Everything Erin Anderson knew about digital media when she joined General Mills was self-taught.
My role is challenging because I sit in a center where I get direct experience with all the things in digital media that are changing every single day.
As a music major, she changed her focus to business halfway through. But like a lot of SocialMedia.org members we've profiled here, she saw a career in marketing as a great way to stay connected to her creative side.
“While I didn't end up being a music teacher, that creative part of me had a home in my digital life,” she says.
Out of college, she landed a job at an ecommerce company. There, even though she was in a marketing position, she learned to code in Unix to deploy emails from the server under her desk.
“Sometimes you just have a server under your desk because it’s the quickest way to make things happen in a digital world,” says Erin.
When she saw a job opening in email marketing for General Mills, she thought, “That's me.”
She loved the idea of working for iconic brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Cheerios. And almost immediately after applying she was hired.
“At the time there just weren't people like me. It was pretty rare to find somebody who had not only done digital marketing, but who understood it fluently,” she says.
Plus, it was in the early days of social media when brands saw an opportunity to jump in where there was little risk and a ton of reward in terms of awareness.
“Back then,” Erin says, “with Facebook, it was kind of a free for all. The people who started social media for their brands were their own experts doing as much as they could in this gold rush in the Wild West, if you will.”
One of the earliest projects she began working on was Tablespoon.com.
It's General Mills' branded recipe site built to compete with the likes of AllRecipes.com. After all, sharing recipes with the giant food website was expensive, and they were General Mills — they had buckets recipes and ideas to share.
But shortly after the site launch, Erin says they realized they would never compete with AllRecipes.com.
“And it wasn't because we didn't work hard enough, we were just too late to the game,” she says.
But Tablespoon.com wasn't a loss.
Instead, it was an opportunity to innovate and experiment in social media. Tablespoon may have been a product of General Mills, but it didn't have the recognition of more risk-averse brands, and that gave them room to try new things.
For example, to launch the site, Erin suggested they play off of a popular YouTube video of the time you might remember, Double Rainbow. So they launched a week of content featuring double rainbow cupcakes with rainbow frosting, double rainbow Jell-O shots, and rainbow pancakes with rainbow fruit kebabs.
It was such a huge hit with their fans that rainbows are still a big part of their recipe repertoire. In fact, recently a recipe for Rainbow Roll Cake was featured on the homepage.
They also did a lot of testing in content marketing and what was then emerging social media platforms like Pinterest. In fact, Tablespoon became the 73rd largest pinner in all of Pinterest at one time.
That experience helped her earn a spot on their Social Media Center of Excellence.
Erin says it was an exciting time to join the Center of Excellence at General Mills. Facebook had just rolled out a plan to get rid of organic reach, Twitter and Pinterest were blowing up, and Instagram had just been acquired by Facebook and started to see serious growth.
Now, with a focus on emerging media, she says, “My role is challenging because I sit in a center where I get direct experience with all the things in digital media that are changing every single day. The hardest part is getting that information into the hands of people making the decisions at the right time.”
“To move the culture and way of thinking for a giant CPG company like General Mills, is such a challenge because it just changes so quickly.”
“I'm looking forward to our smart brands getting big wins.”
Erin says when those brands try something new in social and it works, it serves as a case study for other General Mills brands. She's excited about creative brands like Fiber One and their Facebook video content, Cinnamon Toast Crunch's Selfie Spoon, and Totino's 360-degree social approach.
“If a brand like Totino's sees a win, then we can show how complex the entire campaign is and how insight drove it. That could be a great case study for how our brands are approaching the complex world of media,” Erin explains.
“But it's hard to move a cruise ship, you've just got to do it little by little.”