This is Episode 13 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Ryon Harms, the head of social media for Farmers Insurance. Read on for insights from Ryon, and our Social Media Stat of the Week (this week: 44% of Americans see tweets mentioned nearly every day, but only 10% of Americans actually use Twitter).
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Social Pros Transcript For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription
Jay: And here we are with episode number 13 of the Social Pros podcast. Lucky number 13. I am Jay Baer, joined today not by Eric Boggs, not by Eric Boggs, but by a different Tarheel. Our good friend, oft-mentioned on the podcast but never actually a participant, Mr. Tom Webster, the Vice President of Strategy for Edison Research.
Tom, thank you for pinch hitting for our man Eric. It is fantastic and an honor to have you on the podcast.
Tom: Hello today. Not lucky 13 for Mr. Boggs, I’m afraid.
Jay: Evidently not. It will all be fine we hope for Mr. Eric. Thanks for being here, Tom. You were in a crazy season. Some people know you, many people on the podcast of course know you for your work in the social media research area. But your company is perhaps best known as the proprietors of the exit polling in American politics.
Tom: Yeah, that’s right. Pretty much everything that you’ve seen on TV, anything that you’ve read in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, NBC about who voted and why in the recent primaries, and certainly who’s going to vote and why coming up in the national election this November. That all comes from my company. We see lots and lots of numbers.
Jay: I know you picked it for Dukakis, but forgive that one.
Tom: Well, yeah. Unfortunately Paul Simon dropped out before the primaries start.
Jay: Every time I’m in Illinois and I drive past the Paul Simon Memorial Expressway with the bow tie on the highway sign I always chuckle a little bit about that.
You have some exciting research that you have put out recently, which we’ll talk about in the social media stat of the week. You have some additional research on the way. Would you like to tease that research Mr. Webster?
Tom: I would tease it. I’m not sure it’s going to behave very well when I tease it. We’re going to be releasing a major update to our social habits series. This will be a presentation on how Americans are using social media and why, and a general look at various platforms and different behaviors on those platforms.
I’m going to be releasing that at BlogWorld, I think kicking off BlogWorld, the morning of June 5th with that. We’ve been teasing little bits of data from it. I know I teased a little bit this week, which perhaps we’ll get to. It’s from a major national random representative survey of Americans 12 plus. Super excited. This is our 20th such survey, and we’ve been tracking a lot of these things for six years now.
Jay: Nothing starts off a major conference better in the morning than a presentation on research. That’s been my experience.
Tom: Bucket full of numbers. That’s how I like to start the day.
Jay’s Thought of the Week
Jay: Fantastic. My thought of the week is this: I found an interesting blog post the other day on Social Media Today. I really enjoyed it, because it did some myth busting. It was from JD Rucker.
The headline was provocative. It said, “Why local businesses should stop focusing on their Facebook page.” JD’s premise was that lots of local companies have rushed into Facebook, created Facebook pages, because of course it’s low cost or no cost at least from an out of pocket perspective. Of course, it takes a lot of time to do it well as we all know.
But that many of those local businesses then don’t actually have any audience, so they’re putting up all kinds of photos of dining patrons and aren’t our donuts fantastic, and it’s crickets. There’s three people commenting or liking.
His premise is that geez, maybe what we need to do is turn this on its head and encourage the patrons of those businesses to create content in Facebook so that their friends will see chatter about the businesses that they support. As opposed to social media essentially just being a tiny little press release machine.
Tom: That is a super-interesting take on that to me, because I think a lot of what people forget, especially for local businesses, is that social media starts offline, goes online, and then goes back offline again. If you are a local business, encouraging people to tell their stories I think starts at the store. It starts at the retail location, it starts in the restaurant, it starts where you are, and giving people a reason to tell those stories.
The other thing I would point out too, and some of this research that we will release, some of this is research that we and others have released. There are a lot, especially younger demos have lots and lots of Facebook friends. If you’re 18 to 24 or 18 to 39 or so on, you’ve got 300 or 400 Facebook friends.
You’re checking your Facebook page several times a day, four or five times a day. Thanks to the Facebook algorithm EdgeRank, the content that you’re actually interacting with, largely from your actual friends is what’s getting prioritized. If you’re local business and you’re not bringing it on Facebook and actually interacting with people and getting them to engage with you, your content will just never be seen.
Jay: Yeah, I did a webinar earlier today with our friends at ExactTarget. We talked about how email has a linear deliverability mechanism. If you send somebody an email, they’re going to get it. They may not open it, they may not click on it, but they’re going to get it.
You put a status update on Facebook and a much, much small percentage of the people who theoretically have subscribed to interact with you will actually see anything that you publish. I think that’s a misconception in the industry. People say, “Well, I’ve got 16,000 fans, so 16,000 people will see that.” That’s just not true.
Tom: Well, I’ll give you a bigger misconception. Social media throws off a ton, a crap ton in fact, to use the technical term, of click stream data. We think we have all of this information that we can mine from Twitter, we think we have all this info that we can mine from Facebook.
If I run an ad on AMC or A&E or some cable network, I can give you a pretty good estimate how many people saw that ad. It’s an estimate, but an estimate works within some kind of parameters, right? But if I put out a tweet or I put out a Facebook post, you cannot tell me how many people read it. There’s no click stream path to that data.
You cannot tell me how many people actually read my message. That’s something that click stream data is just not going to give you.
Jay: Yeah, it’s interesting and I wonder if at some point that data will be revealed. It is theoretically possible to get at if the proprietors of that information, Facebook, Twitter, etc. wanted to do so. They could cookie set, they could do some other things to make that information available, but perhaps it’s not in their best interests to do so.
Tom: Yeah, maybe not. Even then, they could make available that I had the opportunity to see it, but not necessarily that I saw it.
Jay: Right. Exactly. Speaking of data, what is the social media stat of the week?
Social Media Stat of the Week: 44% of Americans See Tweets Mentioned Nearly Every Day
Tom: Well, I’m going to give you one. An entirely self-serving one, but it’s one that just completely surprised me when we uncovered it. It’s a piece of data that I wrote about on my blog, BrandSavant.com. Plug. Slash plug.
It’s a piece of research that we did again based on this data set we’re going to reveal about a little bit about the disparity between the number of people who are aware of Twitter and the number of people who actually use Twitter. That’s been a significant disparity for several years now.
This year, the number of Americans 12 plus who use Twitter is about 10%. The number of Americans 12 plus who are aware of Twitter is actually 89%. It’s an enormous disparity there, and that’s been the case for the past three years.
We got at that with a number of questions. The one that really stuck I think was this. We asked people, “How often do you see tweets talked about or mentioned or shown on other media? On traditional media, such as television or radio or newspapers, or on other websites?”
The answer that came back actually shocked me, and I’m well nigh unshockable as you know, Jay. The answer that came back was that 44% of Americans 12 plus reported that they see tweets mentioned on other media nearly every day. Nearly every day.
80% of Americans 12 plus, again that’s all Americans, even offline Americans, which about 15% of Americans don’t have Internet access. 80% of Americans said that they have at least once seen tweets mentioned in other media. This, to me, up ends a little bit of how we think we use Twitter and what we think we’re doing when we use Twitter.
A lot of the people who use Twitter frequently may use it conversationally, but what this data suggests is that most Americans, and again, that’s the majority of Americans 12 plus, view Twitter as a broadcast network. They’re getting information broadcast from them. They’re not interacting with it, they don’t even belong to Twitter.
But tweets have reached, tweets have power. I think what that means is that if you’re famous, you’re a lot more famous thanks to Twitter. That’s another broadcast.
Jay: Especially in certain categories, right? In sports, how often does ESPN report on tweets? Hourly, by the minute. Entertainment business, same thing. Celebrity musings on Twitter are reported via television and in print every single day.
It is a symbiotic relationship, because the other group, celebrities, athletes, the other group that uses Twitter disproportionately are the media. So it all works together.
As a long ago journalism major, however, I have railed against this in the past. I don’t think on the podcast but in other places. To me it’s the epitome of lazy reporting, though. Instead of actually getting your notepad and getting on the phone or emailing somebody even, to actually get a quote for your story or get a real perspective, it’s, “Well, let’s just copy and paste their Twitter feed and we’ll call that a quote.”
Number one, you’re taking somebody out of context in some cases. Number two, you’re not actually doing any reporting. I have twitter.com myself. Why do I need your journalism organization to tell me what somebody else said when I could read it for myself on Twitter or in an RSS feed or any other number of places?
Tom: Well, but I’ll give you the flipside of that, Jay. You have a journalism background. I happen to be a celebrity athlete.
I absolutely appreciate the opportunity to have a platform like Twitter where I can get the word out about my new album, about my autobiography that’s coming out. I think it’s some of my best work. As a celebrity athlete, my opportunities have never been greater.
Jay: My problem is not with the celebrity athletes or the gin-soaked market researchers. It’s more that the media are taking Twitter reporting and calling it journalism. That I think is not only doing a disservice to the practice of journalism, but also bodes poorly for the nature of real investigation.
If we’re not going to actually ask any questions, we’re just going to copy and paste statements from people in 140 characters, we don’t really have that fourth estate anymore, do we?
Tom: No. That’s an excellent point.
Jay: But you know what? If that’s our biggest problem, that’s a high class problem. If journalism reporting tweets is our worst possible depth of despair, I’ll take it.
Tom: I think it hurts journalists to lose the curation aura and to cede it to other people, I think. I don’t think they’re all like that, but we’ve certainly seen enough indications of tweets being put uncurated, seemingly randomly selected tweets, on national news networks during significant events. I can do that myself, just as you say, and I’m merely a celebrity athlete.
Jay: Speaking of Twitter and the confluence of Twitter and politics, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts. I don’t think you and I have ever discussed this. Your thoughts about the seemingly faux accounts that Newt Gingrich and other members of the political establishment have run up, and they’re crowing about the number of Twitter followers that they have.
Some research suggested that a disproportionate share of those followers were robotic or fake. How do you feel about that?
Tom: I think it’s a useful case study for everyone listening to this podcast, to think about how easily those things are gained. To think about how influence can be gained, to think about how followers can be gained.
Because, and I’ve written about this in the past, the attempts so far to predict the results of some of the primaries that we’ve looked at, the caucuses and the primaries in the GOP selection process on social media, have ranged from awful to exponentially awful. There’s very little correlation between how a GOP candidate seems to perform in terms of mentions and sentiment with the number of people that actually walk to the polls and flip the switch or fill in the bubble.
That’s a fact. You can go back and look at that. If you are a brand manager and you’re watching this, and you’re seeing how easily these things are gained and you’re seeing how they potentially don’t have correlation with real world behaviors, replace politics with breakfast cereal.
Replace politics with whatever your brand is and consider that for a moment. That what you’re getting raw, what you’re getting unfiltered from social media, may not be what you think you’re getting. Doesn’t mean it’s useless, it means you’ve got to do some work to make it useful.
Jay: That is a really interesting point and I think a fantastic segue to bring in our special guest for this week, Mr. Ryon Harms, who’s the Director of Social Media for Farmers Insurance. Ryon, thanks very much for being on the show.
Special Guest: Ryon Harms of Farmers Insurance
Ryon: Thanks, Jay, for having me. Happy to be here.
Jay: Tom was just talking about this notion of big audience, and does big audience translate into big business results. Farmers in particular has really been well known for some pretty aggressive tactics, especially on Facebook and now recently on Twitter as well.
In particular, I think you still have the Guinness Book of World Records record for most likes on Facebook accumulated in a 24 hour period. Is that correct?
Ryon: Yeah, we got two million friends in 24 hours.
Jay: Two million likes in 24 hours. That is, and no offense, Ryon, intended, but when I think about what brand could I possibly rush to Facebook to click a button for, Farmers Insurance or any insurance company for that matter, is not high on that list.
Ryon: No, absolutely. It’s a really interesting.. part of what we do and what we try to do is to try to do things differently, try to differentiate ourselves, try to position ourselves in places where not only where our competitors are not but potentially even where other companies are not, other companies or brands haven’t really been.
The two million fans actually came from a campaign that we did within the game Farmville. If anybody’s ever done any sort of advertising or marketing inside of Farmville, they understand this firehose effect that can come from the participation, engagement that happens within that network.
The big goal wasn’t so much to get these two million people to come and like our Facebook page. In fact, we were a little surprised by how big a number that actually was. It was to be in a place where people are highly engaged, it was a great demographic for us, and it was an opportunity to be the first financial services company to do anything within Farmville, one of the first companies in general to do it. It was a great way for us to really try to make a big impact in a new space.
Tom: Much respect for that, for two million fans. I know hard it is to get a Guinness World Record. I have one in goulash eating. How much did you actually beat the old record by, or was it a brand new record?
Ryon: No, it was actually an existing record. I think the previous record was held by Frito Lay, and I believe it was for about 1.5 million fans. I believe that the majority of those fans actually came from a Farmville promotion they did as well.
Jay: We’re going to have them on the show and see how bitter they are about this whole development.
Ryon: Yeah. It’s a Guinness World Record and it’s two million fans. But I think what you’re trying to get to is really, we did this big thing and truly what is the business value out of doing something like this?
We saw a lot of value from a lot of different things. The exposure that we got, the millions and millions of people. I think at one point our Facebook page was getting about 16,000 hits a second or something like that. We had millions of people come in, great exposure. We were able to provide them with something within the game that was really useful for them.
I think as much as we put… I think sometimes social media gets a lot of slack for the ROI issue. We have seen very significant ROI in other things that we’ve done. When I think about what we did in Farmville, I think it’s much more akin to advertising, more like what the advertising team might be doing.
When we think about TV commercials, a small percentage of them are probably very successful in actually achieving what they want to do, but people continue to do it and spend hundreds of millions of dollars doing that. I think it’s interesting how social media gets put into this special place when people think about business value when a lot of marketing is approached this way.
Jay: Well said, and I really liked the way you framed that. The most recent campaign that you did was perhaps not a Guinness World Record, but another first. That was a Twitter hashtag on the back of a NASCAR Sprint Cup series race vehicle. Kasey Kahne’s Number Five Chevrolet.
You used the hashtag “#Farmers5” during a race just last weekend or the week before.
One of the first things that I noticed was that we’re not NASCAR sponsors, we sponsor this driver. I started to look and try to figure out where is the canvass here. What can we use in this offline space to create an experience that’s online? How can we take our main asset, which is a race car, and make it into an interactive experience?
Furthermore, I didn’t want to go and put our Twitter handle to be the main thing that’s on the car. Essentially that’s one of those pet peeves of mine where I see a link to someone’s Facebook page or their Twitter account. Why? Why would you want to do that?
When I looked at the car, I also heard lots of great stories about how NASCAR fans are heavily engaged through Twitter itself. I thought why don’t we, as a company, try to create something that connects people with each other as opposed to trying to connect us as a company? Once we connect them with each other we can listen in and try and figure out ways to contribute to that conversation.
Putting the hashtag on the car was I think a great way to actually do that. One, is to let everybody know hey, this is the channel that you use if you’re a Kasey Kahne fan and you want to talk with each other and find each other online and trends connections, which a lot of those actually happen.
We put it on the car. A lot of the real engagement happened leading up to the actual race itself. Once the conversation got started, I was looking for ways to interject Farmers and figure out how we can maybe give away a couple things, just some random acts of kindness or whatever, and really start to listen in on conversation, participate in the conversation.
Though I’m fairly new to NASCAR, just in that experience of immersing myself with the fans, I actually became a huge NASCAR fan and Kasey Kahne fan. More than anything I really became a fan of the fans if you will. The passion that they had.
It’s truly amazing how in NASCAR, how the fans can be almost as passionate about the sponsor than as they are with the driver itself. It’s huge. Right?
Jay: Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s really impressive. You don’t really see it in any other sport like that. It’s a pretty unique situation. Did your team interact with fans in real time during the race and foster that conversation, put gas on that fire?
Ryon: Yeah. Like I said, a lot of the gas that we put on the fire came leading up to the race. A lot of the conversations that were happening. By the time we got to the race, it was actually interesting if you want me to tell the story here.
On Friday morning, I’d already been interacting with them, I’d already started building our relationship with some of the hardcore Kasey Kahne fans on Twitter. I realized that this #Farmers5 thing was really taking off, so that gave me the idea what if we could get this to actually trend on Twitter? That would exponentially grow the exposure for us.
I put out a tweet and I said, “Hey, what do you guys think about trying to make #Farmers5 a trend?” Someone was like, “Yeah, we should do that. Let’s all tweet at the same time.” I said, “When do you suggest that we do that?” and somebody else chimed in and said, “Why don’t we all tweet #Farmers5 on lap five, because it’s the five car and it’s #Farmers5.”
Jay: There you go, now you’re talking.
Ryon: Everybody started jumping in like yeah, that’s a great idea. Really, even though I sparked it the fans came up with the idea and that was fantastic. By the time that Saturday came around, everybody was talking on Twitter about we’ve got to make this thing trend. #Farmers5 on lap five.
Then it actually, as people were talking about it on Saturday, it started trending for people. In the act of trying to make it trend it actually started trending for some folks in certain places. It was really fun and people started tweeting out screenshots of it trending for them. We grabbed some of those screenshots.
By the time the race came there was this high intensity of what we’re going to do. I really felt like us as a company were a part of the team here, trying to make this happen. Jeff [Hammond] right before the race, he came in and he talked about, he’s like, “‘NASCAR’s all about Twitter and hashtags. You don’t believe me, here’s Kasey Kahne’s car.”
He showed the #Farmers5 on TV, and everybody on Twitter’s going crazy. They’re like, “Oh, they showed the #Farmers5.” Then came to lap five and everybody was tweeting and it was really taking off. We had several, I think it was like 4,000 or 5,000 people that were tweeting #Farmers5.
I forget, there were 14,000 tweets that actually mentioned it. In any case, we couldn’t get it to actually trend on lap five, but everybody was doing it, everybody was super-excited about it. A lot of it is just Twitter has its own algorithm of when the tweets come in and when it was earlier. It was difficult to do anyway. And we didn’t have a plan to do it.
It went off. In the middle of the race, Kasey was doing great so I put out a tweet to really rally the fanbase, like, “Hey everybody, this is a rally tweet, everybody tweet this, let’s go.” It started taking off and Kasey started doing better. It was a really exciting thing to be one of the fans.
We built a lot of, I would think, a lot of credibility with the fans. We’re just there to try to give them the best possible experience.
Jay: Yeah, it wasn’t a sales pitch, right? It wasn’t like, “Hey, two for one flood insurance on lap seven.” It wasn’t that kind of come on. Make sure you send us a good photo of the car, we’ll put it in the podcast notes. That’ll be awesome.
Ryon: All right, sounds good.
What did happen was there were a lot of spontaneous tweets started coming out. I was with State Farm for a long time, or I’m sorry, with a competitor for a long time, and I’m going to switch over to you guys now, you guys are so engaged and this is awesome.
Somebody’s like, “I just bought three policies” and did this and did that. That was without us asking them, it was just because I think that they saw that we were really just about the fans.
Jay: Nice. You know what’s really interesting, and last question for you before we get into the shout outs. That you have a lot of these big brand programs where you’re reaching a lot of people at once, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But yet operationally, you have this network of 15,000 local agents who are all doing their own social media program as well.
It’s really fascinating. You’re hitting on both of those. How do those tie together, and how do you keep 15,000 local agents in line when most of them have Facebook pages as I understand it?
Ryon: A good percentage of them have Facebook pages. I wouldn’t say that most of them do. Actually at the agent level is the most exciting part of what we do. I think we really see our agents as these 15,000 points of light in these local communities.
When I was brought on, it was because I totally supported the fact that what we should be doing is leading with our agents. For the simple fact that people on Facebook want to connect with faces, not with logos.
Jay: That’s where they buy, right? They buy from the agents. You don’t buy from Farmers Insurance.
Ryon: Exactly, that’s where they buy, the majority of our policies come from being sold by the agents in local communities. These are real people. I spent the last year or so traveling around the country, speaking to the agents, basically teaching them how to be themselves. How to be authentic, how to come across, how to find their voice on Facebook.
You read that blog article today that said that small businesses shouldn’t be trying to build up their Facebook pages or whatever, but in fact that’s where we see many thousands of policies actually be sold through Facebook is through our local agents. That’s actually where we actually are able to track direct ROI with policies written and revenues coming in from agents assigning those leads within their CRM tool.
I would have to disagree with that blog post. I haven’t read it, but just from what you said about it, which is that absolutely, the small business owners I think have a huge advantage over big companies like ours. We’ve got to take advantage because we’ve got all these small business owners.
Jay: You use Hearsay to manage all those folks?
Ryon: Yeah, exactly. We use Hearsay. It’s a way for us to… I wouldn’t say manage. It’s really more about supporting and suggesting content out to them, and providing them with tools they can use if they want to. We don’t force anything out to their Facebook pages, because then it would completely take away from our message that this really needs to be about them.
Jay: But you allow them to syndicate things locally. You put content out there that they can pull down to their local page if they want to?
Ryon: Yes, exactly.
Jay: Then Hearsay’s built in so that individual agents maintain FINRA compliance and things along those lines?
Ryon: Yeah, exactly. There’s a whole compliance layer that’s behind it that archives things, that does the best that it can to keep track of all the compliance issues and things that we do. In that sense, it’s an indispensable tool, because we get both the marketing part of it which is the part that gets me excited, that gets me interested in it and gets the agents excited, and then the compliance part which is the base…
Jay: Which gets compliance excited. Yeah, I understand.
Ryon: Yeah, which gets the compliance excited, precisely.
Jay: Send us a couple links to agents that you think are representative of that initiative. We’d love to drop in a couple of screenshots of the things that they’re doing.
Ryon: Absolutely. I’ve got a couple agents, I think their Facebook pages are more sophisticated than the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, including ours.
Jay: Hey, we’re always hiring here at Convince & Convert. If those guys want to get out of the insurance racket, you just let me know.
Ryon: I think I might have a couple for you.
Tom: Hey Ryon, really quick, when I think of Farmers I think of JK Simmons. I think of that great TV campaign that you guys continue to run. Is he part of your social efforts at all? I think he’s a pretty compelling spokesperson for you.
Ryon: JK, not directly. We have used the Professor in different places, like for instance in the Farmville campaign. He was a part of that campaign as far as, we had a Farmville-ized version of the Professor that was in it. We did some crossing there.
I think that you’re right. I think that’s a huge opportunity and something that we’re looking to do. We don’t want to just rush into it, we’re looking for that great idea, that great opportunity to actually be able to do it. I think that’s absolutely on the horizon for us.
Jay: Ryon, do you have a Social Pros shout out for us?
Ryon: Yeah, I’ve got a few actually. I think there’s always the great social media bloggers like yourself and Jeremiah, which I read fairly religiously. To be honest, I think the biggest inspirations to me have become, over this last year, agents for one.
There are agents out there that are just killing it out there. They allow me to see their insights and things in the back end, and their virality and things like that are just killer. Ten times the amount that I think most corporate pages have. Every day, the agents help each other. We’ve got an internal social network where the agents are sharing ideas.
From there, I get some of the best practices. They inspire me to continue to get better, and they challenge me to come up with better content, better things for them. They’re a big inspiration.
I think the other inspiration that I have is a lot of the people that I work with are co-workers. Over the last year we’ve built a lot of trust with each other. Because of that, they give me a canvass that’s so much bigger to work with. The fact that I could put a hashtag on the back of a race car is so amazing. I think three or four years ago when I started using hashtags on Twitter, it was a little bit of a geek thing to do. It made me smile to see a hashtag on the back of a race car.
Things like that can only happen when you’ve got the whole support of the people around you. The agents and my co-workers I think are definitely probably the biggest inspirations that I have right now.
Jay: I completely agree. It’s like we said in the book, and I know Tom agrees as well. Without corporate culture, without everybody believing in being in social, none of this actually works.
Ryon: I couldn’t agree more.
Jay: Thanks very much for being here. Fantastic story, you were a great guest. We appreciate your time and all the exciting things you’re doing. Please keep us posted on other exciting stuff that you have rolling out.
Great show today. Thank you very much to my man Tom Webster for stepping into the breach. Also thanks as always to our sponsors, Eric’s company, Argyle Social who we use for all of our social media stuff. Our friends at Infusionsoft who we use for all of our email stuff. And our buddy Jim Kukral at DigitalBookLaunch.com.
We’ll be back next week with more exciting stuff on Social Pros. Real people, talking about real work in social media.