't real

Maybe you should be telling your kids the truth about Santa Claus. (Talk about a marketing scheme... ho ho ho).

I have just posted a response to the comments posted here and on other blogs. Please see http://is.gd/czDT.

Hubbell Realty is doing the right thing by not ignoring new social marketing avenues. The way they are doing it, however, can easily appear deceptive, and when someone feels they have been duped, they quickly lose interest. No one is saying Hubbell had bad intentions, in fact, what they are doing is noble.
Jarad's post (http://is.gd/czDT) says their ads were multi-faceted and people were visiting the sites due to print or radio advertising, but this Business Record article admits the target audience is people who get their information online. "It’s “a promotional micro (Web) site,” Bernstein says, adding that the campaign to sell the brownstones is geared toward a target audience whose primary way of gathering information is online rather through print."
I also feel people do not clearly understand "Brownstone" is fictional. In Mr. Brenstein's words, "We purposefully made Hailey seem fictitious enough to avoid claims of deception, but real enough to connect with our potential buyers." This very issue of authenticity is where the online community differs in opinion, after all, Berstein claims that "Brownstone" has even been asked out on dates. Do people ask fictional characters on dates?

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