Q&A with John Eaton of the Mondelez Engagement Lab (Oreo, Trident, Wheat Thins, Nilla)

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Wondering how major brands such as Wheat Thins, Nilla Wafers, Oreo and Sour Patch Kids are finding success on Facebook? It’s all about smart, flexible, responsive marketing. These brands are all managed under the umbrella of Mondelez International, which also has Chips Ahoy, Ritz, Nabisco, Trident, Toblerone, Cadbury and many other delicious products in its family.

For these brands, Facebook marketing goals are two-fold: appease current fans and brand advocates, while trying to convince others to give the products a try.

How do they do it? Inside Facebook recently sat down at the Expion Social Business Summit with John Eaton, a contractor for the Mondelez Engagement Lab, which develops real-time marketing efforts for the aforementioned brands.

Inside Facebook: What are some unique ways that the companies use Facebook or Instagram to really connect with their fans and customers?

John Eaton: One of the things that every company gets is the importance of understanding the target audience and resonating with the target audience. From Oreo, with their beautiful content that gets published everyday, to Trident and the show with Fuse (Trending 10), a really groundbreaking show, where they get the trending topics from Twitter in the morning, and write the show around those trending topics. It’s super cool.

Or Nilla Wafers, which is having enormous success on Facebook. I would venture to say that Nilla Wafers may be the highest-performing brand in our space … in terms of the percentage of the Facebook audience that’s active, in terms of Facebook engagement.

IF: What does Nilla Wafers do?

JE: Well, their content strategy is iterative and agile. Their content strategy involves daily test and learn, and when they find something that really works  they double down behind that.

It’s finding what really resonates with the audience. The days of “I’ve got the big creative idea and I’m gonna take 6 months to develop it and then we’re going to put out this beautiful TV commercial,” are not really what’s in the future for social. Instead of spending $500,000 on one creative idea, they’ll do 10 ideas at $50,000 a pop. This spend, of course, not related to any real numbers at our company. That allows you to understand what’s really working with your audience and then get behind that with any sort of support that you want.

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IF: Especially now. With brands, you can’t really plan ahead as much. I know Oreo does a lot of reactive stuff. They were big with the Super Bowl. What is the strategy taken when something happens and they need to post to Facebook? How does it get from A to B?

JE:  In terms of real-time marketing or a publishing strategy, the crucial thing is to find a cost-effective newsroom solution. You have to find a cost-effective way to have a newsroom. That’s the bottom line. You have to have a way to do that and have a process. This is something that we’re working on, and I think a lot of brands are trying to figure out how to do this.

You can’t just hire a staff and have an editorial staff like a magazine. But can you draw out a process for the existing staff? Community managers, marketers … can you get a process whereby they can discover and respond to you — with an approval step in the middle there — within a matter of hours?

IF: What has been the biggest challenge that one of these brands has faced, and how did you overcome it?

JE: I’ll go back to Nilla. Nilla started with their social presence sort of on auto-pilot, and they made a commitment to turn that around. They upped their game in their content strategy, they did iterative listening and testing. The other important thing that they did is they identified who their key community members are, identified influencers and advocates, then really addressed key members of the community with relevant content.

There’s something else that’s super important here: they had an aggressive dialogue strategy. They answered more than 60 percent — more than half — of the consumer comments. It’s impossible with Oreo, because there’s 34 million people, but if you have a smaller community (it’s possible). It had an enormous impact.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.46.58 PMIF: More brands are starting to come around to that. If you have a Facebook page, you need to be a part of the conversation. Can you tell me more about the importance of brands taking a more active role and not just pushing out content?

JE: The first thing it does is it makes your Facebook community far more valuable. It just immediately increases value. If you want to think about how the simple mechanics work — if more people on your Facebook page, more consumers, are passive likes, your page doesn’t have much value. But if they are active and you have a dialogue with them, then all of a sudden, they’re valuable.

Facebook, at the end of the day for brands, is a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. It’s a way for brands to manage their consumer relationships. If I have a bunch of people who liked my page and left, I’m not managing those relationships, so they’re not very valuable to me. But if instead of 2 percent, if 10, 15, 20 percent of them are active and have a dialogue, then obviously that community is more valuable.

The percentage of people that are active and engaged is a crucial KPI (key performance indictor).

IF: You have a unique situation, where if someone likes Sour Patch Kids on Facebook or if they like Oreo on Facebook, odds are great that they’re already consuming the product. With most pages, it’s someone they’re trying to convert. How do you manage the page knowing you already have some dedicated customers already on the page?

JE: Well we are trying to grow, and a lot of that is prospecting and converting, but what you’ve got is a built-in base of existing advocates. Then your challenge is, how do I make these advocates happy, how do I provide utility or entertainment? I’ve already got an existing base of advocates — they’ve told me they’re interested and they’ve raised their hand.

The challenge is, how do we make their lives better and let them know we’re listening? That’s engagement.

IF: What do you do for super fans or people you notice are really engaged?

JE: One of the tactics that we’ve found works, and we do this with most of our brands and a couple of our agencies do this really well, is surprise and delight. You want to make sure that you’re identifying your really stand-out advocates and at random times, when you feel like, surprise and delight those advocates. Send them some product. Say something nice about them and call them out on the page.

That’s something that’s not really scalable, but it has a lot of impact on the community. That requires having good tools that help you know who the important advocates are — the ones who actually are going to drive your brand message in their networks.

Being able to identify the right advocates and then surprise and delight is a first step. Now take a step back to a slightly more scaleable approach, and make a list of who are my top 5,000. Let’s focus on them and do a little analysis and understand them a little better and help that guide our content strategy, or media targeting.

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IF: What are some interesting things you’ve learned from studying these brand advocates?

JE: They move the needle.  You have to keep publishing through Facebook and Twitter as you always have, but you are going to see big results if you also focus on your brand advocates, and influential advocates.  The thing about Nilla that we found through test and learn and analysis was, the audience on Facebook really responded to this concept of sassy moms — independent, strong women. We tried content that was steered at that demographic, they responded really well. So we doubled down on that.  And we got much higher return for every dollar spent, in both media and resources.

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