Starting Small in Social Media Might Work for Some… Prospering Meant Going Big for Me

Brian Sheehan writes at that, “The Only ‘Rule’ For Social Media You Need to Know: Start Small.”


He’s kidding, right?

You can read the article for yourself. I mean, it makes a lot of sense. But he’s making an assumption — a really huge one. That the CEO, CMO or Vice President of Marketing (or the executive leadership in general) are convinced that social media is worth it.

Now I will be the first to tell you that social media requires a tenacity and time most won’t even begin to endure (read my “Three Ps of Social Media” piece). Any business taking the plunge must be prepared for a slow build. Eventually, you get that Snowball Effect where more and more people engage. It’s a process.

That said, sometimes there are shortcuts. Now these quicker routes to social media dominance are rare, but in order to achieve such, it requires jumping in full force. Don’t start small.

When I did it for my former employer, Mohawk, I didn’t at all. Not small. Huge. We’re talking 1½ tons huge — that’s 3,000 pounds.

Go Big or Go Home

Inching your way into social media might be a great strategy for some but it’s not always the right answer. In Mr. Sheehan’s piece, the executives are asking his advice. In my world, the executives didn’t exactly ask. Well, some were aware that Facebook and Twitter existed. Flooring retailers at the thousands of stores around North America needed help to effectively use social media.

But for a manufacturer, the question how to use social media came up rarely. For those who did think about using Facebook and Twitter, press releases and events along with the characteristics of flooring seemed to be the consensus for the social media content preferred by those wishing to contribute.

A yawn-fest.

Flooring Is Boring

I often got in trouble for using this phrase, but to the common consumer, flooring is boring. Even when consumers turn to renovating a room, the flooring — if it’s even considered — doesn’t inspire as much enthusiasm as going shopping for painting the four walls or getting new furniture or window treatments.

Taking the common path with social media would result in the same result. Starting small in social media would be devastating. A slow build-up would leave consumers without any reason at all to engage.

As I explained in “Engagement Effect: An Emotional Toll Bridge,” to become a follower, friend or fan, a consumer needs an emotion. “Boredom,” as it turns out, results in someone failing to engage.

And if they happened to engage, the an exile would likely follow, making a re-engagement later almost impossible.

Further, the flooring business tends to be rather challenging. Brands are among the last considerations of a consumer. This is unusual considering flooring is likely the third most expensive purchase a consumer will make after a home (first) and a vehicle (second). In a vehicle purchase, the brand is either the first or second considerations.

So with brand recognition not as high as it could be, no social media presence, an indifferent executive suite and lackluster content, how would one approach social media? Starting small?

Ricko the Rhino... all 3,000 pounds of himA Rhino-Sized Launch into Social Media

As it turned out, Mohawk’s premier carpet product, SmartStrand, had achieved a new Federal Trade Commission designation of “triexta.” The fiber creating triexta had been on the market a relatively short time compared to nylon, which had 50 years under its belt. But triexta, using some corn-based materials instead of petroleum, also came clean easier and wouldn’t even stain if you poured bleach on it and let it sit.

Seems like a miracle product. It is. It simply won’t stain with anything common in a household.

So don’t ask me, but I got to thinking about the mess my dogs make and they’re not that big. I kept getting bigger. I shared my idea with my friends at the Intermark Group and soon we’d met Ricko the Rhino at the Birmingham Zoo. An endangered Black Rhinoceros, Ricko was 12 years old at the time.

Putting together the idea and pitch, I wanted to carpet Ricko’s enclosure with SmartStrand triexta carpet and broadcast it live on the web. Ricko would be the voice of Mohawk on Twitter and Facebook as an introduction to social media. Videos would also be produced for YouTube and posted periodically.

At first, my sanity did get questioned.

I should mention here that the economy had tumbled into the worst depths and the housing industry suffered badly — therefore, flooring suffering badly. While no one would say it to me, I almost think my idea turned into a kind of “Hail Mary” pass. So when the decision finally came down to go, a very slim budget came with it.

Ricko needed a voice and we needed to walk a fine line with how he sounded. I hired a writer with a robust presence and following on MySpace and together, we wrote a character study on Ricko. That proved invaluable since the writer and I would take turns tweeting and updating Facebook for Ricko.

An Integrated Marketing Campaign

The SmartStrand Rhino Challenge in August 2009 turned into a phenomenon for the flooring industry. The total campaign integrated extremely well and included many more components than social media, including the following:[unordered_list style=”star”]

[/unordered_list]While the campaign could have been larger, the limits with budgets and concerns that the carpet might not survive three weeks with Ricko kept it rather tight. As I recall, my job ended up on the line more than once on this campaign.

Upon launch of everything online Aug. 2, 2009 — including social media — we found success. Mohawk, working through Ricko’s persona, built a little slowly at first but by launch of the event in the middle of the month, thousands were following, friending and “liking” as fans every day. Ricko actively commented and spoke to people. The give-and-take online turned out to be phenomenal.

Floor Covering Weekly’s editor probably summed it up with her editorial, “Ricko vs. SmartStrand… The winner: Social Networking.” (You can also see me at the launch event on TalkFloorTV or read about it on the Flooring It Differently blog.)

The flooring industry needed this campaign. It prompted a revitalization. Retailers now could talk about something to talk about. For months following the campaign, Ricko continued his conversations until the Birmingham Zoo and Ricko needed to move along (Ricko got a girlfriend in a breeding program to help extend the endangered species). Mohawk used Chip Wade and HGTV designer Taniya Nayak to help supplement the voice online in the social media.

Mohawk’s major competitor, Shaw, threw together a promotion with a single video: The World’s Largest Pie Fight. Shaw still does not engage in any significant way via social media, although other flooring manufacturers and marketers do.

The success of the campaign, of course, prompted Mohawk to follow up with 2010’s SmartStrand Zoo Challenge, with six elephants, three camels, a bigger black rhino and more than 40,000 humans.

Starting Big & Why It Worked

Now about 1½ years later, Mohawk still reaps the rewards of the SmartStrand Challenges. Because the second one did not have a single animal, it proved difficult to create a voice for social media — especially since those who had engaged had become accustomed to reading content from Taniya and Chip as well, who were leading active promotional lives at the time.

Introducing any voice there would have proved confusing and, therefore, less effective. I chose a neutral tone and took a distinctly different direction.

Since the launch, Mohawk has maintained its position as number one among shelter brands in social media. Its engagements on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube especially remains strong.

And it all started by going big. Successfully. A big promotion. A big voice. A big rhino.

Published by

Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at You can follow him on Twitter at and see more about his professional experience at Reach him via e-mail at

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