Case Study: @ToscaReno and the Sustaining Power of Community

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I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with Tosca Reno in the past few months. I remember being approached by Deb Von Sychowski and Kim Phillips, Co-founders of Patch Design, design agency for Tosca Reno when they told me of this exciting new opportunity to resurge the social strategy for an already exciting brand. I read the brief and right away I was enamoured with this icon – not only because of what Tosca had accomplished later in life – but because of the success she had achieved in spite of some incredible personal struggles and heartbreak.

This post is about the strength of a community built and nurtured by Tosca Reno and her two children, Kiersten and Rachel Corradetti.  For those who question the virtues of an engaged community– more importantly, for those who question the ability of community to drive significant momentum–you need to read this post. I promise you, it’s a lesson, from which everyone can learn.

The Story

I never get tired of hearing this story because it comes from a position of strength and inspiration. Watch the video here. From Tosca,

You know in the last 3 years… my family has lost a son; we have lost a father and a husband and we’ve even lost a business. And those are enough, in many people’s lives, enough to decimate them… to wipe them out… and even to consider never coming back. But what kept me going was the idea that I would [come back]….

And come back she did. Tosca Reno and team, with Patch Design, re-launched April 15th, 2014 with a bang. Many would say the results on the week of launch were absolutely astounding:

  • 9.81 MM Reach
  • 152 K Clicks
  • 2.8 MM Reach on Twitter
  • 2.5 MM Reach on Facebook
  • 5,712 Unique Conversions in one day
  • 40% Conversion Rate

The strength of the website drew staggering numbers.  More importantly, no paid media went into driving these results. Instead, we developed a strategy that spoke to the needs of Tosca’s audience, and leveraged the strength of this engaged community.


The Beginning: Building the Community

I interviewed with Rachel and Kiersten Corradetti on how this all came to fruition.

When you first built social media for Tosca, what approach did you use?

Kiersten: Trial and error, and it’s still the approach I use. Let me explain further: my boss at the time, Vinita Persaud, said early on in my career at RKP: “I want you to give something a try. I want you to manage your mom’s social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter.” I, at the time, had just returned from a year of sailing around the world and was essentially tech free, aside from the essays I’d been writing for my undergraduate degree in religious studies at Queen’s University. I really had no idea how to use social media, and it was just becoming a “thing” for businesses to do, let alone a small business like my mom’s at the time. There was no guidebook, there was no how-to. All I had was trial and error. So I just started posting. I kept track of what worked and what didn’t. To this day I still find the best stuff is always the stuff that comes directly out of my mom’s mouth. Her fan base has a ‘Spidey-sense’ for when it is someone else. Plus, my mom is actually hilarious, and the things that come out of her mouth are out of this world, and generate a lot of buzz all by themselves!

Why did you choose the platforms that you did?

Kiersten: At the time, Twitter and Facebook were the only platforms everyone was on. Actually, she did have a myspace page, but we got rid of that quickly. Eventually, I added YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. We also tried Vine, but she [Tosca] is better received on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Did you buy ads or did you grow the community organically?

Kiersten: All organic! I’ve never paid for ads ever on any platform. I’m pretty sure no one in the company even realized what I was doing, let alone would have given me a budget for it.

What challenges did you face in growing the community? Both Tosca Reno and Eat Clean Diet on Twitter, FB and Instagram?

Kiersten: My main challenge was convincing the company to provide resources for social media, which was so new at the time. Eventually, I was able to work with a small team for Tosca Reno and The Eat-Clean Diet, which helped offset the incredible workload of social media management.

Coming up with new, interesting content was also challenging. In the beginning, I would post the same content in every profile. I quickly learned that was not well received by our readers, so I started creating content schedules, monthly campaigns, and mining all of her old content to repurpose. In addition to Google Analytics and various tracking sites, I had my own tracking system to see what worked, when and what didn’t. When I started doing this, each platform responded with praise.

Another challenge was handling some of the negative posts. I used to take it personally. Social Media requires a thick skin. You have to turn off defensiveness and kill it with kindness, which usually stops trolls dead in their tracks.

Another thing I had to realize was how important it was to respond to everything. This became an essential strategy.

How long did it take you to grow community?

Kiersten: Everyday, it’s still growing. Exponential growth came about a year to a year and a half after I started.

I assume this was a daunting task. Can you run through what you did on a daily basis to grow and engage the community?

Kiersten: I dove into this above, but another element of the strategy was to answer every single message and post. Anything we could do to make their lives easier we would do. You have to give to get! I also enlisted my team to make social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I would send out a weekly newsletter of things to post. Once we started doing this along with the campaigns and schedules, our team had a lot of fun!

That’s the main thing about social media and real time marketing – it’s super fun. Our system wasn’t completely refined, but it was working. I started pinpointing our most engaged, active users – our key influencers, and I figured we had the potential to start an ambassador community. I started researching various ambassador programs and establishing one for the Tosca Reno and Eat-Clean Diet brands. Empowering the community is everything!!

Going Dark on Social

After you had to shut the company down and social media had to go “dark”, what was the reaction of the community? Was there strong backlash?

Kiersten: Of course, it was awful. They blamed my mom for everything. Everything buzzing around her networks was filled with lies, assumptions and rumours. I had strict instructions from the lawyers to stay quiet. I couldn’t respond to anything and we weren’t allowed to post. It went against everything I stood for on so many levels.

First and foremost, she’s my mom and I wanted to protect her from the negative backlash. Second, it was my job and my passion. I was devastated to see something I had nurtured from the beginning suddenly slammed with slanderous content. My mom found me crying over it several times over the summer. We realized a couple of blog posts over the summer, but they all had to be lawyer approved. We could only post about surface level information like “Oh, I made this recipe” or “Oh, look at this flower”. Like I said, people knew it wasn’t genuine. When your brand is built on transparency and authenticity – like my mom’s brands – people see through that in an instant. Eventually the negativity died down. And like anything, we realized who her real followers were – the ones who stood by her from the beginning, through all of the bad stuff and the good stuff.

In hindsight, and a couple classes I took last quarter – I’m doing my Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern’s Medill School – I think I would have asked for more guidance from the lawyers for a better strategy.

My Strategic Communications professor Nancy Hobor, always says: “when it comes to your most engaged stakeholders you have to take a risk even if that means going against your lawyer’s advice.” I’m learning that lawyers are most likely going to tell you “no” when it comes to risk, so instead of asking “why not?” you should ask “How can I do this?

Considering social media is relatively new in the legal world, I think it’s going to be important for social media marketers and real-time marketers to work alongside legal to develop crisis communications plans. It’s best to be proactive and not reactive in this industry!

Bringing Back Social

When Tosca wrote her next book, Start Here Diet, you took to social media again to spread the word. How long did time lapse from the time you went dark on social and the time you started posting to your community again?

Kiersten: We had legal approval to begin posting again at the end of September. This was also the time when I left to begin my Master’s and my sister, Rachel, took over on a part time basis. I consulted her through the transition, but I know it wasn’t easy for her.

What was the initial reaction of the community? Supportive? Angry?

Rachel: There were a number of reactions. Overall, I would so the community was happy to see her back, however, there were still a lot of messes to clean up. People still had a lot of questions about the bankruptcy, as well as the sale of the magazine titles. I spent most of time answering questions about this. They also wanted to know when things would be back to normal. The Kitchen Table was a key part of this. Our readers really missed engaging and supporting one another.

The task at hand was to promote a book that was written well before the death of my stepfather, Robert Kennedy, and before the bankruptcy, meaning it was out of context. Furthermore, it was with a new publisher, who we had never worked with before. Finally, social media was in the hands of a part-time employee with very little experience in building social networks. It was a no-win situation, but we did our best to engage with the resource we had. The community was definitely smaller, but as mentioned above, the real fans rose to the top.

Fast Forward to Present Day: The Successful Launch of the New Website

Were you happy with the results of the website? Were you surprised at the strength of your community to drive the success it had?

Rachel: Were we happy with the results? That’s an understatement. We were ecstatic, relieved, and grateful beyond measure.

Were surprised at the strength of the community? No. We knew it was there. We just needed to find a way to bring it back again. It took the complete revamp of the brand and website to do that.

Frankly, I think the level of engagement is only just starting to come back now nearly a year after the bankruptcy. We are still working out kinks and making sure Tosca’s voice is clear and consistent, but we’re getting there. It really is trial and error. Overall, we are extremely happy to have a company, Patch Design, with the resources and training to do this job properly. It really isn’t a job for the children of the personality since protective and defensive armor is hard to shed when it comes to family. Furthermore, having fresh eyes, content and ideas for a brand with a lot of history is ideal. While the history is important, it can also bog you down.

What have you learned from all this?

Kiersten: I’m a runner and I’m going to use a race analogy that my aunt told me, that comes from her coach: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain.” ie there are many ways to train for a race. This is my approach to social media. There are many, many, many ways to the top of the social media stratosphere. So find your way!

People keep trying to say “oh, there’s a method” yaddayadda. I don’t buy it. Social Media is all about being REAL, being authentic – finding the sweet point with your audience that jives with them. So it’s going to be different for everyone. Everyone’s voice will be different; the content will be different; the schedules, the campaigns, etc. But the key elements are to be real, to listen, and to respond! Listening to your social cloud to find out what they want and then responding with what they want is essential. “Make it Awesome” as my Digital, Social, Mobile professor Randy Hlavac would say.

Rachel: I have learned that this is not a job for just anyone. I am trained as a naturopathic doctor, and took on the social media part time position while opening my practice. I certainly don’t have the right mindset for social media management. However, I did my best to maintain the community. Some things worked, and some things didn’t.

It has taught me a lot about how to manage my social media methods upon opening my practice. One question I am still trying to answer is how best to balance the community. How do you strike a balance between giving too much away and still being able to monetize your network?

Overall, communities are resilient, and my mother has been able to build a strong, healthy community even through heaps of personal turmoil with genuine, impactful messages. That being said, I would never wish bankruptcy upon anyone, and I would hope that those reading this understand that if you don’t have anything nice to say, and you don’t know what you’re talking about, then it’s generally better to not say anything at all.

Kiersten Corradetti is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Integrated Marketing at Medill, Northwestern University. She has worked in social media and online content strategy in the Health and Fitness Industry for four years. She has a passion for building brand communities. Follow on Twitter @kierstenalex

Rachel Corradetti: I am naturopathic doctor balancing my mobile medical clinic with a coordinator role for one of today’s leading health and fitness icons. On a daily basis I am applying my experience and knowledge in wellness to better the health of our readers and patients. In my clinical work as a naturopathic doctor I encourage men, women and children of all ages to trust the innate strength and power of their bodies to heal from the inside out. Follow on Twitter @clinicintrinsic

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