© 2013 Photography by Mark Whitehead

Building ‘natural’ buzz with moms

Social Nature taps the power of online reviews from friends

A Vancouver-based startup is helping brands promote their products the natural way: through word-of-mouth.

Social Nature is an online community of more than 100,000 green-minded consumers in Canada and the U.S., with millennial moms 25-34 being the most active users. Members get invited to try natural or organic products—including food, skincare, household and baby products—in exchange for writing a review on the website.

Social Nature works with brands to develop a plan, including their ideal customer and targeted geographic region. It then sends samples or vouchers to members who are the right match for the product, based on comprehensive data. Social Nature has 50 data points on each member, ranging from dietary preferences and shopping habits, to whether they’re a mom and their kids’ ages.

“For brands, [the targeting] is ideal because they’re not wasting the product samples on just anyone,” said founder and CEO Annalea Krebs, who started the company in 2014. “They’re only giving them to a very targeted consumer who tries the product and writes a review online. If they loved it, they’ll share that review, or a picture, or a tweet on social media, spreading the word to their friends.”

For young moms in particular, there’s no better product endorsement than a recommendation from a friend. According to Mintel’s Social Media Trends Canada 2015 report, millennial women (41%) and mothers with children at home (38%) are most likely to get reviews from friends and peers before buying. In addition, 59% of Canadian moms engage in product discovery and/or purchase-related actions on social media sites compared to 48% of consumers overall.

“It’s important for them to have some kind of social reinforcement when making a purchasing decision, whether it’s a friend online, a blogger they respect and follow, or through their own Google research,” said Krebs. “For brands, it’s becoming really important to be in those three channels in an authentic way. And how do you do that? You get their friends—people they trust—talking about products they approve of.”

And Social Nature reviewers aren’t just in it for the free quinoa and kale chips. Krebs said most members write reviews because it reinforces their personal brand.

“It’s about being a mom who’s trying to make the right decisions and is looking for healthy, better-for-you choices,” she said. “When she comes across a choice that matches her personal values and her personal brand, she genuinely wants to share that with her friends. It comes from a place of helpfulness, and feeling good about the choices you’re making and wanting to be public about those.”

Krebs said she is in favour of new Advertising Standards Canada guidelines that require full disclosure of any paid endorsements or mentions of products and services by bloggers and social media influencers. “It’s definitely a sign greater transparency is needed – and coming – where influencer marketing is concerned,” she said.

She noted that Social Nature members aren’t paid to write reviews, and the company doesn’t proactively solicit bloggers or social media stars. “Our influencers come to us, as they are genuinely interested in natural products for their lifestyle,” she said.

For its U.S. campaigns, Social Nature requires members to disclose they received the product for free. Krebs said the company will ask its Canadian reviewers to mention they received the product for free, and it could be something as simple as adding #gotitfree. “[The new guidelines] won’t impact us much, however, it’s good for the industry overall,” said Krebs.

More than half of Social Nature’s user base will share their review on an average of two social media channels, reaching about 750 people in their network. The company tracks a variety of metrics, including the number of people the product reached, brand awareness and purchase intent. Social Nature recently launched a new real-time analytics dashboard that shows social engagement metrics.

Social Nature is also helping to bridge the gap between digital and brick-and-mortar. About half of the brands Social Nature works with now choose to send vouchers instead of product samples, as a way to drive people into physical stores. For example, this past spring, Social Nature sent 2,000 millennial moms a coupon for a free Heritage Foods product at a Sprouts store near them. To drive repeat sales, it followed up with a $1 off coupon, which produced a redemption rate 15 times higher than the industry standard.

Brands that go the voucher route “are getting this social awareness lift, which they value, but they’re also getting the ROI at the brick-and-mortar level,” said Krebs. “Brands know they need to play in the digital space to engage that younger generation, and especially that millennial mom, but at the end of day, they need to drive sales.”

Krebs added that even though it’s technically more expensive for brands because they’re giving away a full-size product rather than a sample, “they see the value of that because the person will come back to the store to repeat purchase.”

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