Social Media Case Study: Sears Blue Blogger Group

This excerpt from The Social Media Business Equation by Eve Mayer Orsburn explores how Sears successfully engaged a customer community through social media and offered them considerate, thoughtful resources that would make their consumer electronics purchasing decision with Sears more informed and enlightened.

???Organization

Sears Holdings Corporation, established 1886, Headquarters: Hoffman Estates Illinois

Background

Celebrating more than 125 years in business, Sears Holdings Corporation is the nation's fourth largest broadline retailer with over 4,000 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada.  Sears Holdings is the leading home appliance retailer as well as a leader in tools, lawn and garden, consumer electronics and automotive repair and maintenance. Sears Holdings is the nation's largest provider of home services, with more than 11 million service calls made annually.  Sears Holdings Corporation operates through its subsidiaries, including Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart Corporation.  For more information, visit Sears Holdings' website at www.searsholdings.com.

Business Need

Identify a way to engage the customer community and offer them considerate, thoughtful resources that would make their consumer electronics purchasing decision with Sears more informed and enlightened.

Social Media Solution

Recruit select, well-rounded and knowledgeable bloggers from across the country for the inaugural Sears Blue Blogger Crew initiative and give them the opportunity to engage in events, interact with new resources and have early access to consumer electronics information, and then relate information to their own social media communities about the latest technology news.

- MySears.com                                          - Twitter.com/BlueCEcrew

- YouTube.com/SearsElectronics        - Facebook.com/SearsElectronics

Business Result

Nearly 18 million media impressions across a variety of press outlets and social network communities (i.e. Mashable and The Next Web Blog) and consumer forums over a month-long period.

What Actually Happened

To understand the progressive thinking which inspired Sears to launch the Blue Blogger Crew during the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, one must first travel back a mere three months earlier to October of 2010 when on a seemingly average day, a smaller more intimate event was taking place in Chicago, Illinois at the Sears store located on State Street.

As a foray into experiential blogging events targeted toward consumer electronics enthusiasts, Sears invited nine local bloggers to attend the first consumer electronics in-store product demo of Samsung’s DualView camera, dubbed the Sears ‘Megapixel Meetup’. Taking the cameras for a spin around town, the troupe strolled about on a photo walk while testing the camera features and capturing life through photography in real time. Blog commentary from the event was posted on participant’s personal blogs, as well as highlighted via Sears own social media channels, and shareable for others navigating these online resources. From this point, with such a successful event completed on the micro level, the Sears team dared to think bigger. In conceptualizing ways they could really relate to their customers on an intimate, conversational level, this was only the first step. Blogging was merely the beginning.

In taking inspiration from the October 2010 event and ongoing social media activity and customer engagement, Sears concluded that the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) would serve as the perfect platform for a more macro-level initiative through the launch of the Sears Blue Blogger Crew. By selecting a set of enthusiastic, thoughtful and opinionated bloggers who offered well-rounded feedback via a cross-section of interest areas and focuses, Sears set out to provide a ‘peer-to-peer’ perspective from CES while engaging and inspiring the customer community at the world’s largest technology tradeshow.

On January 3, 2011, just three days before CES would kick-off around the world, Sears distributed news of its inaugural Blue Blogger Crew activation. Industry competitors, the press and the consumer masses readjusted their attention and began to watch when Sears announced they would bring a select group of technology bloggers from across the country to report on their experiences after checking out the hottest new items on display at the show. True to its innovative brand history, Sears was ahead of the curve.  Accordingly, its engaging strategy was stirring major discussion across various world news networks.

Andru Edwards (GearLive.com), Kris Cain (LittleTechGirl.com), Kelly Clay (LockerGnome.com), Jenna Hatfield (stopdropandblog.com) and Barbara Rozgonyi (WiredPRWorks.com) were the five introductory Sears Blue Blogger Crew members charged with a simple mission: Report, Tweet, YouTube, Facebook, Blog, and post on everything happening at the CES over a three-day period.  Each member was selected based on his or her knowledge in relation to different niches such as photography, technology, and/or small business. More importantly, the chosen bloggers were just normal people who enjoyed writing and blogging about every day things they were passionate about and then shared their stories online within their personal networks.

When asked how this team was coordinated, Karen Austin, President of Consumer Electronics for Sears Holdings, shared further insight regarding the selection process:

“In researching bloggers for this initiative, we were keen to recruit a well-rounded, diverse set of individuals who displayed a strong track record for producing quality content, and cared about what they generated.  With that criteria, we were able to find thoughtful people who could share their passion for consumer electronics via social communities and thus excite others to be more active online in sharing their own thoughts and opinions on consumer electronics industry news.”

From early on in the emerging media revolution, Sears quickly noticed how valuing this ‘connection synergy’ could be positioned to build up trust in the customer community. Beyond that, by giving enthusiastic bloggers resources, tools and access to industry news and events, Sears could also offer its customers richer, quality information from the ‘peer’ perspective.  When today’s consumer spends six months thinking about purchasing a large-screen TV and 70-80 percent of consumers trust opinions from people online when faced with a purchasing decision, brands should take a moment to step back and consider the conversations that are currently happening online amongst consumers, blogging communities and on social networking platforms.

For Sears, bringing its Blue Blogger Crew to CES 2011 was only the beginning. Because the Sears Blue Blogger Crew feedback and reporting delivered such well-received and well-earned organic applause from the press and consumers, an expanded plan has developed at Sears Holdings, which includes expanding on potential future opportunities. Shortly after CES concluded at the beginning of January, Kmart’s Consumer Electronics gaming business (which falls under the Sears Holding Corp. umbrella) decided take the concept behind the Sears Blue Blogger Crew execution at CES even further by tapping into its active and passionate online Kmart gaming community for a separate, yet similar, initiative. As a result Kmart Consumer Electronics invited bloggers from its online gaming community to submit themselves for consideration to be among three bloggers to attend and participate in an exclusive Kmart experience at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the biggest, international trade show for the computer and video games industry.

Both concepts speak to the same, long-term goal that Sears Holdings has always valued and pledged to uphold.  As Austin thinks ahead on the months and years to come, she remains optimistic and certain that the established blogging team will hold true to their mission:

“In establishing an orchestrated campaign built upon the four pillars of our brand which are dedicated to upholding the ideas of sharing voice, trust, insight, and content, Sears and Kmart Consumer Electronics are then able to communicate through blogs and other social media in a different and creative way more than ever before.  The more people trust us and talk to us, the more insight we gain into our business and from there we can create the invaluable content which will truly help our customers and community.”

With announcing the contest via the official KmartGamer.com blog, it’s easy to understand why Sears Holdings is making another move to stir discussion amongst gamers in the blogosphere, as they go on to say, “Why, do you ask, are we extending this invitation?  As we've gotten to know many of you, we've discovered that a lot of you are skilled gaming bloggers, podcasters and other media creators and you're darn good at it.”

Now that’s a brand that genuinely KNOWS, TRUSTS and LISTENS TO its customer community.