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Summary:

Companies like Johnson & Johnson have long encouraged consumers to spread the word about their products. These marketing campaigns are taking on new twists in the age of social media.

Do you like to receive free pens and soy sauce in the mail? Well, you might be in luck — provided you’re willing to take to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media sites to describe your experience.

In a recent twist on content and social media marketing, companies like Johnson & Johnson and P&G are sending out samples and asking consumers to complete “missions” based on the products they receive. One recent example, known as “the Juicy Bird Mission,” asked participants to brine their Thanksgiving turkeys with Kikkoman soy sauce and describe the experience online.

The concept is the brainchild of Social Media Link, a startup based in New York that offers brands access to its community of “influencers” as a way to amplify their marketing messages.

According to CEO Susan Frech, 300,000 people have signed up to be “influencers” on the company’s Smiley360 site and more than half of them have completed at least one mission. Potential participants are screened by an email survey and those selected receive a product and mission card in the mail. Out of curiosity, I asked Frech to partake in a mission and soon after I received a package containing this:

Bic pens

The attached mission card asked me to give away one of the pens and to use the other one to try my hand at a four-color picture. My mission also asked me to ‘like’ Bic on Facebook and to upload my handiwork to the internet. I failed. But it looks like some of my mission compatriots persevered:

Smiley360 screenshot

I confess the whole process felt odd to me, but I may not be typical. According to Frech, 75 percent of participants are women (“chief purchasing officers” in brand speak) and many live outside metropolitan areas.

In any event, Social Media Link is faring well. Frech says the three-year old company is profitable and that it has run dozens of missions for major brands with deals valued near six figures. The company has also had social hits, including for the “Juicy Bird” soy sauce Mission, when thousands showed up at an hour-long “Twitter party” and caused a hashtag to trend.

For the participating brands, Frech says the appeal of the campaigns is the chance to reap social media buzz among a user’s community and, on some occasions, to test out new products.

The process also offers a way for brands to get positive reviews without falling afoul of FTC rules that require marketers to disclose if they have received any form of payment. As part of Social Media Links’ “mission” rules, participants can write what they like but have to state they have received the product for free.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Social Media Link works with Kraft.

(Image by Franck Boston via Shutterstock)

  1. theconsciousmarketer Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Reblogged this on theconsciousmarketer and commented:
    Here is an example how companies are managing their social media and influencing product reviews by targeting ‘influencers’ and giving them specific social media ‘tasks’ in return for free product samples. The days of just getting a sample in the mail with no social media ROI for companies are over… Crowdsourcing for ideas and content is on the rise. More and more companies are looking for innovative ways to reach customers and interact with target market ‘influencers.’

  2. Michael Murphy Wednesday, March 6, 2013

    This concept has even more application than in product placement. We frequently use a similar principle in our innovation consulting practice. Giving consumers a mission can reveal a lot about how they make purchasing decisions and uncover unmet needs.

    Here’s my blog about this article and how Missions can be applied to innovation: http://skyscraperinc.com/2013/03/06/giving-consumers-a-mission/

    Michael Murphy
    Skyscraper, Inc.
    http://innovation.skyscraperinc.com
    twitter: @skyscraperinc

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