Interview with Heather Morgan Shott of Meredith's Mixing Bowl Social Network Community

04/21/2009

New social networking communities seem to be on every virtual corner these days. Marketers understand that social media can be a powerful strategy that supports niche or segmentation marketing. However, when brands build out communities it's obviously a business decision that has incurred significant resources - including dollars.

I wondered how do they integrate marketing objectives, while ensuring that the "social" aspects,  the heart and soul of the community, are authentically and transparently developed and nurtured? When Chris Kieff offered the opportunity to interview one of his Ripple6 client's from Meredith Corporation's recently launched Mixing Bowl, a food and recipe community - I said yes!

Mixing bowl About Mixing Bowl

Editors touch every piece of content that exists on our branded sites. We post recipes after they’ve been triple-tested in our kitchens, write how-to articles, and so on. We don’t run Mixing Bowl that way because we want it to be a site created by home cooks for home cooks.

I’m (Heather Morgan Shott) very present on Mixing Bowl (my username is CoolCookie), and my profile page states that I’m a Mixing Bowl editor, but I’d never censor conversation or edit content. I’m there to answer questions as well as contribute to the community just like a typical member would by posting my own recipes, sharing my opinions, and joining groups. From a business point of view, Ripple6 offers advertisers access to a very sophisticated and extensive analytics system.

Heather morgan shott  About Heather Morgan Shott

I'm the Senior Food Group Manager for the Better Homes and Gardens Network, which includes five websites. On Mixing Bowl, I mix it up like any member might--but if there’s a functionality problem I’ll address it.

For example, we had some members who were unhappy with the way in which our contest application worked when we first launched the site. Entries were randomized so members started having problems finding the recipes they wanted to vote for once lots of recipes were entered. They started posting their complaints on the site, and we responded very quickly by tweaking the system so that the entries were static.

Suddenly ‘thank you CoolCookie’ threads started to pop up. Of course lots of people worked to resolve that issue, but I’m the person that the community knows is listening to them, because I’ve established a very visible presence on the site. When I’m not working, I’m cooking, restaurant hopping, drinking wine, shopping, or hanging out with my husband. We live in New York City.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Mixing Bowl is not only a new social media community but a new brand for Meredith. That said, Meredith’s reach with women is wide and established. How did you use those assets to help build membership and promote the site?

We’ve been working with all of our magazines and websites to promote Mixing Bowl. American Baby, Fitness, Family Circle, and Better Homes and Gardens, for example, have all created groups that tie to specific departments in their magazines. Ladies Home Journal features questions and answers from Knowledge Bowl in each issue. We have another magazine that will be sponsoring a contest on Mixing Bowl this summer. Online, we’ve been promoting Mixing Bowl in newsletters. We’ve got lots more to come; this just marks our very early efforts.

Toby/Diva Marketing: There are other social networks that focus on food and recipes. What is Mixing Bowl’s point of difference? Why would I want to join and spend time on Mixing Bowl versus another community?

Heather Morgan Shott: By filling out your profile, Mixing Bowl can deliver a totally customized experience just for you. For example, if you check off quick and easy, desserts, and cooking for kids as your interests, we'll bubble up all the recipes and groups that mesh with those interests. So we’re offering a vastly different experience than you get on other sites where you log in and see everything that everyone else does, and you literally have to wade through hundreds of pages of information to find what’s relevant to your life.

Toby/Diva Marketing: The quality of online peer-to-peer relationships builds over time. How is Mixing Bowl encouraging and nurturing “community” among with its members?

Heather Morgan Shott:I’m dazzled by so many of the people in our community, and I meet new, amazing members every day. When we launched Mixing Bowl, we tried to start things on the right note by inviting some incredible content creators, such as past winners of cooking contests and bloggers, to get in the mix early on. None of them were professional cooks but they all had a certain level of expertise in cooking or baking, so we knew they’d be able to provide high-quality content. We also knew that they had the kind of passion and enthusiasm that we wanted to foster on Mixing Bowl.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Mixing Bowl is a very rich platform, built by Ripple6, that offers multiple ways for people to contribute their favorite recipes and as we love to say, “Join the conversation.” At this early stage in its development which areas or groups are getting the most activity? 

Heather Morgan Shott: There’s no question about it, our community loves to bake. We have an extremely rich Ethnic category, with 16 groups covering a range of different cuisines (Chinese, Colombian, Mexican, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Parsi, Persian, Polynesian, Puertorrican, and so on); in this category many of the group leaders are actually based overseas, so they’re posting truly authentic recipes. We’re also seeing tremendous growth in areas that we’d expect—quick and easy, healthy recipes, desserts, and entertaining.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Has that surprised you?

Heather Morgan Shott: So far just what we hoped would happen has happened. Our goal was to engage home cooks who specialized in specific topics. What better way to learn how to cook Indian food than from someone based in Mumbai? Who better to get baking pointers from than an owner of a boutique bakery?  Who knows picky eaters better than moms raising kids who are picky eaters? These are real people with real solutions and inspiring ideas.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Since this is part of Meredith’s business strategy can you tell us what constitutes success?

Heather Morgan Shott: Our goal is to continue to grow membership on MixingBowl.com. We’re extremely pleased with where we are right now, and we will continue to work to develop an even richer and more robust community.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How concerned is Meredith with, let’s call it “traditional website metrics?”

Heather Morgan Shott: Page views and unique visitors are extremely important, but our top goal is bringing in new members.

Toby/Diva Marketing: I was watching a video where Dan Hickey, Vice President, Digital Conten, discussed marketers (advertisers) participating within the community to add value. Can you give us some current examples and tell us how Mixing Bowl ensuring transparency?

Heather Morgan Shott: Toby, we’re still working on this. We haven’t really rolled anything out yet… We're cooking up some great stuff, and I can't wait to tell you about those efforts once we've rolled them out. Check back with me in a month or two.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Understanding that the site has been live only a few months, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned at the start-up of this venture?

Heather Morgan Shott: In a community, it’s extremely important to be involved, to mix it up with your members. It doesn’t work to just build a community and then abandon it. You need to listen to what they’re saying and you need to respond quickly. You need to show you care, or they’ll go somewhere else. It’s also critical to be flexible and be willing to change something that isn’t working.

Toby/Diva Marketing: At its heart, or in your heart, what is your vision for Mixing Bowl on a long-term basis?

Heather Morgan Shott: We want MixingBowl.com to become the largest community food site out there. We’d love for it to be the number one destination for everyone who loves to swap recipes and join cooking groups. And we’d love to continue to draw in more members from overseas so that we truly become a place for cooks from around the world to connect.

Heather Morgan Shott On Social Media
It’s thrilling, and I can’t imagine life without it. Oftentimes content isn’t all that exciting until people actually start talking about it – and that’s why social media platforms like Mixing Bowl, Twitter, and Facebook have become so central to our lives. They enable us to take one thought or idea and connect about it with hundreds of others, regardless of where those people are in the world. We gain multiple perspectives, oftentimes from people whose views are vastly different from ours, and in turn our own thoughts and ideas become much richer.

More About Social Network Communities From Diva Marketing

Diva Marketing Talks, BlogTalkRadio, with Liz Strauss & Nancy White

Interview with Nancy White

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