Michelle Broderick on Free-Range RVs, Fake BBQ, Microwave Turkeys

As part of Redfin’s brown-bag series, social marketing guru Michelle Broderick came by to talk about how to turn your brand into a party that everybody wants to join. Michelle knows a thing or two about marketing, having worked for Yelp, Yahoo, Continental and Real. And she knows how to be funny and charming. I was moved that she brought her horse-riding sister from Snohomish along for moral support.

Michelle’s talk was a big hit, with visitors from outside our office lining the back walls and the office halls to hear what she had to say. It was one of the few talks on marketing that wasn’t so calculatingly fake that it made me want to throw myself out a window.

And it was a lively good crowd! There was a contingent of Yelp fanatics in the front, and former Redfinners Savan Kong, Pam Hayes, Lily Supardan and Leo Shklovskii in the back, and all sorts of other folks too.

Here’s Michelle’s advice…

Be platform-independent. Arguing over whether to use Yelp, Twitter or Facebook is like Billy Madison arguing over whether conditioner or shampoo is better. You need both.

And don’t forget old media either. When Michelle’s mom first bought a microwave she thought she would bake cakes and turkeys in it but really you need a conventional oven and a microwave, just as you need traditional media and new media.

Authenticity is how people decide whom to listen to. A brand’s most important trait is authenticity. Ruffles has “Authentic BBQ Potato Chips” but the label actually says in small type, “Flavored Potato Chip.” Michelle’s reaction: OMGWTFBBQ?

Be the power user. Whatever your market is, make sure you’re the power user out there. If you’re leading the charge, people will follow. On the flip side, you sure can’t understand your community if you’re not using it. Yelp, has people on the ground in every city. Local authenticity matters. And if you’re already in the mix, it helps you control problems before they get out of hand.

Most of all, you can take people who are big supporters and use them as the ambassadors for your brand. Redfin, for example, could ask all its fans to talk to customers who are just going through the process for the first time. (What do all you Redfin fans out there think of that?)

Add to the conversation. Be an authentic participant and dive in. Participating isn’t just a matter of re-tweeting. You have to add wit and insight to the conversation, particularly when most folks on Twitter are just re-tweeting up the wazoo. Don’t contact people just when you need them, don’t just be a self-promotional megaphone. You can’t market anything if you don’t have something interesting to say.

Face-to-face matters. You also have to create a brand offline. Office hours are great; just tweet out whenever you’re going to be working in a coffee shop (I’m going to try this). Yelp parties work well because we use a lot of booze. Boxee did a promotional stunt at SXSW using an RV that lost its hook-up; rather than calling it quits, Boxee made the RV a cause, begging people around Austin to host the RV in their driveways for a night. Wherever the RV went, a party followed.

Everything can be fun. We’re web 2.0, we’re not your dad’s Internet. Even a 404 page can be funny: Twitter has the fail whale; Yelp’s CEO has a picture of his dog chewing on Internet cables. A lot of people use Redfin for fun… that has to be part of the brand essence. (We sometimes try to sit up straight for the cameras and wipe the smile off our faces so people trust us to handle their real estate transaction, but maybe that’s the wrong move?)

Embrace your identity. You can make anything work if you own it and can laugh at yourself. Jack in the Box created a secret society for people who like club sandwiches, and filled a promotional email for it with caps and exclamation points. The self-awareness is what made that campaign work.

Balance is important. 80% of what you do is goofing off. 20% is promotional. But the 80% is what makes people listen to the 20%.

Let a thousand flowers bloom. As the folks at Edelman have famously observed, “social media should be 1% of 100 people’s jobs, not 100% of one person’s job.” Redfin has agents all over the country. If each one pitched in on their wisdom or insights from what they learned in a day, it would really lift up the whole company. Michelle compared this to all the little kids at camp hoisting up a parachute. If you’re in sales and marketing, you better not be a shrinking violet: get on Twitter and express yourself!

That was it. Michelle spent another half hour answering questions and getting mobbed by her adoring fans. Many thanks to Michelle for leading the conversation, and thanks too to all the visitors from the startup community who joined us. Next time – on May 7 we’re hosting Starbucks’s head of worldwide training — we’ll order more Indian food (I nearly passed out half an hour after the talk because I ate too much of it).


  • http://www.pacificnorthwestcoastbias.com/ Sam

    Great write-up. I’m impressed that Glenn tweeted about office hours already. Great idea Michelle, and let us know how it turns out Glenn.

  • Cynthia Nowak

    That was the best brown bag yet! Thanks for letting me join via phone … when I would have much rather been lining the back wall with the other “formers”.

    I found the Internet map funny, yet a good reminder of how quickly things change.

  • http://twitter.com/michellebee Michelle Broderick

    Thank you so much for having me in yesterday. What a great crowd!

    I definitely want to hear how Glenn’s office hours work out.

    If you want to find Ye Olde Social Networking Map circa 2007 it can be found here:

  • Savan Kong

    I loved Michelle’s energy. That was a great brownbag. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, from presentation, to the fielded questions and finally the conversations at the end. Thank you Redfin, Yelp, and Michelle for your time.

  • http://tippr.com Inna

    Thank you for inviting Michelle and posting this write-up so quickly!

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  • http://web2hits.com Victor

    Michelle has some very good points. Social media is excellent for the ‘soft sell’. You will fail at it if you push too hard or come off as very salesy.
    Nobody gets on facebook or twitter to have to deal with a used car salesman.

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  • http://www.zulucreative.com Tina Z.

    I had the pleasure of working with Michelle at Continental and learned a TON from her about email marketing and databases. She’s a genius!

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