MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Gareth Hornberger at the SMASH | April 15, 2011

On April 7th, 2011, the MHB program hosted a social media summit at the USC Davidson Center in downtown Los Angeles. The first-ever SMASH, or Social Media Advanced Skills Huddle, amassed industry professionals, graduate students and professors for short lectures and brainstorming huddles. In the continuing MHB Weekly coverage of the event’s distinguished speakers and key ideas, today looks at social media wunderkind Gareth Hornberger.

After graduating in 2009 from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Mr. Hornberger started a social media career at Razorfish before moving into his current role as the Social Media Manager for Levi’s. The historic jeans company now has almost 4 million Facebook fans — compare that with 1.75 million for Old Navy, and less than one million for Lucky, Lee, True Religion and Wrangler combined — and an active account on Twitter, featuring pictures and deals for the vibrant Levi’s community.

The first major takeaway from Mr. Hornberger’s presentation was that he perceives a paradigm shift from social marketing to social branding in the corporate web space, meaning that companies need to be more consumer-focused, empathetic and honest, conversational, clear in vision and willing to empower everyone in their day-to-day initiatives. It’s no longer about tactics, explained Mr. Hornberger, but about real world outcomes — much like the way that President Obama, hailed for his social media strategy in the 2008 election, had his eye on the presidency at all times, not on amassing a certain number of Facebook fans or messages. Brands are becoming inherently social, and therefore need to capitalize on the new outlets of communication where ordinary individuals most often discuss their consumer experiences and beloved products.

To illustrate his ideology, Mr. Hornberger explored Levi’s Water<Less, a synergistic goodwill campaign that combined elements of engineering, marketing and social media to achieve a charitable end. Troubled by the statistic that one in every eight people has no access to clean water, Levi’s developed a new water-saving product line that cut some 16 million gallons of water from the manufacturing process in one season alone. To accompany the launch, Levi’s released a typical publicity announcement — explaining that the company would pair with Water.org, an American NPO, to fund sustainability programs and spread drinkable water around the world — but upped the ante with an interactive Facebook game called Watertank, which urges players to complete challenges like pledging to wash their jeans less often and donating money:
The Watertank game generated more than 125,000 likes, comments and clickthroughs, almost 4,000 pledges and 2,000 tweets, and 5,200 stream stories in its first ten days. It has an active community of 10,000 highly-engaged players, and accomplishes for Levi’s exactly what Mr. Hornberger identified as social branding: it empowers the individual to match the attitude of the company, who together achieve a common and well-defined goal. This is how socially-innovative organizations win the hearts and minds, much more coveted than the dollars and cents, of their consumers.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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