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Reaching Your Influencers – ThoughtFarmer's Tubetastic Case Study

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been working with the folks at ThoughtFarmer to devise a marketing campaign. Their goal was to reach out to online influencers in the technology space–bloggers, analysts and journalists (those job titles are getting very blurry these days). They wanted to introduce ThoughtFarmer to these folks, and encourage them to take their wiki-powered intranet solution for a test drive.
After some brainstorming and false starts, we devised Tubetastic, a fake company with a fake logo, a fake org chart and, you guessed it, a fake intranet. If you want to have a look at the site, just ask and we’ll send you access details.

What Were We Thinking?

We undertook an intensive approach to connecting with these influencers. Our thinking is based on a few beliefs:

  • Everyone is really busy. You need to be creative to interrupt the fire hose of inputs.
  • When work hard to craft an original approach, people respond to it. If you invest a lot of effort, it demonstrates respect for your audience. It says "we value your attention, so we went to a lot of trouble to get some of it".
  • Marketing works best when your marketing strategy is as close as possible to the thing you’re marketing. It seemed obvious to use a ThoughtFarmer intranet as the centrepiece of this campaign.
  • What do we care most about? Ourselves. Marketing works best when we can see ourselves in the context of the campaign. When influencers visit Tubetastic, they see themselves and their peers.
  • Find the funny. The slogan for Tubetastic is "We make tubes. A whole series of them." Savvy readers will recognize this as a nod to United States Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous metaphor for the internet. This opening gambit, in theory, entices our audience to log in and find out what the heck is going on. It seems to have worked. Rob Lewis was "instantly curious".

We’ve had success applying this logic to other campaigns, so we’re optimistic that it will work here.
Here’s how we put the campaign together:

Prepare the Intranet

To start, we invented a fake tube manufacturing company called Tubetastic Inc.
We created fake employee profiles for each influencer. Each profile is a sort of entry interview, with the answers coming from excerpts from their blogs and articles. We left one question unanswered, in the hopes that some folks might offer up their opinion.
Here, for example, is the profile for Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb fame:

Though ThoughtFarmer offers a dead sexy interactive org chart, we needed a printable one. We were a bit cheeky, and stuck really popular bloggers in rather junior positions. Robert Scoble is a Tubular Receptionist, while Mike Arrington is the company mascot.
We also wrote a couple of hopefully-amusing short articles to fill out the site a bit. They’re in the style of cheery, boring stories that you might read on your average corporate intranet. One is titled "Our Tubes Are the Shiniest for the Third Year Running". Here’s how it starts:

As many of you know, our Quality Assurance team participates every year in Tube-o-Rama, the tradeshow and industry challenge in which tube industry employees compete for glory and prizes. For the third year in a row, our tubular QA experts have come home with the trophy for best tube polishing.
"It really was our finest hour," said Junior Tube Polisher Stowe Boyd. "Our time to shine. And shine we did. We shined those tubes like they were our grandma’s silverware."

The other story involves the Operations team relocating to Chile. It’s not The Onion, but hopefully they make the occasional reader smile.
It’s the early days of this campaign, but we were pleased when analyst James Governor added his own amusing short piece. It concerns legal action by prog-rock legend Mike Oldfield, who wrote the album "Tubular Bells".

Prepare the Packages

People are inundated with email. Technologists are also overrun by new channels. Just today Robert posted this to his Twitter feed:

NOTE TO PR PEOPLE AND ENTREPRENEURS: I am far less likely to talk about you or do what you want if you DM me than if you just beg in public.

Instead, we like to send our audience something interesting via snail mail. The natural fit was a faux new employee package.

It contained:

  • A welcome letter, which prominently featured login details for the Tubetastic intranet.
  • An employee badge, with their name, job title and photo.
  • The aforementioned org chart, with their name circled.

We couldn’t find actual addresses for everybody, but we did reasonably well. For the remainder, we’ll put digital versions of these assets on the web and contact them through an online channel (email, IM, Twitter and so forth).
Then we sent out the packages. We’ll follow up a week or so later, to confirm that people received their goodies.

The Risks

This sort of strategy isn’t without risk. Here’s what we saw as potential problems:

  • Nobody notices. This is every marketer’s fear. We’ve done our best to avoid the black hole of apathy.
  • They get creeped out. It’s possible that some folks might be a little weirded out by seeing an employee profile featuring themselves. However, most of these folks live very public lives, so we’re optimistic that it’ll matter less to them than the average person.
  • They publish their login details, and the intranet site gets hammered or covered in graffiti. Too many people looking at ThoughtFarmer is a nice problem to have. We just have to pay very close attention to the site over the next few weeks. We’re mitigating this by providing an easy way to request access.

As Seth Godin says, "safe is risky, and risky is safe". In our experience, the best campaigns are the ones where we feel queasy about their launch.

Cross-posted on the ThoughtFarmer Blog