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Kate Alini on BMW’s super-fan surprise and delight social media campaign

This is a post from my company,’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands.

BMW Social Media and Emerging Technologies Manager Kate Alini sat down with us to talk about an amazing case study she presented at our Member Meeting in Dallas. We’re proud to have had Kate as a member since 2013.

For all of the loyal fans and fanatics big brand carmakers enjoy, they also have their fair share of criticism and skepticism — sometimes from those die-hard fans. That was what BMW faced as they prepared to launch their new 4 Series.

“We had some enthusiasts who were cynical about the introduction of the new 4 Series. The 3 Series is such an iconic series and key part of our product portfolio that we had some disappointed fans who didn’t understand why we were introducing the 4 Series.”

And of course, they were hearing about it primarily through social media and third-party blogs.

So when it came to defending their 4 Series, BMW took to social media to earn some advocates.

The plan: surprise and delight two die-hard BMW fans with one of the best surprises a BMW enthusiast can get, a weekend-long test-drive with a vehicle that hasn’t even reached dealers yet. Then, BMW would document their “#Un4gettable Weekends” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

But they weren’t going to pick just anyone.

Kate explains the process for finding the two lucky winners, “While it’s easy to find a couple hundred or a couple thousand fans of BMW at anytime who can rattle off information, specs about our vehicles, and our history, when you get down to those fans who are aware of a new model that isn’t even here yet, it narrowed our pool down pretty quickly.”

The #Un4gettable Weekend participants they chose had to be big fans — really big fans.

According to Kate, the participants’ social media presences weren’t a big factor. What really mattered was that they were true BMW fans, and more specifically, that they were excited for the 4 Series.

“When we first looked at a list of 15 or so candidates to be our super fans, some of them seemed more influential than others — whether they had noteworthy careers or were very active in social media. Of course, you want to find interesting people to feature, but in the end, we chose two individuals whom we felt were the most deserving to be rewarded for a cool weekend like this,” Kate explains.

She describes how one candidate looked great on paper — a photographer who was very active on Instagram and who could talk the talk about BMW. But when it came to his interview, he immediately started criticizing the 4 Series, which ultimately got him crossed off the list. They wanted someone with a positive attitude.

Other qualifications: a great Skype interview to make sure they’re comfortable in front of a camera, a personable and outgoing demeanor, and a background check to make sure they weren’t marketers or BMW employees.

Ultimately, Kate’s team chose two BMW enthusiasts who blew them away.

Kate says, “We chose two guys who were die hard fans and who were truly worthy of a weekend with this very special vehicle.”

On the East Coast was Rashed, a fan that Kate’s team called a walking BMW encyclopedia (he could tell the type of leather used in a BMW by its smell). On the West Coast was Nate, a guy with so much BMW gear that they ran extra background checks to make sure he wasn’t actually a BMW employee.

Both guys were surprised with the keys to a new 4 Series for the weekend. BMW’s team took them on scenic test drives, let them do hot laps around race tracks, and left them with USB sticks loaded with photos from the whole experience.

Throughout the experience, Kate’s team documented video recaps for YouTube and photos and pic stitches for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Although they typically tailor different types of content to each of the different platforms, she says their strategy for this campaign was fairly similar for each social channel — which turned out to be a success.

The results showed higher engagement than any other campaign across all of their social channels.

On Facebook, their posts reached their highest level of engagement for all of 2013, and on Twitter, their first paid tweet became their most successful one on record. For Google+ and Instagram, the engagement was well above average.

But most importantly, BMW now had two extremely happy advocates on their side.
“As it turns out, our West Coast fan, Nate, was more socially engaged and a power user on Twitter. He tweeted throughout the weekend and leveraged social to share his experiences in real time,” Kate explains.

“But Rashed was more about blogging after the fact. He is a participant in a BMW blog, and after his weekend was over, he wrote a very long blog entry of every detail of his weekend experience. Instead of real-time social media commentary, he documented it all at the end with a blog post,” she says.

For national campaigns like these, Kate’s team makes sure local dealerships have an opportunity to do something similar.

“We often create one or two-sheet activation guides that give them idea starters so they can create one-of-a-kind experiences for their customers. These guides talk about how local dealerships can do something similar on an equal or smaller scale as well as parameters for what works and what doesn’t work,” she explains.

She says that while they can’t do something as big as document and film giving two people the keys to an unreleased vehicle, they also have great opportunities to use social media as a marketing tool.

“We give them ideas in a box, if you will, and then they can execute at whatever degree they want. Even if it’s on a smaller scale, our local dealerships can do something that’s also really meaningful. For example, they may be able to call some of their loyal customers and say, ‘Hey we have one of the first 4 Series in our showroom right now, and we’d like to let you take it for the first test drive.’ People love to be the first to do something so we want to give them that badge of honor to give them early or exclusive access to our brand experiences and our vehicles. So an idea like the Un4gettable Weekend could work at different scales and with any vehicle.”

Say hi to Kate on Twitter or check out her case study presentation to hear about this campaign and another unexpected opportunity they faced to surprise and delight a fan.

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