A Conversation with Beth Mansfield of Carl’s Jr and Babette Pepaj of BakeSpace.com
By UCLA X425 Student Anne Pierce
Babette is founder of Bakespace.com and the TECHmunch food blogger conference. She originally envisioned Bakespace as a kind of Facebook for foodies – a place where people could find and swap recipes. A former TV director & producer, Babette found her true calling and launched Bakespace.com in 2006 with no technical experience. Her passion drove and spurred her to create one of the most successful foodie sites today. She oversees all ad sales, customer service/support, and business development while maintaining relationships with food bloggers and PR professionals. Babette also founded TECHmunch, a food blogger conference that has grown to include annual conferences in several major U.S. cities. Additionally, she just launched a publishing platform for anyone who wants to create a digital customized cookbook.
Beth is the Director of PR and Corporate Communications for Carl’s Jr. She oversees everything from crisis management (e.g., the infamous ‘pink slime’ issue) to product PR for the brand to creating and maintaining relationships with both bloggers and traditional media. She’s also responsible for all social media communications, that she always conveys via the carefully crafted persona of a ‘young hungry guy’ – Carl Jr’s (and their sister company in the Midwest and Southeast, Hardee’s) main demo is young males. This persona incorporates ‘Happy Star’ qualities while being fun, cool and relatable to young men (using words like “Dude” and “Bro,” and tweeting about the hot models featured in their current TV ads.)
Babette and Beth opened by offering insights into how to deal with empowered, pissed off customers.
When asked about dealing with Bakespace members who have a gripe, Babette observed that often “You almost have to ask questions that lead customers to the solution without insulting them, such as when they realize for themselves that they accidentally didn’t activate their account. The bottom line, she said, is that if you reply constructively, it’s often possible to turn critics into allies.
Beth said: “You don’t go into PR thinking that you’re going to be a CSR – but you are – especially in the social media world.” She shared a number of anecdotes about dissatisfied customers who tweeted negative comments, including one relentless lawyer in Atlanta whose tweets escalated in frequency and tone to become more and more inflammatory. With this case and others, Beth emphasized the following:
- The importance of catching and addressing negative comments in the social sphere as early as possible to contain the situation.
- The importance of taking the dialogue offline as soon as possible
- That the most problematic platform for consumers is Twitter because it’s so instantaneous
- A few important research tactics, including seeing how many followers a vexed customer has and who they’re following, as well as whether they’ve interacted with any brands in a similar fashion before.
A tool she mentioned is Co-tweet, which allows you to manage multiple FB pages and Twitter handles, as well as research the social media history of disgruntled customers.
Both Babette and Beth discussed the importance of knowing your customer.
Beth offered up some amusing vignettes about brand ambassadors – super fans who absolutely love Carl’s Jr. – and how she and her team continuously engage with these fans and reward them for their support.
Beth offered a primer on aligning a retail partner with a charitable cause, including dos and don’ts (the necessity of vetting charities, a tool called “Charity Navigator” that rates and ranks charities, and provides access to their annual reports so you can see if a competitor is already a sponsor, etc.).
Beth and Babette both hold contests regularly, and discussed and debated which types of contests work best in the social media space. They observed that some brands have discovered that video contests aren’t the best, and often have low entry levels. Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper), a surprise guest in the class, cited a failed Sears Christmas contest.
Jeremy also mentioned tools, such as Rafflecopter and Wildfireapp.com, that help facilitate FB contests. He said sweepstakes where you only have to enter (and do nothing more) are often very successful as well.
Babette spoke to the Bakespace.com / Kitchenaid promotion. She noted that if you are the publisher, it’s important to understand that your goals are different from the brand’s. For example, brands typically want to build fans on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, blog posts, etc., while publishers want more page views.
The idea in the case of the KitchenAid promotion was to give away an appliance every day on BakeSpace for a month. The contest was structured in a way that enabled people to stay in the game yet participate only on those days when their favorite appliance was scheduled to be given away. This sort of schedule format cut down on participant fatigue. Babette learned from her background in reality TV that avid fans and followers tend to burn out, which is why she built the contest this way. She also noted that transparency regarding who is wining at any point during the contest can help drive the competition.
Carl’s Jr. does a lot of burger giveaways and coupons, etc. via their ‘Wheel of Awesome’ promotion. The goal, Beth said, is to get likes and interactions. For instance, on ‘Free Spin Fridays’, the goal is to get people talking about Carl’s Jr. and share the promotion with their friends. Customers can download the ‘Wheel of Awesome’ app for their smartphone, and ‘Free Spin Fridays,’ which are promoted on FB and Twitter, are quite successful for Carl’s Jr.
Beth spoke briefly regarding Facebook best practices and how the social network can be “treated like a magazine” by creating an editorial calendar (e.g., posting a funny picture one day, posing a question the next, doing a product feature the next, etc.)
Beth, Babette and Jeremy all noted that the opportunity for brands to interact organically with fans is deteriorating, as Facebook shifts increasingly to a paid advertising model.
Best Practices in Dealing with Bloggers
Babette and Beth discussed how bloggers and brands experience some of the same issues, and how bloggers that want to work with brands and make money from such alliances may face the perception among their followers that they’ve become a ‘sellout’.
Babette explained, “There has to be some acknowledgement that bloggers are brands,” and added that when approaching bloggers, it’s important to consider that they too are brands with their own business goals.
They’re journalists to a point, she said, but they have the ability to write on the fly. There is a renegade vibe in how they don’t want to be told what to write, while wanting to evolve into a brand themselves.
Her advice was to be sensitive to this by asking them where they want to go, and then help aid them in their progress.
Beth mentioned that Carl’s Jr. doesn’t pay bloggers for reviews, but whenever a review pops up on a fast food or dude blog, she’s open to providing the blogger with coupons for food.
Jeremy spoke a bit about Traackr, a tool for finding influencers, that he recommends because it performs deeper searches than services such as Klout. He touched on how to game Klout by posting comments on FB developed specifically to get lots of replies, and retweeting articles from college kids (for the .edu links that raise one’s Klout score).
Beth closed the lively discussion by suggesting, “You need to be relevant, so see what’s trending, and talk about that.”
Kudos to @ErikDeutsch for moderating such a stimulating, informative discussion with three great guest speakers. I learned so much in a short amount of time.