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I spoke on a panel this week at the inaugural Australian iStrategy event. (there were about 400 in attendance)  I’m very glad that I got input from Vashti who heads up our @redballoonteam effort because it is our marketing guru’s at RedBalloon who own the strategy. As we formulated our ideas of what I would share we quickly realized that there is only one word that means much at all – and that is authenticity. At the same time we cannot be too intimate with customers – we cannot assume that we know them.

We learned that lesson the hard way – years ago when RedBalloon used to put the persons first name in the header of our email campaigns. That was too intimate – because we might write ‘Jane, what are you giving your mother for Christmas.’ Only to get a very terse response – ‘if you knew me well enough you would know that my mother passed away last Christmas.’

This lesson has progressed with us at RedBalloon into social media – though of course we have not got it perfect – who does. Social media is definitely not about perfection – it is about being real.

We covered five main ideas that we covered:

1. The emotional power of response: Social media isn’t about just having a presence, it’s about using the platform to talk to actively engage and talk to consumers. Don’t underestimate the power of a personal response!

RedBalloon found that whilst it is a marketing tool – it is not a ‘push device’ like other media – for the first time in history we have a chance to really listen – in real time, to pose a thought or idea and demonstrate the we are just a bunch of people that have all come together with a collective idea of ‘changing gifting in Australia forever’.  A conversation is born.  We also get RedBallooners speaking as individuals to interact as much as possible, and when they comment it helps create a REALLY personal response.

2. It hurts, but prioritise engagement over reach: ‘When it comes to social media communities, size isn’t everything – I’d rather have 100 highly engaged fans on a Facebook page who actually share and discuss content than 1,000,000 fans who aren’t active at all.’ According to Graeme Boyd  Consultant Community Manager / XBOX EMEA

There was some debate about this – I was quite envious of the shear quantity of fans that Hamish and Andy have – but the reason it works is still the same for us – they are doing the work and really responding to their ‘fans’ – The business we are in lends itself to sharing experiences online – it is our job to facilitate it.

3. Start with an insight, not a media plan: DON’T adhere to the ‘Dude we should do philosophy’ – i.e. ‘Dude we should do Facebook, dude we should do Twitter etc’. Identify the key insight first, considering who it’s relevant for and where they spend their time doing what, before deciding on platform/media.

In the early days of RedBalloon social media we ran a poll on our home page asking which platforms our customers used the most. We also paid close attention to the level of engagement we got on different platforms and focused our efforts accordingly. There’s no point blasting away on a platform when no one who cares is going to hear or interact with you.

4. Be prolific rather than precious: Success in social media is about relinquishing control – letting people dictate the ebb and flow of a given initiative. Things happen fast on these platforms and you have to be ready and willing to get stuck in and talk to consumers – not waste time agonizing over every last irrelevant detail.

Real world communities are not predictable, they are not formulaic, so your approach to social media cannot be either. So for us it’s more about being dynamically engaging – become relevant by giving the community what they want and remain relevant by being flexible enough to realize when the way they want to interact with you has evolved. We are always testing and posting different conversation starters or announcements, but not at such a prolific level that we are bombarding feeds like the annoying person who continues to talk over the top of you while you’re trying to have a conversation with your mate. It’s a delicate balance. And sometimes our content doesn’t always hit the mark. Over time on facebook for example, we’ve gauged engagement via likes and comments on our various topics. Sometimes it’s the least likely topics that get the most interaction… topics that may never have been tried had we been too precious about before posting.

5. Look at what it does and ONLY then use it: Social media is only tricky if you try to retro-fit or shoehorn existing campaigns/strategies. It can be a simple as working out what people use a given platform for and building a campaign around THAT. It’s why previous example of Best Buy’s Twelpforce works so well.

We started off with a social media strategy, outlining different approaches for each platform. However once we embarked on the journey we found that the social spaces took on a life of their own. The direction changed a little, and this was all dictated by the user. People behave differently on Twitter than on Facebook, so you need to tailor your approach to fit in with this.

Since our earliest days, word of mouth worked best. The impact of RedBalloon experiences is often such that they not only make a lasting impression on the individual, but they also often evoke rich stories that we share with our family and friends. Social media has always been about conversation and inter-personal connection. So the fit for us was natural. Our social media strategy became merely a platform, a facilitator, of the stories that we already knew were being shared both outside and inside this space.

So at the start our approach was simply to get to know our community, share funny posts and communicate as RedBallooners with names – building a connection. Since then, we’ve built a community where members actively share their stories (good and bad), whether it be on facebook or twitter. Having said this, we’ve learned that our approach must be tailored slightly to the specific channel. We learned early on that behavior was slightly different on twitter than facebook. On twitter the format is much more instantaneous and often one-to-one, whereas facebook is much more conducive to a longer chain of interactions across many more individuals.

I enjoyed being on the panel with Andy Ridley – Earth Hour, Simon T Small on Jetstar, Emily Rayner Austereo – and our chair person Gual Barwell from Contagious Magazine

Reader Interactions


  1. Great post, as Accountants we are still trying to strike the balance between formality and the casual nature of social media. Hopefully we are making some progress.

  2. Thanks for sharing informative piece of resource,I will definitely try to implement your strategy in strategical way for my business

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