How to Win Fans and Influence People

It’s easy to create a brand page on Facebook. Making that page a meaningful part of your brand story is another matter altogether. These marketers spend most, if not all, of their working hours building fan followings on Facebook—planning, producing and posting content that people actually want to talk about and share with their friends. Fortunately they are big enough fans of Marketing that they were willing to share some advice from the Facebook trenches: what to post and when, how to balance promotion with conversation and the best way to deal with those nasty comments.


Dave Macnee
Cheryl Goymour
Mark Nicholson
Youri Hollier
Caitlin Madden
Sébastien Yaher
James Clarke


Nikisha Reyes-Grange, 34
Lifestyle marketing manager, Xbox Canada (Microsoft)

Education: Bachelor of Commerce, specializing in IT, Ryerson University

Did Xbox have a Facebook presence when you joined the company? Part of the reason I was hired [in August 2010] was to help expand our Facebook presence. When I started we had 1,000 Facebook fans and my mandate was to organically grow this to over 100,000 fans in about eight months with no ad spend. We saw Facebook as a great opportunity for us to broaden our reach and to make sure we were really engaging our fan base.

Number of fans today: 132,494. We’re starting to diversify a bit and discover who it is we’re engaging with and what content they want from us and how we can serve that up.

What is your Facebook strategy? At the beginning we had a lot of diagnostic content. We’d put something out that would appeal to folks who are really into watching TV and movies online and through our Xbox Live service, and tracking the results of those. We’d also post things that were shooter game-oriented around Call of Duty or Halo and seeing how those performed. Tracking the response helped us course-correct and figure out where that engagement was coming from. As much as I’d love to say I came in with this great strategy and a full content plan, there was still a lot of testing and refining, and we’re still doing that.

Rules to live by: Plan out the content. You won’t see a lot of reactive content from us. Also, good timing. Certainly we get a lot of traction in the afternoon and evening and even sometimes on the weekend. We probably post an average of three or four times a day. We don’t want to eat anyone’s news feed so we space those out yet hit those key times our target is online. Make sure it’s not all promotional. As communications professionals we’re really used to talking and putting things out there. You’ve got a lot of messages—launches coming up, retail offers and all sorts of promotional things. We make sure we balance that with fun contests so fans talk back and talk with us.

How does Facebook fit into the marketing mix? There’s definitely a strong CRM play to it both in terms of support and customer service but also letting the fan base know about new game add-ons or new content that’s available on Live. We don’t see it as an acquisition tool. I don’t think anyone who’s landing on the page or that “likes” the page is going to use it as part of their decision-making to buy an Xbox. With something like Xbox and all the offerings we have, it’s a really great way to tell [our] story and to help people understand more about our products.

Advice for other Facebook brand builders: Marketers need to be very clear as to what they see it as a channel for. Is it an acquisition channel? Is it a post-sales report? Is it CRM and ongoing community engagement? Once they figure that out, be really clear about it and start planning accordingly. However, many times the fan base can also help to determine that as well. Never be afraid to test things out and see how that fan base responds. We have to remain flexible but flexible within the bounds of what the overall goals are. A lot of people are being driven by [the idea that] ‘We have to be on Facebook’ or ‘We have to be in social,’ and those aren’t necessarily the right reasons.

Dave Macnee, 28
Communications officer, Camp Oochigeas (a camp for children with cancer)

Education: Bachelor of Commerce with a double concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship from McGill University.

Previous work experience: My previous job was at marketing communications agency Armstrong Partnership. I was on the account team. Never before had I been a coordinator or a facilitator on a Facebook page but I’ve worked with other companies in putting together a strategy and hiring a person for that position.

Did Camp Oochigeas have a Facebook presence when you joined? Ooch has been really lucky in that we had a fair amount of momentum when I started in October 2011. McLaren McCann built our new Camp Ooch page in early 2011. When I started we already had a pretty engaged community that was looking for updates from our page on a regular basis.

Number of fans when you joined the organization? 2,135

Number of fans today: 2,337

What is your Facebook strategy? Something that makes Camp Ooch a bit different and not-for-profit a bit different in the social media space is the engagement of our fans. In my previous job, when I was working on pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods, we would generally make a post for a brand every week because we wanted to be [mindful of] how many messages were going out. With Camp Ooch we have such a diverse audience and such a rich amount of content that we can make posts every day and our community is really interested in what we have to say.

How does Facebook fit into the marketing mix? We’ve been really intentional with our page distinguishing between “friendraising” and fundraising. We make sure that we’re not soliciting donations through our Facebook page. It’s really about awareness, letting people in the community know the types of things we’re doing from a program and fundraising standpoint.

Rules to live by: We have a Facebook Style Guide and we make sure we stick to those rules. Ooch shoots for an average of just less than one post per day. It’s also about our brand personality. Camp Ooch should be light-hearted and fun. We try to reflect that in the posts. With that said, we definitely use proper English. It’s tempting sometimes to use short forms and not worry about punctuation, especially when we’re responding to someone who has written something casual on our page.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: One of the first things I was able to help out with was putting together a content calendar, which I think is really important. Using Hootsuite to program Facebook posts has been nice when we want to be sure that it’s going up when we want it to. Videos and pictures get the most “likes,” so get some of that rich content if you can. But oftentimes more open-ended questions can get a better reach and be just as engaging.

Cheryl Goymour, 37
Manager, digital and traditional media channels, Holt Renfrew

Education: Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Toronto, MBA in marketing and strategic management from Schulich School of Business.

Previous work experience: Marketing manager at Workopolis.

Did Holt Renfrew have a Facebook page when you started with the company four years ago? I started the page. We launched in April 2009 and we have over 45,000 fans.

What is your Facebook strategy? We had a launch plan to quickly ramp up our fan base. We launched with what we called our “Contemporary Correspondent Challenge.” We were looking for a [fashion] blogger in each of our three major markets—Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. We narrowed it down to the top ones in each market and then we turned it over to our Facebook fan base to vote and select who the winners would be. Then, we had an ongoing contest through Facebook again to vote between the top two contestants in each city. In two months we ramped up our fan base to 15,000.

How do you keep fans engaged? We mix up the types of content we post. We have a variety of rich content from videos and photo albums and we do several contests throughout the year. We’re not always pushing product. We also ask our fan base a lot of questions and we find that those posts get the most interaction. For example, one post got over 250 comments and it was simply the question, “What is your favourite designer-bag brand?” We had a lot of response from our fans and it’s also great information we can share with our buying team.

Rules to live by: Limit the number of posts to not overwhelm the walls of our fans. We monitor the page very closely, particularly in the hours following a post because it’s open for comment. Users of social media like to interact within that channel and we need to respond to them within a matter of
minutes with any questions or
comments they may have.

How do you deal with negative comments? The only time we delete a post, as a rule, is if there’s profanity or slander. One thing we’ve learned when responding is not be defensive or try and sway their opinion because it can get into a back and forth. It’s really best to thank them for their feedback and acknowledge it.

Most memorable interaction: When Kate Middleton flew to Canada [last summer] she was wearing a navy Smythe blazer and it quickly spread through the blogosphere and social media that it was a Canadian brand and that it was carried at Holt Renfrew. We had posted a photo of her wearing the blazer on Facebook and immediately got inquiries from our fans about the availability of the blazer, the sizing and prices so we coordinated with stores to facilitate transactions for customers. They don’t want to pick up the phone and call the store; it’s convenient for them to do it right within Facebook.

Biggest surprise: How passionate Holt Renfrew fans are about the brand. I’m amazed we can get hundreds of comments on a simple wall post asking one question. They really want to tell us and have us hear what they have to say.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: It’s a balance between using the channel to sell and to provide value and informative content to fans. We all comment on the trends of the season, we’ll post exclusive designer interviews and behind-the-scenes content to inform and educate our fans as well as posting product. Fans can see right through if it’s trying to be too focused on selling.

Mark Nicholson, 35
Head of digital and interactive, ING Direct

Education: Marketing and communications, Brock University.

Facebook fans: 15,500

How has your role at ING Direct evolved since you started in 2005? I was asked to come into ING Direct to manage the website and the role kind of evolved into social. In 2007 we did a YouTube contest as our first foray into social to see if it was somewhere we could take our brand. We had a lot of success with that initiative so we did some video-based contests where people could submit videos showing the ways they save money and then the community could vote. We had over 200 videos submitted in five weeks and 5,000 hours watched. In 2008 we started laying the foundation for our Facebook page.

What is your Facebook strategy? It’s about value creation. We went in there trying to create content and conversations that added value for people. We launched our chequing account in 2010 and we leveraged social networks like Facebook to get feedback from consumers. We gave the product to 10,000 people and said ‘Take the chequing account out, use it and provide some feedback on how we can make it better before we take it to the masses.’ We had a very open dialogue on Facebook about it.

Rules to live by: I would say don’t be afraid to have a conversation there. For us, transparency is fundamental for banking because it builds trust. If you’re not willing to go in there and have an open dialogue about the negative aspects of your business, you should definitely not go there.

Biggest lesson learned: It’s not a numbers game. There are a lot of people who are driven to get a very large following, but I think there’s more value derived from a very engaged community. Our focus has been just that. It isn’t about having 100,000 inactive people. It’s about having a group of very active [customers].

When do you put Facebook to bed? It’s something we struggle with. We went into this as a 9-to-5 gig but obviously Canada is a very large country with different time zones, which presents a challenge. The core engagement happens between 8 a.m. and midnight, but we’re 24/7.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: It really is about having a strategy in place—being very clear in what your objectives are, what you’re trying to get out of it and what value you’re going to create for people because there’s no point in doing it if it’s all self-serving. You need to create value for consumers or else there just won’t be interaction or engagement.

Youri Hollier, 25
Social media manager, David’s Tea

Education: Bachelor of commerce, marketing from the John Molson School of Business at Concordia.

Previous work experience: I had a couple of summer jobs in marketing. I did market research for a charter airline out of Montreal but that was several summers ago. David’s Tea is my first real marketing job.

Number of Facebook fans when you joined the company: 4,000.

Number of Facebook fans today: 20,466.

What is your Facebook strategy? For me, it’s always been a very organic approach. Our core competency has always been customer service and I just wanted to extend that service to the web. So I’ve had an informal approach—very casual, very friendly and always there
to help.

Rules to live by: Be prompt in response. Be honest and open. Create fun and original content. Don’t use it only as a sales tool or people will lose interest.

How do you deal with negative comments? Anytime there’s criticism or a complaint I’ll answer as honestly and candidly as possible and follow up with our in-store team or any other department where the issue lies. Oftentimes when there’s negative criticism our fans will jump to our defense.

Biggest lesson learned: Honesty goes a far way. People like interacting with someone they can trust and I’ve always tried to use that approach in everything we do in social media. We’re not trying to hide anything. We always want customers to get the best service possible. The more honest you are with them, the better they’ll interact with you and the deeper the relationship will grow.

When do you put Facebook to bed? When I sleep at night. I’m on it all the time. I have my phone with me 24/7. I bring my computer home with me every day. It’s really never-ending. Unless I’m sleeping, I’m on Facebook.

Example of a recent Facebook campaign: During the holidays we had a poetry contest around our Tea for the Tree three-pack of Christmas tree ornaments. We asked people to write a poem about it and the results were amazing. We got 60 entries in a week. We’re always trying to be fun with our contests, promotions and campaigns.

How do you measure the success of a campaign? Facebook has some really good metrics that allow you to pretty much gauge every post, picture, link, video, etc. But at the end of any campaign I’ll do a follow-up, and go over some things I noted during a contest, for example.

How does Facebook fit within the company’s marketing mix? First and foremost I think of it as customer service. It’s a place where people can get information about our products and ask questions and always rely on a response. It’s a place where other people can interact with fans and trade tips and get a perspective from other David’s Tea advocates. It’s a promotional tool, too. It’s a great place for us to feature our new products and showcase new promotions.

Caitlin Madden, 26
Social media coordinator, Mabel’s Labels

Education: Business marketing, Mohawk College.

Previous work experience: I worked in production at Mabel’s Labels for a couple of months right after college and then I became a marketing assistant. As the company grew, my role changed into what it is today.

Was a social media strategy in place when you started your job? I took it on when I became the marketing assistant. We did have our blog at that time, as well as a presence on Facebook, but we didn’t have an official fan page. We were getting our toes into everything and figuring out how it all works. The company realized that it really is an important marketing tool for us and decided to invest more and more time into it.

Number of Facebook fans: 35,300

What is your Facebook strategy? We applied a lot of the same principles we were using offline with word of mouth and transferred those to Facebook. We were creating discussions around parenting topics and that just naturally grew the page.

Rules to live by: For me, having a direct line to the people in the company who have answers is important. Our customer service team is right on board with everything we do in the social space. They know when they see an e-mail from me with a question from a customer it’s a priority, and they will answer me ASAP. It’s better to post the correct answer than post a response right away and then have to go back on your word.

When do you put Facebook to bed? It’s a 9-to-5 job for me, but I can’t help but check in. It is a very close thing to me and I like to make sure that if a question does come up to make sure that we’re aware of it. And if I’m not watching things then our co-founder, Tricia Mumby, is. We are always keeping an eye on it, even after five o’clock.

Biggest lesson learned: Don’t ever remove a negative comment. If you do so, people are going to feel they’re only being listened to when they’re giving positive feedback. If Facebook is the platform a customer chooses to get in touch with us regarding an issue, then that’s where I want to make it right. I think too many companies are too quick to take it offline when something negative is posted. I try to do as much as I can to keep the conversation going online to show that we can turn things around, and that often leads to that customer becoming a huge advocate for our brand.

How does Facebook fit into the company’s marketing mix? We use it to get feedback if we’re coming out with new designs or new products. What new designs do they want to see from us? What new label combination would they love? I take all that feedback and it goes straight to our product development team. We have found when we produce new products based on consumer feedback they become extremely successful.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: Be prepared for it to be part of someone’s daily duties and that person needs to have a passion for the company and understand the community they’re talking to.

Sébastien Yaher, 30
Interactive marketing advisor, Jacob

Education: I studied communication and digital interactive media in Paris. I worked for a year and a half then I got my Masters in project management and also in digital media, from Gobelins.

Previous work experience: I spent most of my career in agencies. The past three years I was working at Sid Lee. I started at Jacob in March 2011.

Did Jacob have a Facebook presence when you joined the company? Yes, they did have a Facebook page that was doing quite well. They were already a leader in social media for the retail and fashion brands in Canada. But there was nobody dedicated to it so there was no long-term strategy or a lot of resources to manage the page.

Number of fans when you started: 58,000

Number of fans today: 80,600

What is your Facebook strategy? The acquisition strategy wasn’t really the focus for me. When I came in, there was already a significant number of fans. I was more into growing the bond that we have with the fans than growing the number itself. So we put together a complete plan and some mini-incentives to keep people attached to the brand and become ambassadors.

Can you provide examples of these mini-incentives? We usually post three to five times a week to keep the brand top of mind with people. We know that if the brand is in mind, fans will be more likely to go in-store. We try to put more and more visual content. So we’ll post a photo with three nail polishes and ask people to pick the one they like or tag themselves in the photo or comment on the photo. These initiatives encourage engagement because when people “like” a photo or comment on a photo, it goes in their news feed and their friends will see it so it’s very viral and we get a lot of visibility.

How do you deal with negative comments? We have a sequence to respond to comments. We reply to the bad comments first, and then the good comments, and then we respond to comments that are not in reply to a post. We leave the bad comments [on the wall] because usually when people spread their opinions, they’re respectful and they have good arguments. It’s always good to have discussion about the brand because you attract people who will take to your defense. In the end I’m pretty proud to say that within the last 10 months of being here we have never had a crisis around a comment. We had a picture of a model who was in great shape… but some people thought she was really skinny and some thought she was really athletic. In the end it ended up being a good conversation about the brand and its values.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: It’s really important to keep the message specific to the Facebook fan base. Most of the time, people tend to replicate the same message on Facebook, Twitter, the website or whatever media they have. It’s not good. People who are fans also usually subscribe to the newsletter and maybe are really aware of what the brand does on all the media. At Jacob, we don’t have short-term business objectives for the page. It’s one media among the others. Considering it like that doesn’t put too much pressure on having short-term results. It’s always a centre of investment. It’s never a centre of profit.

James Clarke, 28
Digital marketing manager, Maple Leaf Foods

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration with a marketing specialization and a psychology degree from Wilfrid
Laurier University.

Previous work experience: I was a direct hire right out of university.

Which Maple Leaf brand has the biggest Facebook following? Dempster’s. It has 100,081 fans.

What is your Facebook strategy? It’s really centered around this whole idea of building out a new communications channel to help support all of the brands. So social media and Facebook in particular is one piece of that integrated strategy. While we’re trying to build a database of e-mail subscribers, for example, we’re also trying to build this community on Facebook because it’s another owned communications channel that we can leverage at a very low cost on behalf of the brands to reach their target consumer.

Rules to live by: Don’t be afraid to get personal. Facebook works best when you don’t overlook the human element to it. So we do our best in all of our communications to acknowledge fans by name and one thing that I think sets our moderation apart from a lot of other companies is we always co-tag our responses to consumers by signing off our first names. If you add a bit of personality to it and your voice is neighbourly and you use colloquialisms, it goes a long way in helping humanize your brand.

How do you handle negative comments? Respond publicly in cases where a public solution or response will benefit other fans. But if it involves personal information or requires an in-depth response, we might encourage them to give us a call and transfer them over to another channel just because you’re limited in social media with the depth of the response that you can provide.

Advice for other Facebook marketers: Before your company or brand gets involved in Facebook, make sure you have a written set of rules and procedures. I think a lot of other brands and companies have taken the step of launching a Facebook page, perhaps under direction of their agencies, without having done the due diligence internally and that’s where you’re opening yourself up to risk. There’s no substitute for a great Facebook moderation guide or training manual. That will help you make sure that all parties involved in overseeing the community are fully trained and everyone’s working from the same page.

Biggest surprise: For me, one of the biggest surprises is how impactful a social campaign can be in the absence of paid media. We’ve launched a number of campaigns where we haven’t had any kind of budget for paid media and because the insight was correct in terms of what motivates engagement, we saw phenomenal results. For example, we launched a campaign for Olivieri that resulted in 100,000 visits to the Facebook page in a 24-hour period with zero paid media. I always had the perception that no matter what you did, it always had to be supported with paid media and it’s just not the case.

Examples of campaigns you’ve run: I really liked the Maple Leaf Top Dogs promotion that cumulated with a live event at Buskerfest. Then, taking all that wonderful stuff that’s happening in person—photographs from the event, video, the winning recipes—and distributing that content through Facebook and getting people talking about the photos from the event and talking about the recipes.

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