Interview with Katie Sobel, Plum Organics on Social Engagement and Advocacy
ReadyPulse Presents: Thought Leadership Series on Social Engagement and Advocacy
Katie Sobel, Director of Marketing Communications, Plum Organics, spoke to Rachel Carson, Customer Success Manager, ReadyPulse, on November 16, 2012.
Third party studies have found that brands have about an average engagement rate on Facebook of around 1%. We don’t necessarily think that this tells you a lot – so to have some context for this, we have been tracking and indexing social data for over 400 online retailers, measuring both their number of engaged fans as well as positive expressions and testimonials from those fans. We’ve found that ReadyPulse customers average 5x the level of engagement than average, and have found that there are plenty of other brands who are really killin’ it on social. We’ve spent a lot of time with clients who are super successful in social, but we wanted to reach out to successful non-clients to share their story – Plum Organics is one of these brands in the top 1%. I interviewed Katie Sobel, the Director of Marketing Communications for Plum Organics, to hear more about their social success.
Rachel: Are you solely responsible for social media? Or do you work with a team?
Katie: I oversee social media, but we do have a full-time community manager. However, when we started on Facebook in 2008, it was just me. Given the role of social media, there is also a lot of synergy between our community and PR teams. We also work with an agency when we run any big social media campaigns.
Rachel: Have you had any experience with social media in the past?
Katie: I’ve been at Plum Organics long enough to whdere social media wasn’t really a part of the equation before I started here; so while I had been using Facebook, MySpace (and even Friendster) personally, this was my first time taking on social media for a brand. We were early adopters of social, so it’s been really interesting to see how much the space has changed from when we first created our Facebook account in 2008 and Twitter account in 2009. We’ve been growing our social communities for over 4 years, so it’s been really exciting to see such tremendous success.
Rachel: Can you tell me a little bit about your social media philosophy? Your personal philosophy? Your brand philosophy?
Katie: What’s been rewarding is that I think my personal philosophy has helped to inform our brand philosophy. Generally the way we look at it is that moms are not of singular interest – they have a desire to talk about multiple things, just like anyone else.. In our case, babies and baby food isn’t the only way to connect to our core audience. It’s definitely a good majority of what we talk about, but we’re a lifestyle brand, so it’s really about finding a balance. I’m not a mom, but I’m the age of a lot of our consumers…so what registers for me as a modern woman often times resonates with our core audience. We also take a real humanistic approach and try to avoid gratuitous self-promotion. At the end of the day, we see Facebook as an invitation into someone’s personal space – it’s an environment that we share. As with any shared space, social etiquette matters and you should use your social intelligence wisely. We look to our consumers to help us understand what information is valuable to them and then build some of our content around those needs.
Rachel: You guys have a 66.7% engagement rate, which is really outstanding. If you had to pick one reason as to why that is, what would it be?
Katie: We’ve been able to identify what really resonates with our fans. We mix a whole lot of humor and honesty into relatable topics. We are constantly thinking of new ways to recruit, reward and delight our communities, and we ask for a lot of feedback. Our moms know that they are talking to real people who care about the brand and who care about them.
Rachel: Given that Plum Organics has such a high engagement rate, why do you think that the average engagement rate is about 1%?
Katie: I struggle with this question because I appreciate what so many brands are doing in social media regardless of their engagement rate. And it does seem that now more than ever, brands are really starting to get it right. Generally though, I think the low engagement may just be a misunderstanding of the space and potentially of their consumer. There’s a difference between saying what you want to say, and saying what your audience wants to hear. It’s tough for a brand because you don’t want to lose your identity, but you have to find a way to tap into what your audience is attracted to. For us, it’s been somewhat easier given the fact that we’re trying to attract a new and modern parent who is digitally savvy, so she’s already really open to participating in the social discussion.
Rachel: In your opinion, what has been your most successful social post or campaign that you’ve done?
Katie: In terms of dollars and resources, we’ve put the most focus on Facebook. There have been a lot of successful posts! We had one a few weeks ago where the “likes” doubled the fan base count. One of our strongest campaigns was last spring, and it focused on celebrating the wonderful culinary aspects of our brand. We found that many of our consumers were using our organic baby food pouch products in their recipes and sharing photos and information about them on our Facebook page. We also knew how popular food photo sharing had become and how highly searched recipes are online. The campaign involved promoting different recipes (featuring our products) that had been created by an influential network of mom food-bloggers. We featured a different blogger every day for a few weeks with their original recipe. We posted the recipes in an app we called “Little Foodies Cookbox.” You could visit the app, read about the recipe and email/print yourself a shopping list. Simultaneously, all of the bloggers involved in the program were also posting, tweeting and sharing the content. The 4-week campaign brought us over 900% increase in fans and a 500% increase in engagement.
Rachel: Do you ever get to meet your Facebook fans?
Katie: We do dozens of grassroots and field events nationwide all year long. On any given weekend you’ll see our Plum team out and about handing out samples on the streets of San Francisco and in New York City. Through our national partnership with fitness franchise, Stroller Strides, we’re reaching even more moms every week in other markets all across the country. We promote our social communities on all of our marketing collateral, and believe that much of our online following has developed out of 1:1 conversations we’re actually having in the “real world.” We’ve definitely brought many more people into our social communities than we’d ever be able to meet in person. However, the conversations we are having online each day are so personal. When a mom decides to go out of her way to post a picture of her baby’s first bite of food, a huge milestone for any family, and it’s with your product; you can’t help but feel a much closer connection.
Rachel: Marketing by nature is metrics and ROI driven – what type of metrics guide you? Thoughts around ROI? What are your metrics of success? How do you define success?
Katie: There’s definitely no shortage of qualitative metrics in this space! But we are marketers, so ROI is always important. We look at all of the traditional analytics (particularly web traffic) that are available to us and build campaigns that have clear CTA’s that drive our consumers into stores to purchase our products. We’re still a young brand so it’s still largely about building that brand awareness and defining a distinctive POV in the market. We feel really good on the return from the work that we’ve been doing.
Rachel: What’s your content strategy? Is there a long-term plan? Is more day to day?
Katie: I believe it’s all about a balance. We have long-terms plans, but in this space you need to be nimble and opportunistic. At times we’re filling in our content calendar like a live new organization, or daily talk show might. While we’re not a major media platform, we still take it very seriously. I think you need to build in some flexibility to the schedule and balance that with the long-term goals of the organization.. But yes, we’re not overly scripted.
Rachel: How do you monitor competition?
Katie: We use all of the brilliant suites of monitoring services that are available and aren’t cost prohibitive. We’re also deeply engaged in the space so we’re always aware of what’s going on with other brands. Then of course we look at the data, and when you look at the data, we’re winning.
Rachel: In addition to Facebook and Twitter, is there a social network that you see as a growing importance for 2013?
Katie: Yes, for sure. YouTube is definitely at the top of my list. We’ve also been extremely successful on Twitter (Plum Organics is the #1 baby food brand with about 90k followers), so we intend deepen and drive the growth in that space. As a lifestyle brand, photo sharing is another tremendous part of how we express ourselves – so Pinterest has been a real gem (we’re addicted!). Seems like we have our hands full! I’m just excited to continue to evolve the strategies and stay ahead of the curve.
Rachel: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the social space?
Katie: If you’re not clear on how to use the various platform, then you should get personally involved with the space. . If you’re not personally involved, you can’t inherently see the value, no matter how many articles you read on the topic. If you’re not a digital person, I can see how it would be overwhelming, so I recommend picking one platform and getting involved. Follow all of the brands you love and you will quickly see which ones are doing it right and which ones are doing it wrong. You’ll find out which brands you begin to feel compelled to engage with and figure out what they’re doing to make you feel that way. And you have to know what tickles your audience & really understand what gets your consumer excited. In social media, there’s just so much opportunity to build your brand through WOM; I think it’s a tremendous miss not to at least dip your toes in!