Taking the World by (Digital) Storm: How the Toy Industry Is Using Social Media

The first in a multi-part series on toy industry experiences using social media

Social media is taking the world by storm . . . and it’s not just for kids.  By using sites such as Linked InFacebookTwitter or even My Space, toy companies are finding unique ways to connect with consumers, get their brand in front of them and create unique experiences. Social networking sites have become the way to communicate and educate on a grassroots level.

Jakks Pacific is one toy company that has been using social media by aggressively pitching Mommy, Collector and Tech Bloggers to showcase many diverse products to key influencers and their respective followings.  “We have been utilizing DIGG and YouTube to promote JAKKS in the news, as well as viral videos on our products,” said Genna Rosenberg, senior vice president corporate communications. “In the Fall, we plan to launch a targeted Social Media strategy on Facebook and Twitter for brands that make sense, such as UFC, Hello Kitty and more, promoting retail and other product-related initiatives.”

At last week’s Licensing Show, staff of Playthings magazine used Twitter to  “tweet” updates from the show floor – which was useful not only to people who may have not made the trip to Vegas, but also to attendees who didn’t want to miss out on action occurring on the show floor.

Tweets are posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the user's Twitter profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them (known as followers). Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. The service is free to use over the Internet, but using SMS may incur phone service provider fees.

Marketers and PR professionals have recognized that social media's power cannot be ignored.

“We have been using social media on behalf of all of our clients as part of our media relations outreach,” said Michele Litzky, President of Litzky Public Relations, an agency that represents many toy industry clients including Hasbro, Swimways and timetoplaymag.com.  

The firm has hosted Twitter site-warming parties to help push key messages to its client’s target audiences and drive traffic to specific websites. 

“Now that the 'public relationship' has extended beyond traditional media, many consumers – especially moms – are getting their information from one another.  It's imperative to be part of the conversation or, at the very least, know what is being said.”

The reach of social media can be both good and bad for companies, take for instance the recent Domino’s Pizza debacle. Domino's Pizza was actively participating in social media, and knew the channels that existed.  It has a YouTube Channel, a Twitter account, and both a Facebook and MySpace profile. What Domino's could not plan for, however, was that two of its employees at a North Carolina franchise would use YouTube to broadcast a video that would severely damage the company's brand. Since the video first appeared, and its initial missteps, Domino's quickly stepped up its social media presence in order to regain some positive momentum.

What companies – even those that are not currently playing in the social media space – can learn from the Domino’s example is this: 

  • First, your customers are online. 
  • Second, companies must actively monitor social media channels and be prepared to respond quickly when problems appear.

Moving ahead, businesses need to examine what type of role these evolving technologies will play in their communications plans.

TIA’s Social Media Presence
Members of the toy industry are taking new strides in social media communities every day.  The Toy Industry Association (TIA) has established its own presence on Linked In and Facebook.  The latter is becoming a robust page where “fans” – particularly those from outside the toy industry – can see photos and videos and participate in discussion pertaining to the world of toys.

Toy industry professionals have a more intimate gathering place on the web via the ToyConnections website, the only social media gathering place specifically for toy and youth industry professionals. The site’s more than 3,300 members include retailers, exhibitors/manufacturers, media, product safety executives, licensors, sales representatives, and other toy industry professionals.  During May ’09, visitors came to the site from 439 cities in 40 countries on four continents. 

At present, the three most popular discussion groups include:

  • THE LITTLE GUYS: Little toy manufacturers & toy shops who want to support each other. 
  • BUYERS:  Retail buyers who like to share all types of buying strategies.
  • CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS:  People looking for creative ways to reach and service customers across the country.

while the three newest groups are:

  • BUZZ FACTOR & PUBLIC RELATIONS – for companies who want to generate media coverage for their products.  
  • HR 4040 RANTS- for people who want to rant about the HR 4040 bill.
  • INDUSTRY VETERANS & RETIREES – for toy industry veterans and retirees who want to network, reconnect, or share fond memories.

To join as a member of the ToyConnections community, please contact Joan Wyche, TIA manager of registration and buyer relations, for a free subscription.

Additional case studies of how TIA members are using social media will be featured in upcoming issues of Toy News Tuesday. Please contact TIA’s Adrienne Citrin to nominate a company with a strong and successful social media presence for an organizational profile, or to suggest an example of a social media “ooops!” (ala Domino’s) for discussion.