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Direct Response Marketing

Social Spotlight: Follow The Leader

1 Aug, 2011 By: Nicole Urso Reed Response

Why the biggest brands want to be liked, followed and surrounded by friends.

Social MediaSocial media can be used for a variety of marketing purposes. It can be a frontline of customer service, and for some businesses, it can serve as a direct sales channel. What makes it unique and highly valuable to brands is that unlike other advertising mediums, marketing is largely driven by recommendations from friends. A product or referral is shared from one person to hundreds and spreads exponentially with little to no effort from the original sharer.

According to a poll conducted by Effie Worldwide and Mashable, 70 percent of marketers and ad agency executives at companies, including Bank of America and Mini USA, planned to increase social media budgets by more than 10 percent this year. Their primary goal of social media spending was to get more Facebook “Likes.” Their secondary goal was to increase their mobile presence.

There are more than 750 million active monthly users on Facebook and the numbers continue to climb. Twitter does not disclose the number of active monthly users, but it does have more than 165 million accounts and claims that there are more than 200 million tweets per day.

“For perspective,” according to the official Twitter blog, “every day, the world writes the equivalent of a 10 million-page book in Tweets — or 8,163 copies of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace.’ Reading this much text would take more than 31 years and stacking this many copies of ‘War and Peace’ would reach the height of about 1,470 feet, nearly the ground-to-roof height of Taiwan’s Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.”

Joining The Party

Social marketing is typically centered on two goals: increasing Facebook “Likes” and acquiring more Twitter followers. It’s become standard to include these two calls to action at the footer of a website or in a weekly newsletter. However, it’s important to note that the industry is new and quickly evolving.

There are a variety of startup companies exploring new ways of bringing people together around common interests, such as music, shopping or discounts. MySpace, which was purchased by Specific Media in June for $35 million, is looking to Justin Timberlake to engineer the ultimate comeback. And Google, Facebook’s biggest threat, has explored several attempts at social media with products like Buzz, Wave, the Google +1 button in search, and most recently Google+, a new social network where users can organize their friends, acquaintances, family and co-workers into various social circles. Unlike Facebook, users can also “hang out” and chat or watch videos together in a real-time virtual environment.

Amongst all of that chatter, brands want to know when their names are mentioned, and they want to be liked — literally. They want their fans to click the Facebook “Like” button and promote them to their networks. Being “Liked” on Facebook is like being invited into a private party to engage in conversation and to peek at the lifestyle and interests of the host. It’s then up to the brand to be a gracious guest, to be interesting, informative, courteous and non-intrusive, or the host will quickly revoke the invite.

Striking this delicate balance with Facebook and Twitter fans and followers is unique to each brand, which is why social media marketing may seem opaque and too unpredictable for direct response marketers who focus on media efficiency ratios and measurable return on investment. However, for businesses that value audience engagement and that want to develop a product into a brand, social media has been proven as an effective channel in the world of DRTV.

It was the driving force behind the popularity and success of the Snuggie, the blanket with sleeves, which has sold more than 30 million units. The original As Seen On TV product, which launched in 2008, evolved from four basic colors into a variety of themes and patterns. Today, there are MicroPlush and Sherpa Snuggies. There are waterproof ones, sizes made for kids and dogs, and Snuggie slippers. It’s a major consumer retail brand with most sales coming from a traditional retail outlet.

Social media was a key to its success and the company continues to invest in it as part of a brand-building strategy. Snuggie has more than 287,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page ( and more than 1,300 Twitter followers.

“We feel that it’s important for the brand manager to be assigned to every aspect of the brand,” says Scott Boilen, president of Allstar Marketing, which owns Snuggie and other DRTV brands including TopsyTurvy and Bendaroos. “They speak for the brand, understand how to communicate to the consumer, and interpret back the communication. We also utilize social media for consumer feedback and we use (that information) to drive product development and our consumer communication campaigns.”

Timing was an important part of Boilen’s social media success. Snuggie debuted as Facebook was proving to be a serious marketing platform with product launches including Facebook Ads and Facebook Connect. Then in 2009, the “Like” button was introduced.

“Facebook was evolving as a consumer product platform as the Snuggie brand launched,” says Boilen. “We had so much fan engagement, so for us, it was about harnessing that activity and first understanding why consumers were drawn to Facebook and what they were saying.”

Making Friends

Humor is the common bond among Snuggie fans. When people made parodies of the original commercials, Boilen fueled more of the same audience engagement by posting the commercials on YouTube, creating a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and by eventually building out a fan forum at Today, users can participate in amateur video contests, submit songs, poems and photos of their pets in Snuggies, and much more.

Similarly, fans of the upside down planter share gardening photos and success stories on the TopsyTurvy Facebook page (

“Snuggie is a fun brand and it appeals to the younger demographic who utilize social media platforms, so Snuggie is a perfect fit,” says Boilen. “TopsyTurvy has a core group of gardeners, and the aspect of pride and learning are important to them.”


Social media is a key to the Snuggie brand’s success, with its Facebook fan page boasting more than 287,000 “Likes” and its Twitter profile netting more than 1,300 followers.

As Snuggie heads into its third holiday season, Boilen says that the new campaigns will be “reality-based” instead of using parodies.

“We think that we will sell just as many Snuggie blankets this year as we did last year,” he says. “The business has leveled off and it’s our goal to sustain the Snuggie business with new products and new, innovative marketing strategies.”

Beachbody is another traditional direct response brand that has built a powerful social media presence. It unites people around the interest of healthy living and physical fitness. Beachbody has about 130,000 Facebook fans and about 22,000 Twitter followers. Under the single Beachbody brand, it promotes several of its products including P90X, Shakeology, Insanity, Hip Hop Abs and Brazil Butt Lift.

There’s a designated section on Beachbody’s Facebook page for the “online store,” where people can view top selling products and click through to their respective websites to learn more and shop. The user experience is only partially about discovering products. Beachbody uses social media as a forum to ask questions, give advice and share everything from inspiration to recipes.

A recent Facebook post gave a tip on how to reduce fat in recipes: “Try dairy substitutes instead of milk-based products in your favorite recipes. Your dishes will turn out fine, and as an added bonus, you’ll reduce the fat and cholesterol content.”

Another post on July 2 simply stated: “Happy Birthday Tony Horton!!” Horton is the creator and trainer of P90X, the at-home fitness DVD program that has sold more than 3 million copies. That individual post received 992 “Likes” and 195 comments. Horton also has his own Facebook page with about 141,000 fans.

Caring About Sharing

Recognizing the power of personal recommendations, Beachbody launched a direct sales initiative called Team Beachbody in which people earn a revenue share on products that they market to their friends. CEO Carl Daikeler explains the program on the Beachbody website:

“Instead of doing the obvious thing and selling our hit infomercial products through retail stores, we asked a handful of our customers to become independent distributors,” he explains. “We call them coaches, but they’re not fitness or nutrition experts. These are people who simply love the products, and love sharing it with people because they actually work.”

Refer-a-friend programs have become a popular way for businesses to plug in third-party social media solutions and incentivize their fans to share products with others.


Companies like and Redbox are utilizing “refer-a-friend” programs to build social media buzz and create new sales.

Extole is a San Francisco-based marketing agency whose client roster includes popular direct response brands and Redbox. Its Refer-A-Friend program enables businesses to create incentives and rewards for their customers who share the product with others. The analytics and tracking capabilities behind it make this an appealing option to the metrics-minded marketer.

SocialBuilder is another product aimed at generating more Facebook “Likes” through sweepstakes. The Motorcycle Superstore, a popular online retailer of motorcycle parts, accessories and apparel, created a sweepstakes hoping to increase its number of Facebook fans as well as its customer base.

In order to enter the sweepstakes, the user had to “Like” the Facebook page and then enter a name and E-mail address. After entering the sweepstakes, the user was incentivized to share it with friends. If their friends won one of the main prizes, then they would be awarded $100 in store credits. The number of Facebook fans grew from 53,000 to 107,000; and within six months, sales from Facebook increased by 20 percent.

“The platform is starting to mature to the point where we know it is valuable not only from a branding perspective, but from a quantifiable, conversion perspective,” says Greg Brown, Extole’s chief revenue officer. “This June, Facebook ad network TBG Digital quantified the reduction in conversion costs from marketing to Facebook fans vs. Facebook ads. The cost to convert a Facebook fan is 15 percent less than via a targeted Facebook ad.”

Built To Last

A lasting relationship is built on more than the initial attraction, which is why marketers debate the long-term value of a Facebook “Like” or a Twitter follower.

Facebook’s ad network is another way to explore the value of social media. Facebook advertising is predicted to hit $4 billion this year in the U.S., which is double 2010 spending, according to eMarketer.

To help marketers set a baseline for their campaign performance, Webtrends studied more than 11,000 Facebook campaigns and organized its findings into “Facebook Advertising Performance Benchmarks & Insights.” According to the report, click-through rates from 2009 to 2010 decreased, while the cost of advertising increased. The average click-through rate in 2009 was 0.063 percent and 0.051 percent in 2010. The industry norm for online display advertising, according to Google’s 2010 DoubleClick report, is about 0.1 percent.

Although click-through is not as high as an online display ad, Webtrends also notes that Facebook’s top advertisers have increased their ad spend tenfold. Aside from the network’s exponential growth of active users, advertisers are enamored with the “Like” button. If an ad is liked, then the ad is shared and it creates new ad targets. According to the study, ads that target friends of fans last three times longer than standard ads.

“There are a variety of success metrics for social media campaigns,” says Brown. “The most popular are Facebook ‘Likes,’ number of registrations and sales. A ‘Like’ can be particularly valuable when acquired through sweepstakes, if designed correctly. In our case, we typically create sweepstakes in ways that allow our clients to obtain E-mail addresses and even physical addresses in some cases as a prerequisite to enter.”

In addition to marketing and direct sales, social media provides a unique opportunity to immediately react and engage with customers when they give positive and negative feedback publicly via Facebook or Twitter.

“If customers choose to provide feedback on Twitter or Facebook of any kind, brands should absolutely respond,” Brown says. “Ignoring or deleting the feedback is highly discouraged, as it sends a message that dialogue — which is the whole point of these channels — is not welcome. The best approach is to professionally and promptly acknowledge the input where it was submitted and take the more detailed conversation offline to best resolve the situation.”

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