PBS recently showed the world what it means to be agile about social business.
It started when the Public Broadcasting Service got slammed by Governor Mitt Romney during the recent presidential debate as a non-essential recipient of federal funding.
The social media world erupted with an outpouring of support for PBS and its popular Sesame Street character, Big Bird. The Twitterverse responded with fake Big Bird accounts -- photoshopped pictures of Big Bird holding signs that read "Will work for food" and "I am the 1 percent. My merchandise alone can fund all of PBS," and even fundraising campaigns.
Big Bird was one of the top three trending topics on Twitter during the debate. This was all it took for the PBS marketing folks to go to town. PBS bought a Twitter ad for Big Bird. Everybody who searched for Big Bird was served up an ad in addition to their search results. The ad, complete with the PBS logo, read: "PBS is trusted, valued and essential. See why at valuepbs.org. (Please retweet!)"
Perfect. The ad was timely and relevant, and it included a call to action and the request to retweet -- all essential elements of a successful social media initiative.
But PBS didn't stop there. It also issued a press release the following day on its Website, thus integrating its new media tactics with the traditional form of communication. The press release stated:
We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the debate. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting... which serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse. Over the course of a year, 91% of all U.S. households tune in to their local PBS station.
PBS also noted that the federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundreth of 1 percent of the federal budget, and elimination of funding would have no impact on the nation's debt.
The Twitter ad was short but reached thousands in a short period of time. The press release was more detailed and provided the substantive facts that the media could include in their numerous reports in the days that followed.
Just as the social media gurus will tell you, an effective marketing campaign must combine social, Web, mobile, print, promotions, storytelling, and a call-to-action. PBS nailed it.
Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott calls this type of social media offensive newsjacking: "The process by which you inject your ideas into breaking news in real-time to generate media coverage for your organization; throw your opponent off balance; and attract the attention of a highly-engaged audience."
PBS wasn't the sole beneficiary of this social campaign. Online retailers like costumecraze.com reported a 500 percent increase in sales of Big Bird Halloween costumes. And a week after the debate, the Obama campaign produced a humorous TV ad featuring Big Bird. Available on YouTube, the ad has been viewed over 3 million times.
So a timely social media campaign not only benefits the sponsor, but can also have a wide-ranging network effect to communities of shared interest. And that's what being social is all about.
— Karyl Scott is a technology journalist based in San Diego, where she covers the intersection of mobile and social media, big-data, analytics, and business innovation.