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What's in a brand? These days, lots of social media

Brian Pitzer, CEO of Avitae caffeinated water. Photo Ben French
Brian Pitzer, CEO of Avitae caffeinated water. Photo Ben French
Social media have become an integral part of modern society. Facebook boasts more than 500 million users, and people are sharing videos on YouTube, reading blogs, connecting on LinkedIn and chatting on Twitter. We're in an age of hyper-communications, with the conventional "word of mouth" on steroids.

Savvy companies eager to turbocharge their brands are paying attention to the social media phenomenon and have integrated it into their marketing plans.

Sparking interest in meeting places

sparkspace in Columbus hosts business meetings, conferences and retreats in its themed meeting spaces. Like many companies, their business dropped off significantly in 2009.

"Companies stopped spending money for services like ours," explains Mark Henson, chief imagination officer. "We wanted to let the world know that we were still alive and kicking and that the smartest, most successful companies were still spending money on these things."

So they started posting upbeat messages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter every Monday, lauding the companies that would be using their facilities that week.

"Within a short time," Henson recalls, "we were hearing people say stuff like 'Wow, you guys are really rockin'! It sounds like you're really busy!' Focusing on and appreciating our customers that way increased our positive energy," he notes. "It helped us project a successful image to the world, and people want to buy into confidence and positive energy."

Taking the 'boring' out of water

Avitae, based in Dublin near Columbus, sells purified water with natural caffeine that the company positions as better than "boring bottled water" and healthier than soda. Avitae uses Twitter for contests.

"We're big on landmarks," Brian Pitzer, ceo, explains. "We send challenges on Twitter for people to be the first to send us a picture of themselves holding a bottle of Avitae in front of various landmarks."

Niagara Falls and the Ohio State football stadium were two recent contest landmarks. They've also held more generic contests, like naming the best quotes from '80s movies, on Facebook. Contest winners get free Avitae.

Spreading the gospel of Cincinnati chili

Gold Star Chili has been an icon in Cincinnati since 1965. The company website proudly states that "Cincinnati is Chilitown USA and Gold Star Chili is The Flavor of Cincinnati!"

The company has restaurants in Cincinnati, Dayton, Middletown, Hamilton, northern Kentucky, Lexington, and Lawrenceburg, Ind., and also sell their chili in grocery stores.

The company has been spreading its gospel of Cincinnati chili through Twitter and Facebook. According to Charlie Howard, VP of marketing and brand development, Gold Star use Twitter for promotions and shares fun messages like celebrity sightings. A recent Tweet noted that George Clooney was spotted at a Gold Star Chili drive-through in Covington, Ky. Clooney is a Cincinnati native.

"Facebook is an opportunity for us to engage and participate in conversations with our fans in a very personal and unique way that can't be accomplished with mainstream advertising," Howard explains. "We share upcoming promotions and offerings in advance with fans."

The company also created a special eClub for its most hardcore Facebook fans who consistently respond to comments and requests.
Gold Star recently hosted an event with a local celebrity chef and invited its Facebook fans and eClub members exclusively.

"It was a sold-out event both nights, so we decided to video it and share it on Facebook," he says. "Gold Star chili can be an everyday pantry ingredient, too, so we also provide helpful ideas, recipes and instructions on how to use it for meals."

Sharing t-shirt creativity

Wearcast, another Cincinnati company, enables people to create and personalize t-shirts in real time and share their designs with friends. The company then prints the t-shirts.

"We founded Wearcast because we often came up with funny expressions and memorable quotes that would make great t-shirts and didn't like how difficult it was to design something cool that we would want to wear," explains Jayved Karanade, CEO.
So Wearcast streamlined the design process to make it as easy as sending a tweet or updating Facebook status.

"Our Social Expression Engine takes anything you type and turns it into a cool designer t-shirt that's ready for you to share on your Facebook wall instantly," he says. "When friends see your post, they will be brought back to your profile page to see what you made. This helps people find out about Wearcast."

The company was awarded $200,000 from CincyTech, a public-private agency that assists high-growth technology startup firms. CincyTech receives funding through Ohio's Third Frontier initiative.

Turning up the radio

Cleveland's Listener Driven Radio (LDR) is a software company designed to help radio stations grow ratings, revenue and web traffic by leveraging the power of social media and listener interaction.

"LDR is software that enables listeners to affect a radio station's programming minute by minute in real time, whether the station is automated or in 'live-assist' mode," explains Daniel Anstandig, CEO. "It deeply integrates into Facebook, Twitter and 280+ other social networks and bookmarking sites."

Listeners are in the driver's seat, and their input customizes what a station plays. Using their mobile devices and the radio station's website, listeners access a radio station's play list and vote for their favorite songs and artists. Voting is linked directly to the station's computerized broadcast system, and the tunes with the most votes get played first. According to Anstandig, LDR is now used by more than 65 radio stations around the world.

Making books come alive

Sideways, also in Cleveland, has developed innovative software to change the way people read books. A company news release describes Sideways as "a publishing platform that transforms books into immersive experiences on digital tablets and mobile devices."

According to Eliza Wing, president and COO, what the company does goes well beyond the e-book concept of straight text. "Sideways is making books come alive with video, audio and design images all at once. We're developing original content with forward-thinking book publishers and authors and augmenting text with rich media to enhance the reading experience."

The company maintains a blog on its website and uses Facebook to post company and industry news. "We have several 'power' Twitter users who tweet whenever we have interesting news, and Twitter helps generate interest in our booth at events," Wing explains. "Putting out notices in the Twitterverse has also been a great way for us to attract job candidates."
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