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Interview: MMI's Chris Ray On Driving Visits and PR Through Microsites

Back in December, I wrote about Regiftable.com, a microsite about regifting created by credit counseling firm Money Management International. Chris Ray, MMI's Director of Marketing, graciously shared some of his insights from that project in an interview. Here's are Chris' tips for microsite marketing: Hi Chris, Thanks for the interview. For folks not familiar with regiftable.com, could you give us a quick one sentence description? Regiftable.com allows visitors to share their regifting stories (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with an online audience. We created the site to start the conversation on a topic many people are reluctant to discuss - holiday spending. That's helpful. What did you all hope to accomplish with regiftable.com, and did the project meet those goals? Do you consider this project a success? Money Management International (MMI) is a non-profit financial education organization. We’re always searching for new methods and mediums that may effectively increase our exposure, especially to consumers and media outlets that could benefit from our education oriented message. Our ultimate goal was to educate consumers on the wise use of credit during the holiday season. In addition, we hoped to expose MMI to a larger audience. If we generated a handful of national media exposures, and attracted more than 25,000 visitors to the site, we would consider Regiftable.com a success. After the dust settled, it turns out that Regiftable.com was more successful than we could have ever imagined. The campaign generating 700+ media exposures and attracted 100,000+ visitors. The site was also featured on the homepage of Yahoo!, AOL, and MSNBC. Regarding organic search, Regiftable.com went from no first page rankings, to top-five listings on Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN, in approximately 30 days. In addition to the “normal” metrics associated with the site (visitors, page views, etc.), we closely monitored other aspects of Regiftable.com. Take the customized gift certificates as an example. We added the ability for visitors to create their own gift certificates to give to family and friends (example, you could give a “night of babysitting” to a friend of yours). Over 7,000 gift certificates were created. These free certificates no doubt saved visitors a bunch during the holiday season. We definitely consider the campaign a success. We were able to educate consumers on alternatives to holiday spending and, hopefully, helped them to reduce the stress associated with trying to make it through the holiday season while keeping their budget (and sanity) in tact. And, if visitor submitted emails and comments are any indication, we did just that! (We received many comments stating how they couldn’t stop reading the stories and laughed their way through the site.) That's some great media exposure. How did you come up with the idea for the site? How long did it take to get the project approved internally? And how long to get the project built and launched? We started the process in July by reviewing the remainder of our media calendar. We wanted a concept that could be added on to an already existing message. Then, since we had a limited window of opportunity, we focused on holiday-themed concepts. During one of our planning meetings, we started sharing personal stories about regifting. Even though it wasn’t one of our holiday themed concepts, it seemed everyone had several funny stories to share. It also was a somewhat controversial topic, some thought the practice was tacky, others felt it was a good use for unwanted items - that was our “eureka!” moment. We knew we were tapping in to something that had a shot at becoming popular during the holiday season. Project approval was not a problem. The regifting topic allowed us to get our message across without sounding like Scrooge during the holiday season. In terms of project length, it was a complete blur. We registered the domain name on August 29th and launched on November 1st so the project took approximately 60 days. The real work, however, came post launch. Were there any unexpected bumps with this project along the way? I think it’s Hofstadter's law that states "it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take Hofstadter's Law into account."” Well, he had it right! Approving each story and comment took longer than originally anticipated. Other than that, things went according to plan. What are the long-range plans for the site? At this point we’re still discussing what to do next. Do you have an idea? Let me know! (chris.ray [at] moneymanagement.org) Would you recommend this content-site strategy for building brand awareness and traffic to other online marketers? Any words of wisdom? Absolutely. I believe that, given the right concept, launching a microsite could be a good idea for just about any organization looking to build awareness and have some fun in the process. Here are some additional thoughts:
  • Know your audience. Starting here will save you time, money, and keep your focus on the end user.
  • Be timely (and entertaining). If we had launched Regiftable.com in March it wouldn’t have been as successful. Working with already existing media schedules/calendars makes it easy for them to promote your site.
  • Set objectives early. Why do you want to launch a microsite? How will you define success?
  • Focus. It’s called a microsite for a reason!
  • Plan for success. If your site received 25,000 visitors in an hour, could your server handle it? If you arrive at work to find a voicemail full of media requests, are you prepared for the resulting interviews? Remember the military mantra (cleaned up here), prior planning prevents poor performance.
  • Keep it simple. Make it easy for visitors to interact with your site. By removing barriers to entry, you’re likely to increase engagement.
  • Involve your employees. No matter how large your organization, they’re your best bet for spreading the word about your site.
  • Don’t forget about search. While thinking about your microsite concept, be sure to give adequate thought to your search engine optimization strategy. What terms will you focus on? Will you incorporate paid search?
  • Encourage word of mouth. Never underestimate the power of the “send this to a friend” link.
  • Innovate on the fly. Don’t assume your development time is over once you launch. You will most definitely receive good ideas that you’ll want to implement along the way.
  • Track everything. (No explanation needed for your readers I’m sure!)
  • Enjoy the ride. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a plan come together.
Thanks so much for your time, Chris, and for sharing your insights on this topic! Chris also mentioned MMI's next project: a microsite dedicated to tax refunds. Check out SaveOrSpend.com after it launches on March 1st.
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