Within 50 years of the invention of the printing press, over 20 million books had been produced. While a few authorities used some of those books to burn heretics, it was not before the availability of printed material helped to overthrow established religions and political centers throughout Europe. Five centuries later, it could be argued that in blogging, the power of publishing and authoring content has been made ubiquitous.
Today, many brand managers endeavor to harness some of that energy to better connect with ardent fans and bloggers. One of the most notable and successful programs has been that of the consumer electronics brand Sony. In the Sony Club, the company selects a group of established bloggers each year to participate. Callan Green, Senior Social Media Specialist at Sony Electronics, describes the program as both an influencer and brand ambassador program: "We're looking for top-tier influencers who have a natural affinity for the brand, and building the program off that."
The bloggers aren't paid, but they are provided with travel expenses and a full suite of Sony products. The concept of payment was considered. Green explained, "We had bloggers turn us down, saying, 'We don't do this type of program without being paid.' But we were really looking for people who were so excited about working with Sony that they were 'of course, that sounds awesome' - because we felt the content we'd get from those people would be more genuine than from someone who felt that they needed to be paid."
Green also said that she doesn't think there's anything inherently wrong with a paid program; it just wasn't the direction that they chose.
The eleven 2013 alumni themselves make up a fairly eclectic bunch, and are by no means simply a bunch of "gear heads." If any one of the group could be called that, it would be Frederick Van Johnson. Even the wildly talented New York City photographer Vivienne Gucwa, like most photographers, shows a keen interest in the equipment side.
When reading the various blog posts about the initial three-day gathering in San Diego, I was struck by how much the trip meant to the participants, not simply as a travel opportunity, but as a chance to socialize and get to know one another. Green confides that this wasn't by accident. "One of our goals with the program to make it different than some of the other influencer programs out there is we really wanted this group to feel cohesive and have them get along with one another. We know that kind of momentum ultimately impacts the results."
How will success be measured? Both impressions and links to actual sales have been relevant to the program, but much of the success has been anecdotal from the bloggers themselves sharing emails or pictures of their friends buying Sony products. Green sees this year as having established benchmarks. She explains, "We'll take a look at what worked, what didn't, where the strengths and weaknesses are, and what kind of products we'll do next year."
The task of choosing the bloggers was an intensive process that spanned many months. Green tells me that the team spent a great deal of time not only looking at how influential their potential bloggers were, but how interesting their content was. "Ultimately, we wanted something that was interesting, and not just another cookie-cutter review. There are some bloggers that will write about anything you give them; and they will write about it openly and honestly. We were looking for bloggers who were very picky about what they reviewed and what they shared with their audience."
The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.