I often see blog posts attempting to discuss which social media tool a business should start with or posts that outline the unique benefits and applications of each tool. However, according to the authors of Groundswell, this technology-focused thinking can be a marketing pitfall. In the article below, I will use Groundswell’s alternative approach to organizing social media marketing by presenting a case study of Earth Balance.
Analyzing Earth Balance’s Social Media Marketing and
Its Effectiveness in Achieving Marketing Objectives
Most marketers in the organic industry have some conception of the value of incorporating social media into a comprehensive marketing plan. However, there are very few examples within the industry of marketers who are effectively utilizing a balanced approach to social media on behalf of their business. In Goundswell, Bernoff and Li (2011) suggested that a business may not realize its full potential in the social media landscape if it is focusing on the technologies, i.e. the specific social media websites (p. 18). In other words, a marketing pitfall, which many in the organic industry may find themselves in, is organizing their marketing plan around their “Twitter strategy,” “Facebook strategy,” “Pintrest strategy,” etc. In response to this common tendency among marketers, the authors of Groundswell offered five marketing objectives, which were listed as listening, talking, energizing, helping, and embracing. Using these objectives as core themes, this case study will show that a business within the organic industry, Earth Balance, has an impressive social media presence, not because its utilization of each technology is strategic or unique, but rather that its presence on multiple platforms work together to achieve the said objectives
Historically, when businesses wanted to listen to their targeted consumers, marketers utilized syndicated research (provided by professional groups such as Nielsen and Mintel), surveys, or focus groups. However, as Bernoff and Li pointed out, these tired methods will “answer any question you can think up. But they can’t tell you what you never thought to ask (p. 80). Consequently, they advised marketers to use social media to establish an online community, which serves as “a continuously running, huge, engaged focus group – a natural interaction where you can listen” (p. 82). Earth Balance has effectively established a listening community, which it calls “made just right ™ by earth balance ®” (2013). This community page is actually a standalone blog, which includes frequent, keyword-rich editorial content generated by Earth Balance and community members. The blog has areas where Earth Balance’s community can submit their own recipes, participate in bake-offs and recipe contests, as well as debate with each other on hot topics in vegan news. What is particularly noteworthy, and what most likely contributes to fulfilling Earth Balance’s listening objective, is how active its community is on the site.
As many bloggers recognize, posting content is not as much as a challenge as getting readers to comment on the content. This dilemma was represented in numbers within a North American Technographics Online Benchmark survey, which showed that only 33% of U.S. online adults “react to other online content” (p. 44). Yet, Earth Balance’s articles earn a surprising amount comments. For instance, in February of 2013, Earth Balance posted four articles that attracted seventy-one comments. In one particular article, the author concluded by asking readers to suggest plant-based lifestyle topics that they would like to see featured on a talk show. Thirteen individuals replied with thoughtful suggestions (Made Just Right, Comments section, 2013). This is one of many examples of how Earth Balance’s blog is used to fulfill the listening objective. The user-generated comments contain a wealth of conversations that serve as ideal listening-material for Earth Balance.
As mentioned above, Earth Balance’s blog includes an area where its target market can submit their personal recipes. This area is specifically conducive to supporting the talking objective, because as Bernoff and Li explained, it allows people to interact with each other and enables them to share the user-generated content on other social networks (p. 104). In the case of Earth Balance’s Community Recipe section (2013), visitors can comment on a peer recipe and easily share their approval of the recipe through the Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest widgets, which are provided immediately after the recipe’s directions. In addition to the Community Recipe section, Pinterest is another tool used by Earth Balance to fulfill the talking objective. In fact, its Pintrest site boasts 10,104 Followers and its content (including user-generated content) has been pinned 3,601 times. These impressive numbers indicate that Earth Balance is achieving the talking objective, by helping people spread its brand through their interactions with each other.
Bernoff and Li explained that energizing occurs when a business’s best customers use social media platforms “to recruit their peers” (p. xiv). However, in order for a business like Earth Balance to measure and track whether or not the energizing objective is being fulfilled, it must enable its customers to share their recruitment stories. Earth Balance successfully uses its Facebook page to achieve this, which coincidently has 36,835 likes. For example, on July 3, 2013 at 11:32, one of Earth Balance’s customers provided a link to her personal blog with the comment, “Hello, just wanted to share this lovely Strawberry and Wild Blueberry Galette recipe with you…all possible thanks to your lovely shortening and butter spread” (Earth Balance official Facebook page, Recent Posts by Others section). Two days earlier, co-author of VeganForHer, Ginny Kisch Messina, commented, “…introduced the hosts of Denver’s morning TV show to Earth Balance today. They agreed that this vegan spread is better than butter!” These posts are just two out of presumably thousands of instances on Earth Balance’s Facebook page that indicate the company is not only successfully using social media to energize its constituents, but it is providing the platform to measure its performance on the objective.
Helping and Embracing
According to Bernoff and Li, the final two objectives are perhaps the most difficult and time consuming for businesses to realize. In fact, when speaking of the helping objective, the authors suggested that “supporting customers is a burden;” (p. 157) and in regards to the embracing objective, they insisted that using social media to include customers in “your development and innovation process” can only be described in one way: “it’s challenging” (p. 182). While there is no clear evidence online that Earth Balance is using social media to collaborate with customers to develop new products, it is successfully using its Twitter account to aid in the helping objective (@Earth_Balance, 2013). For example, Earth Balance visibly monitors the social media site for mentions of its brand name. Evidence of this can be found in its Twitter feed on July 3, 2013, when two non-followers of Earth Balance were discussing a “PB with coconut oil” under the brand name “earth balance.” In short order, Earth Balance’s official Twitter account responded to the conversation with a link to its website and a comment reading “That would be our Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread! Enjoy.” Similarly, on July 2, 2013, a Twitter user was immediately directed by Earth Balance to a local Whole Foods store in response to her or his question about where the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs could be found in Milwaukee. These two examples are representative of a very active and responsive presence that Earth Balance maintains on Twitter. This presence is a critical component of the helping objective, because it allows a space within the social landscape where Earth Balance can enthusiastically solve customers’ problems, while 20,093 of its Twitter followers watch it do so.
It is suggested that Earth Balance should strengthen this effort by allowing the loyal followers to participate in product development. Bernoff and Li explained that the helping objective naturally leads into the embracing objective, because the ongoing “dialogue – especially with your most active customers – inevitably draws them into to your development process” (p.177). The authors suggested, that a business like Earth Balance, should capitalize on these dialogues to help with product developments and improvements, since the “conversations are more efficient than asking questions in a survey, conducting engineering study, or having executives review every suggestion” (p. 183). It is possible that Earth Balance is currently utilizing dialogues with customers to develop and/ or improve products. If this is, indeed, the case, it could make good use of these instances by including the stories of embracing customers’ suggestions in compelling blog posts to share with its online community.
Despite the lack of online evidence that Earth Balance is aggressively using product-related conversations on social media sites to help achieve an embracing objective, this case study showed that Earth Balance is very effective in other areas within the social media landscape. In fact, as illustrated above, the company uses a dynamic community blog to listen to its constituents. Earth Balance also provides space on its blog and on Pintrest to feature user-generated recipes and pictures, which encourages talking between its customers. Additionally, the company has a robust Facebook page that displays thousands of examples of how energized customers persuade their peers to try Earth Balance products. Finally, this case study showed how Earth balance successfully uses Twitter to help its constituents. While there are so many respectable attempts by businesses in the organic industry to incorporate social media tools into its marketing efforts, Earth Balance’s approach is exceptionally effective, because it grounded in social media marketing objectives, rather than social media technologies.
If you are a marketer at Earth Balance, or a leader of an organic business like Earth Balance, I would love to hear how you organize your social media marketing efforts. If you need help with this effort, please give me a shout: seacatanna@gmail, @AnnaSeacat
End Note: There has been a recent debate about whether or not Earth Balance’s assertions that its products are organic and Non-GMO is false, as in an April 2013 article published on the OCA. The intent of this case study is to not enter that debate; rather it simply stated that Earth Balance operates within the organic industry and that its social media efforts are effective. Moreover, it was suggested that other players within the same industry could benefit from studying these effective social media tactics, period.
@Earth_Balance. (2013). Tweets. Retrieved on July 4, 2013 from
Bernoff, J. & Li, C. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social
Technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.
Community Recipes. (2013). Earth Balance’s Online Community Blog. Retrieved from
Earth Balance Facebook. (2013). Recent Posts by Others. Retrieved on July 4, 2013 from
Made Just Right. Earth Balance’s Online Community Blog. Retrieved on July 4, 2013
New Plant-Based Lifestyle Show: What Would Julieanna Do? (2013). Made Just Right by Earth
Balnace. Comments Section. Retrieved from http://mjr.earthbalancenatural.com/what-