"We think a lot about participation," says Mass Relevance CEO Sam Decker. "It's the new equity for brands to have. It's the new working capital." And so, participation is what his company helps create.
Mass Relevance aims to curate the relationships between brand and audience via social media. They're Twitter's sole partner for re-syndicating and displaying tweets, an enviable position that takes form in two ways: filtering content for relevance and visualizing tweets on a range of displays, from mobile to stadium-sized screens.
"What we do for them is drive ubiquity and growth," Decker says. Ubiquity is right: Mass Relevance-curated content is everywhere across the online world, from CNN newscasts to The Voice to Victoria's Secret, as well offline, be it at tourist attractions, football games, or concert venues.
Before founding Mass Relevance, Decker was the founding CMO of Bazaarvoice, a now-public social media marketing company. He ended his five-year stint there in 2010 and cofounded Mass Relevance shortly thereafter. He had to jump on an opening opportunity. "In a way we’ve created the market for social integration and what works," he says, noting that in the era of social media, every brand has an audience—one that would rather be marketed with rather than marketed to.
Customers are ignoring the top-down push, Decker says, and want something more participatory—whether on their handset or on a football stadium screen—that's more meaningful than having a social media manager tweet at a customer. To scale, the brand relationship needs to be facilitated among the audience.
"It’s not that brands have to converse one-on-one," Decker says, "but they’re the host of the party."
To get a better idea of how to make that happen with social marketing, Fast Company talked with Purina, the New York Giants, and Patagonia.
"Cat owners are proud of who they are and they want to showcase that pride," says Michael Kotick, brand manager for Purina. Times Square—packed inch to inch with about 370,000 people every day, a third of whom are probably cat owners—is a pretty good place to do that.
To make the showcase happens, Kotick wanted to create an emotional connection with the cat-owning community. Knowing that cat people often feel a trifle disrespected from the dog contingent—what with the "crazy cat lady" insult bandied about—Purina issued a social media call-to-arms. The result was, Kotick would say, anthemic: much-retweeted hashtags like #wearecatpeople and #catperson.
As Co.Create detailed, the hashtag and television spot was—and continues to be—a success, marking the first time that the brand sparked multiple Twitter trends. As Kotick explains, the campaign wasn't about forging relationships from brand to customer, but from #catperson to #catperson.
To wit (or to purr), Purina surprised their followers by displaying tweets on a Times Square billboard. "It was a real-time display of pride in a prominent place that no brand has ever done before," Kotick says. Purina then Twitpic-ed the display and sent it back to the original tweeter, closing the social media loop—and offering fans their virtual name in lights.
"If you’re able to have a compelling emotional truth that you can leverage in a clear and simple way," Kotick says, a brand can create a "call to action."
And those calls to social media action can come from anywhere, including television.
Two years ago, Nilay Shah was watching The Voice on NBC. A director of digital media for the New York Giants, Shah was impressed by how the vocal competition integrated social into television—and he realized that no sports team was bringing the same experience to game day.
So he called up Mass Relevance. Now, the Giants are being hailed as one of the most socially savvy pro teams around.
The Giants play at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The 82,566 seater is filled with more than 2,000 HDTVs, including four gigantic videoboards set around the stadium and a host of small screens peppered throughout the concourse. Tweets roll through the stadium for every home game: more than 150 tweets funneled through the stadium on Sunday's tilt with the Steelers. All this social has spurred measurable engagement with fans—Shah reports a 100% increase in viewership in tweet-integrated preseason games—as well as for advertisers.
Shah is quick to point out that a sponsor has to find the right fit for a social promotion.
Halloween—and the annual rookies' visit to Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at the Hackensack University Medical Center—presented the right match for Party City. The retailer partnered with the team to Twitter-poll fans for which costume the freshmen should wear to visit the kids. Between Facebook and Twitter, the campaign drew more than a million impressions for the Giants, Party City, and the hospital as well. "That's a win-win," Shah says, and maybe a win-win-win.
The Giants case is one of allegiance, as is Patagonia.
When Wilco, the beloved Chicago-based indie group, went on tour last summer, Patagonia came along as the only "booth" at their concerts. Dmitri Siegel, the clothing company's GVP, knew he wanted to use to space to get people thinking about the environment and ultimately registered to vote, but he didn't want to do so with a hard sell.
In environmental conversations, the hard sell can take the form of opaque, argumentative complexity: "Throwing a bunch of statistics" at people wasn't working, he says, and so "interest in climate change has fallen off the election conversation," due negative, impersonal and abstract messaging. To make the issue personal, Patagonia—like Purina—sought for an emotional, social connection.
Together with Mass Relevance, Patagonia started a #becauseIlove hashtag at the Wilco shows, showcasing why individual tweeps were "Voting the Environment." Soon Siegel realized that the conversation could be everywhere that the brand was: in their stores, at industry conventions, at South By Southwest.
To Siegel, Mass Relevance—and its CEO—are distinguished by discernment, taking the content-agnostic nature of social media and separating out the quality from the quantity. "It being social media itself is not that interesting," he says, "the content needs to be smart, it needs to be relevant, and it needs to be eye-opening."
Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.