local media insider

Selling social media at Lee Enterprises gains 250 new annual clients

Not quick and simple, but profitable and high demand...will managing social media for merchants work for your company?

Alisa Cromer
A one-time promo on Quad-City times own Facebook page - and in print, added value for new customers of its social media program.

Summary: Lee Enterprises took advantage of intense merchant interest in building and engaging social media audiences  to offer social media management as a service. The pilot launched at the Quad-City Times in in February, 2011 and expanded Lee-wide by November that year. Social media now gives reps an opportunity to start new conversations with customers,  power-up custom pages, contesting, posting and other fan-building initiatives. Today more than 250 businesses' Facebook strategies are advised or managed by Lee media. The initiative has also fueled sales of Facebook contests, which run $5000 to $15,000, including the media spend. 

Company: Lee Enterprises

Initiative: GetitSocial, Social Media Management services 

Key executive: Tim D'Avis, Director of Digital, Quad-City Times

Challenge: Many businesses want social media but don’t understand how use it to build audiences, engage them and convert them to sales.  The digital team led by Tim D'Avis at Lee -owned Quad- City Times saw an opportunity to draw on the newspaper’s competencies to provide services - and expand the market beyond traditional print customers. 

Strategy:  A pilot program, “Get-it Social” was launched in Madison, Wisconsin, in early 2011. DAvis and the team created three tiers of agency-style services that fit the “crawl, walk, run” model.  The three tiers of service create an a. Established, b. Engaged and c. Elevated social media presence.

Set packages are still evolving; several Lee markets are now experimenting and testing new ones.  Some packages are  as small as $100 to $200 a month while top packages are $15,000 a year, plus sales of individual contests. However, the basic model of categories is consistent:


"Get It Social," the original basic package focused on making sure businesses have a great page and basic posting strategy, especially small businesses  just getting started in social media. This tier's first package includes: 

*Design, creative and help with setting up custom Facebook pages. 
*Advice on posting strategies and finding content to post.
*A search component: ie a directory listing with offers, profile, and interactive video packaged in.

*All offers in an advertisers' directory page also running in the Quad-City Times Facebook page tab  via RSS feed  (currently this is being rebuilt on a Shoutlet.com custom tab).

*A one-time "Get Social" promotion on the Quad-City Times Facebook site (see image top right).

“The combined ecosystem makes a point that (all these components)  play off of eachother and not doing all of it leaves (some of the merchants' potential) customers on the table.”

Sales reps have a social media engagement take-out that shows businesses best practices in posting strategies;  reminding them to post authentically, ask questions, and how "being social" doesn’t need to always drive a sale.

"(A posting strategy) should be as much about your industry as sales events."

Helpful to advising at this level of social media smarts is a white-labeled partnership with SocialMadeSimple.com, a company which provides custom page templates, a single source dashboard to post across platforms (Facebook Twitter and Linked in), an option of a daily e-mail  "report card" on how each business is meeting its posting goals, and, equally useful, some category specific content so businesses can start posting some information beyond just sales and promotions. A central customer service center at Lee helps set up the posting strategy, but stays focused on turning the posting function over to the clients. Continuing to update for customers is not part of the model. 

"We do it (post) first to show cadense and voice. But we can’t scale very well if we have to hire authors. We are trying to teach them how to fish or it won’t scale," D'Avis says. 


Most companies need an Facebook audience development plan  as well as an engagement/content plan. So sales teams add on one time contests that can run from $5000 to $15,000, an extra component of what D'Avis calls "social can do." Typical contests are sweepstakes with a book-a room-widget or email-capture that run on the SecondStreetMedia platform.

Managing pages has helped sell contests, since the media already has administrative access to post the contest app on the merchants own Facebook tab page.  A sponsorship of a media contest often has less value than one custom-tailored to the client, and driving most traffic to its own page. Typically, most merchants are unable to create the contest on the tab on their own - which can hold up execution of a contest sale.

For more advanced on-onging  promotions and Facebook management DAvis’s team uses a contesting custom app, Shoutlet.com, which allows not only scheduled posts  (also available via a native Facebook app) but also allows posts to be triggered by elements of the contest. For example,  when fans reach a certain level and "everybody wins" something. The apps controls the schedule posts of  "thank yous," coupons, etc. and can launch the next level of fans to be reached, with a new series of preset message (example below). 


The elevation phase refers to white glove accounts with high dollars attached. Lee’s teams will handle the posting, and look at future forward  opportunities. “There may not be a tool to manage Pinterest, but they will do it.” 

The establish/engage/elevate approach has allowed the sales teams to engage accounts by “shoring up what they are strong at and filling in the gaps” and to create promotions that dovetail with businesses’ strategic aims. 

"Most business are good in one area (of marketing), but one area only," D'Avis says. 

What works

There are already some home-runs for the programs created by Lee and their clients. Here are a few of the outstanding social media initiatives  launched  in the past year:

1.Harris Pizza’s recipe contest 

Harris Pizza ran a promotion that not only grew its fan-base, but also transformed the company’s approach to marketing and customer engagement. The initial contest was simple: Submit a recipe for the next speciality pizza that Harris would create. Following the voting period Harris held a reception for the finalists. And the winner got their pizza recipe on menu plus free pizza for a year. Here is a copy of the some of the original promotions:

Fans increased ten-fold – and doubled again since then. Today the pizza company has  more than 5000 fans, and is adept at using Facebooks as a promotional mechanism. Here's an example of a typical promotion for  Mother's Day 2012: 

2.Ho Chunk Gaming, Madison, Wisconsin
Another success is HoChunk Casino which originally bought a "Get it Social Package," and now has  a lively Facebook presence with great interaction with  customers, with numerous photos of fans winning at the casino, and "all new fans win" prizes triggered by reaching new levels of fans.

Here is the new custom page with a flashier look, timeline, photo galleries and big central image of the casino: 

An on-going promotion, using the private-label version of Shoutlet.com,  lets fans know that they will recieve $10 in "Rewards play,"  a form of gaming chips, if the company reaches its next level of fans. HoChunk started the promotion with a giveaway at 100 fans, then 500, then 750 and finally 1,000 which they reach in the spring of 2012. By using Shoutlet.com's custom app, all of the content could be written in advance, and triggered as each level was reached.

Here's a sample the series of messages mfrom HoChunk's Facebook timeline as the promotion continued (keep in mind the time line reads most recent first, so these are in reverse order as they are on Facebook. However this shows how  messages can be pre-written to trigger. Visually on the timeline,  these message are  interspersed with other promotions and more than 150 photos of customers and jackpot winners, making for a visually lively and participatory page.  


As soon as we get to 500 fans of this page, we will be giving away $250 in Rewards Play to not just 1, but to 5 of you!!! Let's make this happen quick. Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and even people you have never talked to before that we are itching to give away some money. All they have to do is "Like" our Facebook page. More details on the drawing will come once we get to the 500 level. Thank you for playing at Ho-Chunk Gaming- Madison!

Don't forget...

As soon as we reach 500 fans of our Facebook page, we will be selecting 5 of you to receive $250 in Rewards Play. The faster we get to that level, the faster we can find our winners. Please share this message with all of your friends. Thanks for playing at Ho-Chunk Gaming- Madison

*Special Announcement*

We are looking to expand our fan base here on Facebook and to do that, we are going to offer a special prize to a group of you. Once we reach 750 "likes" of this page, we will post a code word. The first 100 fans that bring the code word coupon to the Rewards Club booth in Madison will receive $25 in Rewards Play. 

So, if you want the code word posted soon, please share this message with your friends. 

Thank you for playing at Ho-Chunk Gaming- Madison!


We have just reached 700 fans of this page! Only 50 more to go before we post a code word awarding 100 of you with $25 in Rewards Play. Let's make this happen ASAP!


We are getting very close... With only 18 more "likes" to go to reach our goal, will we hit 750 today? Here's what happens if we do:

Once we reach 750 "likes" of this page, we will post a code word. The first 100 fans that bring the code word coupon to the Rewards Club booth in Madison will receive $25 in Rewards Play. Please share this message with your friends


Who is ready for another fun Facebook only promotion???!


Once we hit 1,000 likes of our Facebook PAGE, we will be giving the first 100 people that come to our Rewards Club booth at HCG- Madison $25 in Rewards Play.

And finally, the 1000 goal is reach, with this message: 

Notice that there is not really a central entry point for this contest, and that all new fans win. The coupon itself that goes to the first 100 redeemers is behind the tab.

Another great aspect to this brand page is that, unlike many small businesses, Ho Chunk does not just hammer a stream of commercial messages. Instead there are, literally, more than 150 pictures of winners, in albums on its timeline, plus a variety of promotions on any given day. The double column of the timeline helps pack in more material, and turns the casino into an information publisher. Almost all of the promotions have great visuals. Here are a few samples: 

Here's a sample that uses  albums to involve winners and engage their customers:


Many of these "winners" and contests take place at the casino and don't involve fanning at all. Instead the casino gets what it wants most: Players.  That's because today,  with more than 1000 fans, the casino can communicate with and remarket to its base. For example, on May 11, it posted an offer to Earn 10 points on your Rewards Club card and get $25 in Rewards Play. Clicking on the link creates a "get offer" pop-up sent to the visitors email box. As of May 18, 300 had claimed and 100 had redeemed. 

However, when HoChunk needs to power-up a new contest to attract new players, it can turn to the promotional power of the Quad-CityTimes; its newspaper, newspaper site, email, Twitter and Facebook audience. And meanwhile, it pays for "advice," all year long. This is really a great example of the agency model at work. 

3. Bommarito Automotive Group St.Louis, Missouri

The Bommarito Automotive Group is especially innovative in launching social media promotions. One of the top tabs in the custom Facebook page, created by Lee, is a weekly give-away with winners also announced as news updates (although not notified directly via Facebook which is prohibited). 

A weekly giveaway of $100 is actually a $100 certificate either for gas at QuickTrip, a chain of food and gasoline convenience stores, or a fine dining restaurant.  Run on the SecondStreetMedia platform, here's an image of the custom behind the tab: 

Bommarito also has created unique content for its Facebook updates - important for an auto-dealer, in a co-promote with the local Fox news affiliate.  The Bommarito Automotive Group Weekend Update (ok, this is a really, really long title for a sponsored news report) provides sports posts on the Facebook page, linking back to its sponsored weekend sports site.

Finally, Bommarito also cross-promoted with a pizza dealer  and dual-fan-gated, since both companies had large Facebook fan numbers.  

From the media standpoint, the weekly contest and other promotions provide an ongoing "reason to advertise" while also as the  dealership builds  a base of fans to remarket  at no charge.

Sales and promotion of Facebook brand page management services

All Lee reps are now trained to sell Facebook services, and a companywide call center for smaller papers helps out. 

"Good photography and asset gathering can be a real challenge," D'Avis says. When setting up your Facebook brand page management teams, keep in mind that this will be an important issue for customer service and scalability. Spend some time looking at the "hand-off" process and make sure there are pre-set processes and appointments for asset gathering that take place when the sale is initially made. 


*After launching Lee-wide in November, 2011, Lee crossed the threshold of 250 Facebook brand management customers in May, 2012; all on multiple month contracts.   Lee plans an even larger push in the winter of 2012. 

*Packages that include contests sell in the range of $5000 to $15,000.  New fans per account average around 2000. 

*Seven contests run concurrently in a typical month. LMI estimates this  revenue stream is $35,000 to $50,000 per month, crossing $250,000 to $500,000 a year in contesting revenues - not counting the annual management agreements.

*Margins on managed brand pages are not as good in month one, however, past the initial set up, they increase dramatically as work decreases and "you largely step into more of an advisory role."  Contests are very basic, done as one time events and sold towards the beginning, as part of the promotional package. 

*The program has been very effective in buidling new - and strengthening existing - client relationships. "It gets (our reps)  in the door with customers that may not be newspaper advertisers."

*Merchant seminars to support the program has brought in a large number of new businesses and strengthened ties with the merchant community.

*Challenges remain evolving demands and needs, platform disruption via timeline for business, new networks and other technologies. 

Lessons Learned 

*Social media is a hot category with broad, untapped opportunities.  

*"It's important to stay current. However, buildng this competency is critical to maintaining consultative relationships with many high end customers." 

*The easiest way to sell is on multiple month contract without an upfront fee. This allows the program "to scale over time."  

*The largest dollars are still from promotional advertising that drives the contests. However, having the management relationship is a key to controling sales of these contests that include additional multi-media packages.

*Lee does not plan to be the "updater" of merchant pages. "We are advising on their Facebook strategy, not full management of that strategy. We still want the advertisers to participate."

*Spend time on the "hand-off" from the sales rep to the support team, so that asset-gathering is as efficient as possible. All media executives selling Facebook as a service and interviewed by LMI have noted that this transfer needs tactical focus. 


SocialMadeSimple.com - Provides a content library with industry based articles that is updated on a regular basis, plus custom pages, a report card against posting, and analytics. 

Shoutlet.com -  Provides sweepstakes and other contests with email sign-up forms, plus scheduled posts triggered by contest events, and image feeds from galleries. 

SecondStreetMedia.com  - Provides custom contest apps behind the tab function. Resource center and free webinars train clients on best practices and contesting ideas. Pre-built national sports contests are plug- and play except for prizes.

Not used by Lee, but recommended by large media group who is an LMI member is GrowthWeaver.com, contact sweaver@growthweaver.com, which provides full back-end management for  a full set of social media tools that local media can sell as a service. 

Many thanks to Tim D'Avis, Digital Director of Quad City Times, and to NAA MediaXChange where this case study was initially presented.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.