I recently connected with Karen Rose, Social Media Strategist for the National Home Office of the American Cancer Society (ACS), based in Atlanta, GA, as part of our interview series on effective use of social media in driving thought leadership, awareness and lead generation. Awareness could not be more excited to be the social media marketing platform partner of choice for ACS – there are a few national brands that have elevated their social media presence and engagement to the ACS levels.  It was great to get a deeper perspective on ACS’ approach to Social Reach (read about key social marketing success metrics in our free eBook The Social Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing), their take on the increasing importance of social marketing, and ACS’ unique ability to listen, engage and educate their passionate followers.

A bit of social media overview for ACS first.  Besides their National Home Office, there are 12 regional divisions of ACS, each managing their social marketing independently, with social media agendas and strategies of their own. At the National Home Office level, ACS uses primarily Facebook, with its Fan Page counting close to 250,000 members, and Twitter approaching 200,000 followers. ACS can be found on MySpace and LinkedIn too. The ACS team actively publishes content which includes supporting multiple blogs such as Dr. Len’s Cancer Blog, authored by Dr. Lichtenfeld, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the National Office of the ACS, Expert Voices, authored by experts who discuss timely cancer topics, and the Choose You blog, encouraging women  to put their own health first.

I started by asking Karen about ACS’ social philosophy and the role social plays in the organization’s overall marketing mix. ACS has embraced the social web as one of their most impactful marketing channels – “we really just need to be where the people are”, Karen put it simply. Karen and her team started to track conversations about cancer in the “early” days of social media. They quickly realized there was a lot of inaccurate information and misconceptions about cancer being published and shared on a daily basis. “Our team had to intervene”, Karen shares with passion, “we needed to provide sound medical advice and offer ACS’s vetted resources to help patients and their loved one cope with the disease”.

It is not surprising that Karen and her team are maniacally focused on responsiveness. “We use the Awareness social marketing hub and have incorporated our national call center with the Hub now”, comments Karen. ACS monitors discussions on their Facebook and Twitter channels 24/7- yes, including nights, weekends, and holidays. By listening to conversations and responding to people in real time, ACS can influence discussions and direct people to the variety of ACS web resources where information and advice are vetted and clinically sound.

“We want to inform people about the many ACS resources we have so they can stay well and get well “, continues Karen. ACS’s goal is to inform and educate about screenings, guidelines, support groups, and medical resources. “ACS uses social as the spokes of our hub to pull people back to our web properties”, comments Karen.

It was quite revealing to hear Karen talk about ACS’ selection of social media platforms and their strategy for building presence on social networks such as Facebook.  The ACS main Facebook Fan page –  American Cancer Society, focuses on cancer, cancer-related topics, survivorship, and care giving, and serves primarily as an information and educational resource.  Other nationally managed Facebook Fan pages, such as Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Relay For Life, are event-based. The Relay For Life Fan page, backed by over 110,000 passionate followers, exists in support of a fun-filled overnight event, celebrating survivorship, and to raise money for research and various programs coordinated by ACS. The ACS More Birthdays Facebook page, with over 300,000 Fans, was created to celebrate birthdays and  survivorship. The Choose You Fan page is directed towards women, who want to have their own conversation about prevention. ACS’ approach to building multiple targeted pages on social networks such as Facebook based on users’ needs and passions was validated as a best practice in our recent analysis of over 100 customers using the Awareness social marketing publishing platform. Our analysis showed that best-in-class companies have at least 13 Facebook Fan pages and 10+ Twitter accounts, allowing them to better target the needs of niche communities (you can download our free eBook The Social Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing for more details).

With such deep and engaging presence, I asked Karen to share some of ACS’ social successes.  One of the most impactful campaigns for them is a  More Birthdays campaign, which started a few months ago. ACS had several artists and musicians create special art pieces, music and videos, to help ACS followers celebrate birthdays. The artists’ collective body of work was then used to create “Happy Birthday” messages delivered to cell phones and as e-cards. The campaign became so popular that a number of fans responded by submitting their own “Happy Birthday” video responses. “The reaction and sharing of these video messages is phenomenal”, comments Karen. This viral response prompted the More Birthdays team to launch a user-generated artwork contest, including song and video submissions, with the winner to be featured on the More Birthdays Facebook page next to the established artists. At the time of the interview, the contest was still underway, but based on the initial response and number of submissions, I can tell this campaign is off to an amazing start. Karen attributes the success of the campaign to the fact that ACS has given their audience a great outlet to share their stories. “The More Birthdays campaign opened it up for people to allow them to honor a loved one or tell their story”. And in the process, every video and artwork was connected to an aspect of work being done by the American Cancer Society, tying birthday songs to important cancer facts. “In a sense, we have empowered our followers to help us tell our organizational story”, continues Karen. “This can be truly powerful and long-lasting”.

Karen’s advice to today’s hesitant Chief Marketing Officers who are still not sure social is relevant for their organization? “Do it”, she says,” People are out there, they are talking about your brand, they want to interact with you,” she adds. “It’s important to be there to represent yourself and your organization the way you want to be represented.”

So to any of your marketing skeptics, we join Karen and her team in saying: do it, embrace social to its full potential.  Empower your customers to share their stories and see how they weave your own brand DNA into them.  And for those of you who actively use social in your marketing – please don’t be shy.  Share your successes with us and our community of savvy social marketers by commenting on this blog, on Twitter, Facebook at Social Media Marketing Best Practices and in our LinkedIn Social Media Marketing Mavens Group.

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