Friday, September 24, 2010

A Good Housekeeping Seal for the Twitter Age

Sept 19, 2010

Aiming to be a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the social media age, a startup called TwitterMoms is working with Procter & Gamble and Quickie Manufacturing to get its ratings on their products in stores. In a modern twist, the ratings and reviews will be accessible instantly via QR codes printed on product packaging.

Megan Calhoun, founder of TwitterMoms—which boasts 30,000 “influential” mommy bloggers—said the organization introduced the initiative to provide a one-stop, reliable source of product information for moms. (The average member has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter, claims TwitterMoms.)

“The way product reviews were done before, there was no credibility, no easy way to access [all that was being said] about a product—to the point where the [Federal Trade Commission] stepped in,” Calhoun said, referring to the FTC’s stringent rules governing blogger-marketer relationships.

For marketers, the benefits are twofold: They get customer feedback on products and marketing strategies, and they’re able to escape some of the finger-pointing that comes from sending bloggers new products, often in hopes of getting gushy reviews.

In the case of TwitterMoms, women are given product samples to try and evaluate at home, and then asked to offer honest and practical feedback for both marketers and their peers. Panels usually consist of 25 to 30 “experts,” and the groups are drawn from a subset of 1,200 TwitterMoms members. (The goal is to capture a subgroup that’s best representative of its community, Calhoun said.)

The organization then works with the advertiser to come up with a set of criteria for evaluating the product. If the product “meets or exceeds” all guidelines 85 percent or more of the time, the marketer is awarded a “Moms Like This” seal of approval.

Companies pay TwitterMoms to assemble the groups and for the rights to run the ratings information. TwitterMoms, in turn, pays panelists for their contributions. The setup is designed this way so that the women aren’t taking money from the companies they’re reviewing.

Augie DeLuca, chief marketing officer for Quickie, said the primary appeal was the opportunity to gain “unbiased and objective feedback” from bloggers. The Cinnaminson, N.J.–based company next month will launch its first product carrying TwitterMoms’ seal of approval: an improved version of its Microfiber Twist Mop.

Following a six-week evaluation process by moms, Quickie garnered insights on how to improve the “efficacy and efficiency” of its mop. Research showed that 96 percent of the moms who tried it would “recommend it to their peers,” the company found.

DeLuca contrasted TwitterMoms’ review system with the “clinical” procedures often used by third-party experts and in-house teams to test new products. As Quickie’s mop was tested in consumers’ own homes, the company was able to learn how its product “stacked up versus what [the women testers] had been using before, and is it as good as we feel it is?” DeLuca said.

P&G, meanwhile, used a different approach. It turned to TwitterMoms as a way to evaluate the relevance of a campaign it had been running for its Dawn liquid dish soap. (Ads from The Kaplan Thaler Group tout one drop of Dawn as having the cleaning power of two drops of an unnamed rival.)

Panelists were given an unbranded bottle of dish detergent and then asked to clean the grease from a hamburger and cookie recipe, respectively, after first allowing the utensils and trays to soak.

Letting consumers experience “the torture test situation” (grease) enabled P&G to gather genuine feedback, said P&G rep Susan Baba. “Panelists on the experiment were asked questions such as, ‘If it costs between this and this amount, would you consider it to be [a] good value?’” she added, explaining how the marketer determined the merits of its own value claim.

P&G hasn’t included the ratings on its products yet, but it has the rights to do so.

Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Mom Central, a social media consulting firm that specializes in helping companies market to moms, said the initiative is a good attempt at creating an unbiased, peer-to-peer community of product insights, but she contends it’s likely to work best only in theory. Bloggers, in general, are a highly opinionated—and biased group—and they may hold preferences for certain brands or categories of products, she said.

Regarding QR codes, DeBroff said “the mommy market isn’t there yet.”

Meanwhile, TwitterMoms is up against the Good Housekeeping seal, which has been around since 1909 (the Hearst publication also introduced a Green seal last year for eco-friendly products). To get the seal, products are tested at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute and are backed by a limited two-year warranty. Thousands of products currently carry the designation.

Asked whether the program could compete with Good Housekeeping’s or others, Phil Lempert, an industry analyst who calls himself the Supermarket Guru, said likely not. “Overall, I don’t think it’ll be significant,” he said, adding that mommy bloggers are likely to continue writing reviews on their own—aside from these new platforms. What the program does offer, he contends, is a “valuable tool” for companies to tap into social media interactions. “It’s better than a focus group.”