Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online resource for family history, with approximately 2 million paying subscribers around the world as of October 2012. Since starting as a publishing company in 1983, Ancestry have been a leader in the family history market for nearly 30 years and have helped pioneer the market for online family history research.
Bio: Nick Cifuentes is the global social media director at Ancestry.com. An industry veteran, Nick has worked in digital media and marketing since 2004, functioning in strategy, copywriting, analytics, search, planning, online media and social media.
How does Ancestry.com use the social media channels it maintains?
I have been with the company for about two years. Before I came onboard the site really didn’t have a well-defined social media strategy – it didn’t really have its own vertical, as it was sort of grouped with PR. The site had a Facebook page, but the company wasn’t really doing anything with it. There wasn’t any steady level of engagement.
What I would say is that when it comes to social media the site doesn’t have the kind of content that usually attracts the usual social media crowd. Our demographic is aged 45 plus, which are our core customers. However, what we do have – which differentiates us in the market place – is the level of content on our site.
The site now has a global presence within the social media channels. Today we have 45 plus channels of engagement that we use. We did this very quickly with each of our global presences ramping up their use of social media within about six months after I started with the company.
Of course we tend to focus in the US as this is our largest property, but we have seen all of our engagement channels moving to a very high level, which we continue to develop.
As a corporate user of social networks, how does your company value the networks it has a presence on?
When you look at social each business is different. At Ancestry we do try and attach a value to all the social channels we are involved with. For us we tie the activity we have on the social networks to two types of conversion:
The first is a person that comes to the site and they sign up for our services. If a person does this they will have given us their credit card. We see a sign up as a core business goal, which the social channel helps us achieve. The second is when a person registers with the site but does not give us their credit card number. They are of course not as valuable, but they are a potential lead and they are followed up in due course.
So we use the social systems to understand the value of what we are doing. We look at a lot of click stream data, sentiment perception, qualitative and quantitative analysis of data, as these metrics allow us to see which elements of our activity are successful, but also how this flows back to our bottom line. We work with Google Analytics to track all of the material that we push out into the social space to see what comes back and how this impacts on our business.
We now have the ability to take our budget spend and compare this to sign ups on the site to generate a figure that gives us an indication of the value linked to that sign up, but more importantly, we know where that sign up came from and what prompted them to come to the site. This could be any of the materials we push out across the social space, but because we track this material, we have a very good idea of its value.
What kind of engagement is your company seeing?
I would say that over the last six months we have been focusing on brand advocacy. We clearly understand that the fans of our site are our strongest advocates. For businesses these are the people that will help you develop your offering.
We have used two advocate programs over the past year. We have two US-focused initiatives, and a third that will launch in the UK in the first quarter of 2013. One of the first was what we called Ancestry ACES, which is a blog that uses content that is totally independent of our site.
We initially reached out to our user base to identify which of our users was more socially enabled. We got close to a million responses from our first request, and from those, we identified about 150,000 people whom we launched the program with. These people are prolific sharers, and prolific content creators. These are the personality traits of an advocate that we really want to build upon.
Since the program started running lat April 2012, we send out a bi-weekly emails that gives these people advanced information about what is happening on Ancestry. It’s like a VIP program that gives these advocates materials they can disseminate to their followers. We give them a lot of promotions they can give away on their blogs, we also gave them a badge and a widget they can embed in their blog to give us a high number of back links to our site. We’re also trying out more specific stuff for these users including Google+ like hangouts and VIP video material that is just for these users.
The second major program we are running is with a third party Zuberance that helps us build brand advocacy. This platform allows Ancestry to broadcast marketing content and seed people into sharing that content. What we are trying to do is create content that users will want to instantly share with their followers, other users, friends or family. We really do see advocacy as a key part of growing our brand’s presence on the social channels. And of course we are lucky in that we have a lot of content to share in these spaces.
In addition to these programs we also have an entire customer support module where we have people live on the channels daily answering questions and enquires that come in. We have an entire staff that is dedicated to providing this service to our customers.
As businesses have begun to realize that social media touches every aspect of their organizations, how does Ancestry place social within its business hierarchy?
Before I came to Ancestry my background was mostly with agencies, which means I understood how social was becoming more than a simple marketing exercise. Here at Ancestry social was situated within PR, but we have now moved it into its own realm. What this means in practice is that if you look at our organizational structure you will see that social has its own channel, but it is overseen by out chief marketing officer.
Under me I have six managers that focus globally, and the support group that I mentioned before. And of course when I came on, I requested a number of things that have an impact on the company’s budget, so resources that are allocated are part of the wider budgeting and planning that the business does.
Also, what was gratifying was that when we looked at the company’s goals for the next year, there were clearly defined goals for social and not just our general marketing developments. So for Ancestry, social is a key contributing factor to growing the business. Of course social is not as direct as an acquisition for instance, but social does have a long-term impact that our business understands is important to develop.
And I also have a tools budget that will be for the analytical systems I use, which of course cost money. With my background I knew which tools I wanted to bring to Ancestry and how these could be used to deliver the goals the company wanted to meet in the social space. The advice I would give is that a business needs to look at the whole environment of their enterprise and factor in social to those areas where this channel can help them grow.