The digital and social agency (and more) BTC Revolutions first caught the attention of ZEFR after we began looking into the overwhelmingly effective social media strategy for the casual-dining franchise Applebee’s. We became intrigued by how the restaurant had managed to erase social media borders, creating an all-inclusive campaign with unusually high brand-to-customer (and vice versa) engagement.
As the digital universe continues to exponentially expand even as we type this, especially in video, agencies such as BTC Revolutions are discovering new, useful, and creative ways to navigate emerging platforms (sometimes as they emerge) and helping brands new and old to recalibrate their message for the 21st century.
BTC Revolutions (the BTC stands for “Be the Change”) was founded in May 2012 by Amanda Hite and Brandon Hill. In the first of an ongoing series that spotlights innovative digital agencies, ZEFR spoke with Amanda Hite, BTC’s Co-Founder and Chief Change Agent, about the Applebee’s campaign, what rookie mistakes brands make most often, and how an agency itself stays relevant in an ever-shifting landscape that demands quick decisions, made smartly.
ZEFR Insights: It says on your agency’s website: “We recognize that platforms are simply tools and people are the medium.” Could you speak to this idea a bit more and talk about how it informs your digital and social strategy?
Amanda Hite: The true power and effectiveness of social media is in its ability to build or become part of communities and ignite word-of-mouth movements. How impactful that becomes is mostly dependent upon how engaged and passionate the people in those communities are—not how sexy the platforms are. We believe word of mouth is (and always has been) one of the most powerful and trusted forms of so-called marketing. As marketing platforms come and go, that truth will never change. People choose what to share, what to engage their friends in, and what to take action on. Without question, people are the medium.
ZEFR: What is a “typical digital agency” and what sorts of mistakes do they make that you’ve learned to avoid?
AH: A typical agency is very focused on things like baited content, buying eyeballs, coming up with the next clever “campaign” that’s going to make headlines for a week and be the talk of their agency peers. If we want to be, we can be good at that stuff. But, we understand that most of those things are not sustainable or impactful. We know our audience isn’t other marketing people or agency peers—it’s the people in the communities we want to be part of or win over. We know that the only way we create meaningful impact that continues to grow is by earning it. We earn it by giving first to the communities, “being the biggest fan of our fans,” showing that we genuinely care, building meaningful relationships, and becoming part of the community. We don’t focus on creating clever marketing campaigns. We focus on creating social “activations” that ignite these communities. Ultimately, it’s not about what we say or do—it’s what the community is saying and doing on the brand’s behalf that drives the most significant results.
ZEFR: Talk about your ideas behind the campaign for Applebee’s. How did that strategy develop and how did you decide that certain ideas (such as the Instagram “fantography” idea and the #SpiritedChef YouTube and Twitter campaigns) would work for Applebee’s, but not necessarily a different client?
AH: From the beginning, the Applebee’s community has co-owned and driven the success of Applebee’s in social. They coined the community managers as the “Applebee’s Reply Squad,” they rallied their friends to bring the brand past huge follower/fan milestones, they’ve made the brand “trend” countless times, and they’ve campaigned for awards the brand was nominated for. Our most successful social activations have been the ones we’ve co-created with fans, and we’ve empowered them to play a huge role. Giving Instagram to our fans for 365 days was a no-brainer—their content consistently outperforms brand-created content on the platform. Their wild and crazy ideas on Spirited Chef is exactly what made that whole idea work. Co-creation works with all of our clients, but the product of what you create together will always turn out different because each community has different traits and personalities, a unique brand of awesomeness all their own. The key is figuring out how to tap into that and bring it to life.
“Our most successful social activations have been the ones we’ve co-created with fans, and we’ve empowered them to play a huge role.”
ZEFR: When clients approach you about formulating a digital strategy, how much do they know about what is going on in the world of social media, or do you deal mostly with novices? In other words, do you get a sense that the “old” ideas of marketing are so deeply entrenched that some brands don’t even know what language you’re speaking?
AH: We have a variety of clients with different levels of social media chops. Our clients consider us part of their internal teams, and we work closely together to amplify the strengths of the brand online. What’s far more important to me than their knowledge of the technical aspects of social media is their passion for the brand, its consumers, and that we share the same principles. Social media is the new kid on the marketing block, and while there is a huge learning curve in many organizations in regard to understanding its potential and power, it’s proven over the years to be something that can’t be ignored. If you embrace it, social can be an extraordinary vehicle for powering a brand’s business objectives.
“Social media is the new kid on the marketing block, and while there is a huge learning curve in many organizations in regard to understanding its potential and power, it’s proven over the years to be something that can’t be ignored.”
ZEFR: How does an agency such as BTC Revolutions stay informed and relevant in an atmosphere that thrives on continual change? Is the balance between consistency and adaptability a primary concern for an agency working in the digital/social media space?
AH: We’re “Be the Change” Revolutions—change is part of our DNA. But each of us lives the experience, the evolution and revolution, ourselves. Every day, we are executing on the same platforms we use in our personal lives. We are part of the innovative communities that we’re talking about, living in and shaping the future of this space. We pay close attention to what other brands and people are doing. We’re not afraid to try new things, and to learn what works and what doesn’t.
ZEFR: Using language from your own site: How do you “use the internet like a human and not like a robot” and is this a difficult idea to get across to brands or clients?
AH: Most brands are naturally going to feel more comfortable with things that make them feel in control. It’s scary for them to think of putting any control of the brand in the hands of the communities they serve. There are many so-called “social technologies” out there that claim to automate, save time, and make social media easier. Sometimes, things like automation appeal to brands because it gives them a false sense of control that they never really had in the first place. In a space where people are the medium, not the platforms, automation doesn’t work. They don’t want to engage with a robot and they don’t want to be spammed, but they do want authenticity and to feel valued. We work hard to teach brands that truth and, when they struggle or fight it, we simply pull out the countless horror stories of automation gone wrong in social media. That usually gets us moving quickly in the right direction.
“Sometimes, things like automation appeal to brands because it gives them a false sense of control that they never really had in the first place.”
ZEFR: What is the first mistake most brands make when they finally decide to develop a social media strategy?
AH: The biggest mistake I see brands making right now is not taking the time to train their leadership and employees on the principles of these platforms. This space is only going to get bigger, and its impact—good or bad—on businesses and brands is only going to grow. Delaying desperately needed training and reacting out of fear of the unknown is only going to 1) put a business at greater risk of something really going wrong and 2) put the brand increasingly behind its competitors in its share of voice online.
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