Years ago, as a barista at Starbucks, I was written up for showing up late for work every day by exactly one minute—not because I was scrambling to get to work every day and bursting through the door at the last minute, but because I hated my job and would wait until the absolute last second possible to get out of my car and go clock in, not wanting to give the corporate giant one extra minute of my time. What I hated more than anything else was having to drink the corporate Kool-Aid and pretend like I loved wearing that stupid green apron and making drinks on an assembly line. Even customer interaction was sickeningly cookie-cutter. Ex: “Don’t you love fall?!”
What would’ve helped make my job suck less is if I could’ve had more personality at work. I felt like another cog in the machine. But companies like Starbucks, which work on a hyperlocal level and emphasize employee-relations with the community, are in a unique position to leverage their position as a local fixture as a marketing point. What if every Starbucks employee had a Facebook page of his/her own that was connected to the larger corporate Starbucks fan page? And what if each Starbucks employee was given the power of the corporate voice to connect with locals? I still probably would’ve hated my job, but at least something like that would’ve made it more palatable. I could’ve at least pretended to mean something to the cold, heartless Starbucks machine.
This local angle also struck Clara Shih, author of "The Facebook Era," as an undervalued marketing point. Businesses already know about the power of social marketing by creating fan pages on sites like Facebook and Twitter, but few have really leveraged social marketing to target the individual user on a hyperlocal level.
“Social media is a massive disruption. Just like the Internet era before it, the Facebook era created a new customer paradigm,” Shih told me. “New customer paradigms require new tools. They present daunting operational issues that need to be addressed.”
So she and Hearsay Corporation created Hearsay Social, which launched Thursday, to help “corporate/local” companies harness the power of local social marketing. One of the company’s first clients is 24 Hour Fitness, which, as many know, has myriad branches scattered across the country. By now, the company has realized that different marketing tactics don’t translate seamlessly across different locales. A promotional image of a surfer at the beach may work well in a sunny Californian region in April, but won’t work in Fargo, North Dakota. And just as different regions across the U.S. have different climates, they also have different cultures and communities. One monolithic corporate banner isn’t going to work across a diverse array of different communities.
Hearsay Social takes social marketing a step further to allow employees and franchises of that big corporate structure operate directly within their own communities. Thus, not only will Facebook users be able to “like” Starbucks, but they’ll be able to “like” the Starbucks on the corner of Third and Gates Avenue, and “like” Suzy, the manager of the Starbucks on Third and Gates, or Linda, one of the baristas. Even better—employees and local branches can interact with customers via their Facebook pages. Maybe Linda the barista wants to share her favorite Starbucks drink on Facebook and show customers how they can make it at home.
“Businesses with local representatives are positioned to benefit from corporate/local social marketing because Facebook is decentralized and local,” said Shih. “We started Hearsay Social to address the new space of corporate/local. A lot of Fortune 1000 companies have the corporate/local model, like Starbucks, which has a strong brand and emphasizes local customer relationships. The ultimate challenge, though, is that corporate wants to walk the delicate balance between empowering unique local voices with the need to align local entities around a corporate brand.”
It makes sense. If Starbucks had handed me my own Starbucks barista page on Facebook, I probably would’ve been fired much sooner.
So how does a business empower the local voices of its employees while maintaining a unified brand presence on Facebook? Hearsay Social solves that problem with a dashboard that allows regional management to monitor content. For example, let’s say that 24 Hour Fitness has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to posting swear words. If one of the company’s employees posts a status update that contains a swear word, the word is flagged and management can choose to approve or deny the post. The platform also allows the company to track real-time analytics down to exact regions and locales, and post recommended content across all regional fan pages.
Shih has made a name for herself in the social marketing world with the publication of her best-selling book “The Facebook Era.” In a phone interview, Clara Shih told me about the moment she realized how ubiquitous Facebook really was.
“While I was at Salesforce, I went to Hong Kong and we were having lunch in a small noodle shop in a back alley, and in the middle of lunch I heard two old gentlemen at the table next to us. They were in wife-beaters and they were slurping their soup, and they were talking about Facebook in Cantonese.”
Shih went on to write “The Facebook Era” and on her book tour, she spoke with businesses that had regional branches, and that was when she realized that they really stood to benefit the most from Facebook which is, essentially, diffuse and local at the same time.
Hearsay Corporation raised a strategic round of funding from Sequoia Capital, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitter VP of engineering Michael Abbott, Path CEO and co-founder Dave Morin, and Facebook Product Architect Aaron Sittig.
Hearsay has a long-standing relationship with Facebook as a Preferred Developer Consultant.
You can see a cute little video of how Hearsay Social works here.