Thursday, May 07, 2009

Case Study: Citi uses Social Media to promote Citi-Forward Webcast

I’m often asked about how I work and what type of projects I like to be involved in. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a campaign with TMG Brand Communications, and it’s a great example of how a thoughtful social media strategy can get executed well. Tami McCarthy got in touch with me about one of the social media projects she was working on, in this case for Citi. She told me that the plan was to kick off the campaign with a pre-launch webcast for media-only (which she invited me to), and that once the program officially launched a week later, other key components of the communications plan were a Twitter page, YouTube Channel and marketing program with MySpace. It was exciting to see that Tami and her team were creating a comprehensive social media strategy for Citi Forward, and I was happy to be involved. I was also pleased that her team had actually done some research and had picked specific social media sites/tools that they thought would help Citi best communicate with their target audience, instead of just 'doing everything' as many companies will do when they launch a social media strategy.

Tami and I discussed who would be ideal participants in the webcast, and I’d like to share the background on how this unfolded, particularly the use of Twitter, as I think it could help many of you with similar efforts. I think the strategy to first target “influential” people to be involved in the webcast, as well as those that were targeted to help promote it on Twitter is a good case study worth mentioning.

The webcast was going to be a way to educate the 'media' and viewers about the structure of a new credit card program that Citi was about to launch, the Citi Forward program. The program itself has some pretty unique features (such as lowering APR for consecutive on-time payments), so Citi wanted to give everyone a way to learn more about the program, prior to its launch, which would come the week after the webcast.

The webcast would include Terry O'Neil, the Executive V.P of Citi Cards, a moderator, and 3-4 panelists. The structure of the program is such that it is geared to appeal to young adults, ranging from Gen Yers and college students to those with young families, so it was important to include panelists that were familiar with these audiences, as well as people that understood the value of sound financial planning, which is a core focus of the Citi Forward program. The webcast wasn't going to simply be a commercial for the program. Sure, Citi wanted to explain the structure of the Citi Forward card, but they also wanted to create educational value for the webcase audience, by having them submit financial planning questions to Terry and the panelists.

I've blogged about this before, but I think many companies target the wrong 'influencers'. Traffic and subscribers are great, but you need to be very mindful of reaching out to people that are actively engaged with their readers, and those that seem to have developed an affinity with the people that read their blogs and followed them on Twitter. In short, for the Citi Forward webcast, Tami wasn’t looking necessarily for the 'biggest' or those with the highest number of subscribers to their blog, but for the people that were the most connected to and respected by others. That denotes true 'influence' to me.

The chosen Citi Forward webcast moderator was Chris Penn. Chris was absolutely perfect for this role, as he works for the Student Loan Network, and co-produces the Financial Aid Podcast. In addition, he's one of the most influential people in the social media space, and co-founder of Podcamp. Another consideration for choosing Chris was that since he's constantly speaking/being interviewed, that he would be completely comfortable handling a live webcast, and he was.

The panelists (who would be joining the webcast via conference call), were myself, Ramit Sethi, The Silicon Valley Blogger, and Rebecca Thorman. Each of other three panelists are well-respected in social media circles, have vibrant and active blogs, and are well versed in the financial wants and needs of Gen Yers and even early thirtysomethings. This group is in touch with the exact group that Citi wanted to connect with for their Citi Forward program.

Tami and her team at TMG also had a steady stream of dialogue with financial bloggers to alert them about the webcast, but a small group of people on Twitter were also targeted to help get the word out about the webcast.

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is in making bad pitches. Often times, the first time I hear from someone that pitches me, is when they pitch me. That almost ensures that I won't promote whatever it is you're pitching.

For my part, I only contacted seven people on Twitter to ask if they would help me promote Citi's webcast. These were all people that I consider to be close friends, and it should also be noted that I almost never ask people to RT something for me on Twitter. I emailed each person a PERSONAL email sent ONLY to them. Sending a form letter is another fast way to kill your pitch.

Of the seven people I contacted, 5 agreed to help me promote the webcast on Twitter. My friend Lisa even RTed the link to the webcast three times, and both she and Shannon asked her followers to please RT it! So five out of seven people agreed to promote the webcast on Twitter for me (and one of the people that didn't later told me that they were flying when I emailed, and they didn't see the request until hours later). That's a 70% or so response rate, which is probably a tad higher than most agencies get for their pitch requests. But again, this worked because I had developed relationships with the people I reached out to, and I rarely ask for help like this. In fact everyone that helped me even answered my email and told me they were happy to help. And it should be pointed out that these five people had between 4,000-15,000 followers each at the time of the webcast. So they are connected to and respected by a lot of people.

The morning of the webcast, I also live-tweeted the lead-up to the event, and we encouraged people to send questions for the panelists via Citi_Forward's Twitter account. I gotta admit that it was pretty cool hearing Chris read a question to Terry about program that had come from Twitter.

So once all this is boiled down, what were the results? The end result is that the webcast exceeded its goal for media registrants by 100%. If you want, you can still view the webcast here.


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Unknown said...


Couldn't agree more that if you want to reach out to bloggers and tweeters to help you "get the word out" you have to invest in building a relationship first. The stronger the relationship, the harder those folks will work for you when the time comes. Not surprised to hear how hard Lisa worked on your behalf, she's just great like that.

I'd also suggest that folks go beyond a small group of "influencers" and invest the time to reach a broader audience, especially on Twitter, where you can find a host of folks that have smaller, but more connected followings. So often those folks are newer to Twitter or blogging and thus you don't have to invest as much energy in relationship building because frankly, no one is reaching out to them. Thus, the fact you are (before the ask) is flattering. It takes a little more time but I've found the results can be well worth it, the long-tail is still alive. And the bonus plan, you can find/build relationships with the next gen "rockstars" who will remember that you knew them "back when" -- always a good thing.


Anonymous said...

Excellent case study. Can you give any more information?

What was the desired number of media registrants? How many participated on Twitter etc?

Would be keen to know the conversion number from the tweets? i.e. if it reached 40,000 people how many registered?

Mack Collier said...

Richchallenge, Citi doubled the number of expected signups for the Webcast. And it would be impossible to measure the total number of people that were exposed on Twitter, since many of the people were probably following more than one of the people that tweeted about the webcast.