This week, to wrap-up my Social Media Marketing Expert Interview series I had the unique opportunity and great pleasure to ask a few questions of Bart Steiner the CEO & Founder of Bulbstorm.com. He’s an accomplished executive consultant and entrepreneur and most certainly a crowd favorite speaker at any Social Media related event.
Elise Redlin-Cook: When did you first realize the innate true power of social media as a marketing tool?
Bart Steiner: Prior to founding Bulbstorm, I ran a marketing strategy consultancy. This was in the late 90s. Here’s a secret: 99% of market research stinks. So, our consultancy specialized in helping companies find new ways to get answers from consumers.
One of our CPG clients asked us for help in developing a new product line. We decided to use this new thing called “the Internet” to ask consumers for their ideas and for feedback on those ideas. Unlike in a survey, we were able to observe how product ideas evolved and often improved under peer review. Ultimately, the community ensured that the best ideas rose to the top and the worst filtered to the bottom.
That’s when the magic happened. People got fired up. We got thousands of fans participating. And months after the event ended, we continued to get emails and calls from participants asking which idea won and where they could buy it. It was marketing gold! That was the eureka moment that led to Bulbstorm.
Elise: How and why did you get into the Facebook business?
Bart: You have to be willing to go to where the people are. You cannot count on them coming to you. We want to provide the platform of ideas wherever ideas strike – whether that’s in our own online community or in communities on social networks like Facebook.
In 2007, we launched Bulbstorm.com, a social community where people could share their ideas for products and businesses and solicit feedback from other community members. Bulbstorm.com has grown to surpass combined traffic figures for idea-sharing sites owned by Starbucks and Dell.
As Bulbstorm.com grew, we recognized that consumers were aggregating on Facebook – and that brands wanted to engage them there. So, we expanded our philosophy of ideas into Facebook applications that enable brands to engage fans around the fans’ ideas. Our flagship Idea Challenges application for Facebook provides a branded, game-like environment for the sharing and rating of those ideas.
Elise: Why are ideas so important from a marketing standpoint?
Bart: We’ve demonstrated that the best way to engage with your brand’s fans is to ask them for their ideas. As a consumer, I may not have a passion for laundry detergent. But I do have a passion for my ideas for how to improve laundry detergent, because they’re mine. And, when I share my ideas with a brand, I’m even more likely to invite my friends to participate, so they can support my ideas.
More and more brands are discovering this truth as well. We’re seeing a real surge in the number of brands that recognize the value of Facebook as a platform for harnessing the power of their fans’ ideas. When you meaningfully engage with a consumer on Facebook, you’re more likely to engage with hundreds of that consumer’s friends. And those friends are likely to have similar interests as the consumer, including higher affinity to the brand.
Plus, if an idea I helped form – either as the originator of the idea or as someone who voted or commented on that idea – reaches the market, I’m inclined to purchase it. Who wouldn’t want a built-in audience for a new product?
Elise: I absolutely agree! So, what is one of the biggest myths you’re seeing perpetuated about social media?
Bart: Wow. How much time do you have? We obviously specialize in Facebook promotions, so I’ll focus there. We see a lot of confusion in the market around Facebook’s promotions guidelines which were overhauled last winter. Many brands still think they’re allowed to run promotions using Facebook functionality such as posting photos or texts to the fan page’s wall. Other brands think they have to buy $10,000 in ads to get their promotion approved by Facebook.
But the No. 1 myth out there is that you have to either A) settle for limited functionality and an unbranded look from a promotions widget, or B) invest $100,000 and many months to develop a custom app. Promotions platforms like our Idea Challenges application give brands robust functionality without a heavy investment.
Elise: Great! Can you share some unique social promotions or contest ideas you’ve seen recently?
Bart: We believe our approach of focusing on fans’ ideas is truly unique. So, here’s how we helped Intel engage its fans around their ideas.
Intel sought to gather ideas for an upcoming phone product. The promotion attracted over 47,000 participants, who engaged in the experience for 7 minutes per visit. Fans submitted 5,200 ideas, which in turn drew 195,000 idea views, 108,000 ratings, and 8,100 comments. The fan who submitted the top idea – as selected by community voting and Intel’s judges – will actually visit Intel’s facilities to share her idea with Intel engineers. Here’s a case study on the Intel promotion.
Bart: Yes! This summer, we helped Ruiz Foods crowdsource the 2011 product line for the Tornados snack brand. The company had already identified flavor categories (such as breakfast and dessert) into which they wanted to expand. So, we used our Idea Challenges application to determine exactly what flavors Facebook fans wanted within those categories.
In just over a month, we received over 1,400 ideas for new flavors, plus 70,000 idea views, 48,000 idea ratings, and 5,000 idea comments. The top flavor submissions are working their way through the Ruiz Foods R&D kitchen right now. And, in early 2011, the flavors will actually be available in a frozen food aisle near you!
Elise: Where do you see Bulbstorm going in 2011?
Bart: For 2011, we’re really focused on the concept of providing the platform of ideas wherever ideas strike. We want to be there when the light bulb turns on – and it doesn’t always turn on when you’re browsing photos on Facebook.
What that means for us is expansion of the platform into new channels such as mobile devices and corporate web sites. But the philosophy will remain unchanged. It’s all about the ideas!
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