Carrie Woodward, Michelin's Brand Community Manager for North America, sat down with us to talk about how they're leveraging online communities to create influencer programs for their brands. Carrie's been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2011 and also presented on this topic at our Member Meeting in New York.
People are talking about tires in a lot of places online.
Not just in social media, but in consumer reports, third-party media, car clubs, motorsports groups, and driving schools, to name a few. Some of the strongest conversations about tires still happen in forums.
“But we can't just jump into a forum and tell someone to buy our tires,” says Carrie Woodward, Digital Consumer Experience Manager for Michelin.
She says to get Michelin in on those conversations, they created two private online communities to foster influencers for their brands: Michelin APEX and BFGoodrich Tires Force.
For BFGoodrich, they focused on the off-roading enthusiast who goes trail riding and off-road racing. For Michelin, they targeted people like BMW, Audi, or Corvette owners who care about ultra-high performance tires and who really love their cars.
“They love everything about driving,” Carrie says.
“Our target influencers are people who already love tires, but I want them to get to understand and love ours more,” she explains.
Carrie says she looks for brand ambassadors who are already in the social world to invite them into the communities.
“People still talk a lot about cars, tires, and everything automotive in forums,” she says.
She'll find the right people in these forums and reach out to them personally, sometimes via email, phone, or a direct message through Twitter. She starts by introducing herself, telling them what brands she works for, and explaining why their influence is of interest to her. Then, she sends them a link to their private community.
These brand ambassadors can range from driving enthusiasts to tuners, big names in racing, automotive shop owners, and some paid partners of the brand. Carrie adds that for all of these relationships, they use the FTC guidelines to ensure proper disclosure.
“If they come to an event, the first thing they see on their itinerary are the guidelines for what they're supposed to disclose. When they log in to the community and set up an account, the first thing they agree to is disclosure,” she says.
The Consumer Experience team is responsible for giving this community plenty to talk about.
For example, Michelin will invite them to in-person events where they get a behind-the-scenes look at the company, products before they're released, and marketing plans.
“We also give them a few days lead time on content we create in-house before it's released so they're the first ones to have it and they're in the know,” she says.
The relationships they've built inside these communities have become cyclical.
Carrie says other business units will come to her with ideas and questions for the community, and the community will come to her with feedback and questions of their own. Her job is to make connections between the internal experts and brand ambassadors.
“For example, I have an influencer who asked about a hybrid tire we released. I found the expert on that product internally and connected them with the influencer. And he ended up writing a blog post about it,” she says.
“It's a two-way deal, and it does take a lot of fostering and nurturing of those relationships.”
In fact, she's quick to answer what her biggest challenge is in fostering these communities: Keeping it fresh.
“Keeping up with the content and keeping the relationships engaged and lively takes a lot of hands-on work,” she says.
“You don't just build a website and expect people to come to it, because it's not a website. It's a community, and it's a dialogue. That's what makes it a challenge.”
Carrie says the next challenge is incorporating more of the user-generated content they receive from brand ambassadors to keep the content vibrant.