When it comes to social media and especially Twitter, you might be surprised at who is listening. And sometimes, they are just waiting to make your dreams come true!
(We interrupt this blog for a quick disclaimer...this may be a lengthy one as you need to know the background to get the whole story. However, it will be worth your while as there's a chance to win free stuff later on. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)
Back on March 11th, 2010, I started this blog with a post entitled "Be Careful What You Tweet". I had learned early in my Twitter journey just how powerful the medium could be, but little did I know just how much truth there was in that statement and what a fun ride Twitter would continue to take me on over the next 18 months.
Besides connecting with PR professionals (both sports and corporate), sports business types who have helped me gain knowledge and insight into my profession, and celebrities who entertain me, one of my favorite things about Twitter is the ability to connect with brands I use.
When I purchase something from a brand, I like to think that it is the start of a relationship. If they provide me with a good product or experience, I am going to be loyal to them and tell others about what a great relationship I have with that brand. I don't do this as a way to get something from them, but as a way to say thank you. As you know from reading my blog, for me it's all about relationships and social media really helps the relationship between brand and consumer develop and grow if the brand has a good interaction strategy in place.
One of my favorite brands to interact with is Outback Steakhouse. I love to eat at the restaurant whenever I get a chance because I know that the food will be great. Since the closest Outback to my house is 45 minutes away, it's always a special occassion when I get to go. My wife and I have celebrated many birthdays and anniversaries there and associate it with fun times.
This past March while traveling to Florida with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team, I tweeted one night about wanting to eat at Outback. Almost immediately, I got a tweet back from the Outback account with a link to the closest locations near me. I couldn't believe it! I wasn't able to get to the restaurant that night, but I did go the next day and then tweeted a picture of my meal and the fun fact that coincidentally it fueled me to my fastest five-mile run to date.
Well, that started a back-and-forth tweet banter with the brand that has continued over the months since. My Twitter followers have chimed in from time to time stating their love for the brand and it's been fun to watch the interaction with them as well. I would like to think that I've pushed some business Outback's way because once you get the thought of a hot, juicy Outback Special or a Bloomin' Onion on your mind your stomach takes charge from there. :)
Then, in June, I received an e-mail from Dan Holm, the person behind the account, asking if I wanted to do some brainstorming with them. I wouldn't be compensated other than maybe getting a gift certificate or something if they liked one of my ideas. Well, I didn't care if they didn't give me anything 'cause I knew that it would be fun to just be part of the conversation. So, I responded seven minutes later with an enthusiastic "Yes!"
The next day, I received a detailed e-mail back from Dan unveiling that Outback would be rolling out the new wood fire grill option and asking for ideas on how to spread the word and get customers excited primarily via social media. I was told that there was no limit to the ideas and to dream big as budget was not a concern, but that I could not share any of these details with anyone.
Well, I ended up being in Florida about that time (Outback corporate is located in Tampa) and I tried to meet up with Dan in person to discuss the e-mail, but due to schedule conflicts we ended up just talking on the phone. I also followed up with an e-mail with thoughts. Here was part of that e-mail: "I wonder as part of your new iniative if you should have some of your most loyal fans try both versions of the cooking options in the same visit. You could do this through coupons/vouchers or you could even work in conjunction with a company like Klout (www.klout.com) to give these away and thus even increase your exposure to the new product line. You could also put survey links on the bottom of your receipts that offer $X off to customers if they come back within a certain timeframe and try one of the new options. The key, though, will be getting some of your most loyal people trying them and sharing their experience with their friends. Word of mouth (or stomach in this case) is always the best kind of advertising and also the cheapest."
Well, little did I know that Outback would give away 1,000,000 free steak vouchers when they unveiled their new wood fire grill option on August 24th! I was blown away! Now, I'm not saying that anything I told them directly impacted their marketing plan, but it was fun to feel like maybe I had some small role in making 1,000,000 people (and their stomachs) a little happier. :) Ironically, though, I didn't even qualify for the free steak giveaway due to living more than 25 miles from an Outback. But, Dan assured me that I would be taken care of and I did end up with a voucher.
I've continued to have fun tweeting back and forth with the Outback account and have even pulled them into conversations with the xBox account and the Southwest Airlines account - two other brands who listen intently to what their followers have to say. It's also been fun to watch some of my friends and followers have the same level of interaction with Outback and come to love the brand as much as I do.
That brings us to last night. My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a screening of The Mighty Macs, a movie about a women's basketball team from a small college beating the odds to play for a national championship, down in Columbus. Since we were going to be in the vicinity of several Outbacks, I decided to find the closest one and make the most of the trip. When I figured out that the closest one was on Bethel Road, I decided to just be funny and tweet Outback about it. What happened next blew me away!
Almost immediately, I started getting tweets and direct messages back from Outback. They jumped on it right away and had the proprieter Chris Pyles ready to go when we arrived. We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by a worker with an umbrella since it was raining. Our table was set up and ready for us when we walked in and our food also quickly arrived. We had fun talking to Chris, Shanelle (the floor manager), and Katie (our server). (Chris and Shanelle are pictured below in the picture that Katie took.) They all really enjoyed playing their role in the red carpet-like treatment and had enjoyed getting the call from corporate to hook us up. The food was great and I really enjoyed the new wood fire grill option. And, the best part about it was that they picked up the tab! I couldn't believe it! We had caught a small glimpse of what it was like to be a celebrity and all because Outback cared enough about one of its loyal customers to have some fun and make it happen. I'll definitely go back to that location again whenever I get the chance because once again we made memories and had a great night.
So, what am I trying to say besides how cool Outback is and how thankful I am that they chose me to have some fun with? The truth is that the good brands are out there listening to their customers and wanting them to have a good experience with their product. If you have that good experience, why not say thank you? Spread the word because your friends and followers just might want to try them out too. And while you shouldn't go looking or begging for free swag, you just never know what might happen.
Speaking of free swag (see, I didn't forget my promise back at the beginning of this novel), I have two vouchers for free appetizers at Outback that they sent me labeled "for your friends". Well, what better way to give them to my friends than through social media since that's how this all started. So, here's the deal. Post a comment about this blog or about a brand that you love interacting with by Monday, September 12th, and I will randomly pick two people to receive them. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks for reading!