social media case studiesOn the morning of June 10, Kristen Jacobs was monitoring the Twitterverse for mentions of her employer, Creative Memories, as she usually does. One tweet in particular stood out.

Upon closer inspection of the tweet and link, Jacobs discovered that Creative Memories was going head-to-head with one of America’s biggest retailers, Target, in a “Minnesota Brand Madness” challenge put on by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal.


Creative Memories learned first on Twitter that it was included in the Minnesota Brand Madness competition.

This was news to Jacobs (the company’s web content community manager), as well as the rest of the scrapbooking company. But Jacobs knew where to turn first.

“Before I even really did more digging, I posted it on our Facebook page just saying, ‘Hey guys, go vote for us!'”


Creative Memories turned to Facebook first to get out the vote.

What happened next is a testament to the importance of a loyal fan base. Creative Memories fans didn’t just respond, they voted for the company again and again, through six rounds of the brand competition, against much more well-known names such as Wheaties, Mall of America, Dairy Queen and Mayo Clinic.

In the end, Creative Memories emerged as Minnesota’s Best Brand.

The lesson: It’s not the quantity of fans that matters but the quality.

Organization: Creative Memories

Social Media Handles & Stats Today:


  • Much smaller Creative Memories (60,000 fans) beat Target (4.7 million fans) by 81 percent.
  • 75,000 total votes were cast in a matchup against Mayo Clinic.
  • Creative Memories beat 64 companies to be named Minnesota’s Best Brand.

Hiring a Dedicated ‘Voice’ for the Home Office

If you haven’t heard of Creative Memories, then you’re probably not into scrapbooking. The St. Cloud, Minnesota–based company, started in 1987, sells scrapbooking supplies and services through more than 40,000 home-based consultants around the world. The company’s Minnesota headquarters employs 500 people.

Creative Memories helps people preserve memories in attractive scrapbooks and enables their independent consultants to make money.

Until recently, Creative Memories took a casual approach to social media, with a marketing person posting only occasionally on the Facebook and Twitter accounts in addition to her other job responsibilities.

This past March, Jacobs joined the company with a primary focus on building the social media network.

“When we brought Kristen on board, she was able to give the job the attention it deserved,” said Bob McClintick, channel marketing director. “We were really able to cultivate that audience and grow it. They were just really waiting for somebody to be that voice from the home office to engage them.”

creative memories

Creative Memories uses Facebook to share news about new offerings and get feedback from the customer base.

Jacobs posts engaging content about products and offers, tracks responses and answers questions on the wall. The number of “likes” and comments gives the company unprecedented insight into customer preferences, as do Facebook surveys about potential new products. That insight then shapes actual product offerings.

creative memories poll

Surveys help Creative Memories shape product offerings.

Not only does the fan page help build relationships among the home office and customers and consultants, it also serves as a community for all fans. Fans answer each other’s questions, making the site a valuable source of information and education.

Jacobs is tasked with not just engaging Creative Memories fans and followers, but also with providing content that independent consultants can share on their own Facebook pages. To date, about 40 percent of their consultants have Facebook fan pages.

Social’s the Edge in Six-Week Competition

Just a few months after Jacobs took over as the company’s social media voice, the Minnesota Brand Madness competition put Creative Memories’ social network to the test. To win, Creative Memories had to go up against a different Minnesota brand for six consecutive weeks this past summer.

brand madness

In total, 64 brands competed before Creative Memories was crowned Minnesota's Best Brand.

And all were arguably recognizable national and international brands based in Minnesota, with millions of fans and followers.

First was Target, with its 4.7 million Facebook fans to Creative Memories’ 60,000. After Jacobs’ fast post about the Target face-off, the fans came through with votes and enthusiastic comments. In the end, more than 4500 votes were cast and Creative Memories beat Target with an impressive 81 percent of the vote, which Jacobs attributes to her get-out-the-vote post.

Notably, Target didn’t tap its Facebook network to help with voting. “Target could have killed us if they would have even tweeted about it one time. There’s no doubt about it,” Jacobs said.

From that first round, Jacobs also turned to key partners for their support in getting the word out. Provo Craft & Novelty, maker of the Cricut machine for scrapbooking, tweeted and posted to its fan base of 30,000. Nancy O’Dell, a celebrity spokesperson for Creative Memories, also tweeted each time to her 142,000 followers about the competition.

Nancy O'Dell

Celebrity spokesperson Nancy O'Dell helped get the word out.

Specifically, Creative Memories called on its partners for extra posting when competitors would start surging, such as Arctic Cat for round two.

In round three, Wheaties was the easiest win, Jacobs feels, because the company also didn’t engage in social media to spread the word.


Wheaties didn't engage in social media to spread the word.

The competition toughened in round four with Mall of America. “We knew that one would be more challenging, and it was,” Jacobs said.

Again, the company benefited from posts by Provo Craft, Nancy O’Dell and also charity partner Make-A-Wish Foundation. This time, Creative Memories edged out the mall with 63 percent of the vote.

creative memories home office

Creative Memories beat the popular Mall of America with 63 percent of the votes.

Next came not just a Minnesota favorite but a national one, Dairy Queen, proving it’s not easy to beat ice cream. In the final moments of the competition, Dairy Queen started surging unexpectedly, picking up thousands of votes after leading all day.

While out shopping with her family, Jacobs saw the spike and took action—a testament to the immediacy of social media.

“I threw in a quick post and said, ‘Dairy Queen is surging. We need your votes.’ And we ended up taking it 52 to 48 percent.”

Beating Out 64 Brands

From 64 companies, in the end it came down to Creative Memories and the prestigious Mayo Clinic—the toughest competition yet. A total of 75,000 votes were cast before voting ended.

Again, Jacobs called in the fans, followers and partners who had stuck by the company from the beginning.

“It’s just amazing that we were able to just keep people going for that long and not drive them nuts after six weeks, and that they were still so excited to support us,” she said.

Interestingly, the Mayo–Creative Memories matchup drew hundreds of comments on Facebook and the voting page, and even sparked debate. What’s more valuable, saving lives or scrapbooking? But Creative Memories fans didn’t see it that way.

One commenter put the challenge into perspective that memories are worth preserving:

“Both companies are beacons of light in their own way—one helps save lives, the other helps share lives.”

“It was the fans who said, ‘It’s not about scrapbooking,'” Jacobs said. “It’s not just the company itself but really what we stand for. And that was amazing to see how much they believed in who we are as a brand.”

After six weeks, Creative Memories won Minnesota’s Best Brand against Mayo with 59 percent of the vote.

madness logo

Creative Memories won Minnesota's Best Brand.

“A Passionate Fan Base”

Jacobs and McClintick are certain that Facebook made the difference, especially considering that approximately 89 percent of consultants are on the social network.

“There’s absolutely no doubt. If we didn’t have Facebook, there’s no way that we could have gotten this far,” Jacobs said.

But those fans and partners had to be in place first.

“They were ready to go, ready to respond when we asked a question or posted something. So, ours is not a static site at all. There’s a high level of engagement,” Jacobs added.

“We learned that we may not be as recognized, have as many customers or make as much money as the brands we were up against, but we do have something none of them had. And that’s the ability to use social media to mobilize a passionate fan base to action when needed.”

How to Compete With Bigger Brands the Creative Memories Way

  1. Monitor your mentions!
    Creative Memories learned about the Brand Madness competition by listening, in this case monitoring Twitter mentions on HootSuite. Otherwise, the company may not have known about the competition and mobilized its fans to vote against Target.
  2. A huge fan base is nice and all, but…
    It’s not the size of the fan base that matters most but the size of the fight in the fan base. Active, passionate fans made the win possible.
  3. Be consistent and dedicated to build your audience.
    The engaged audience and loyal partners were in place before the competition began—and hence ready to move when asked.

What do you think? What are you doing to build the quality of your fan base, not just adding numbers? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  • Only 4500 Votes, but was a wonderful job mobilizing their audience to vote for them. Surely this is something to be quite proud of. 

  • This was a great article about david v. goliath! I loved it! Really showcases the power of social media. When companies don’t get social, they lose out.

  • Thanks Just!

  • I think this post is full of good information and wonderful advice, but the headline really makes it sound like Creative Memories beat out Target. But half-way into the post it becomes clear that Target did not even try to win, thus making it an apples and oranges comparison. 

  • DivineDiva2011

    Awesome post Casey! This was a great case study in the many ways social media can help businesses build their brand. I also think a special marketing mention would also go to Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, who came up with a very smart way to get people active and voting plus getting large brands to mention them. 

  • Steventimm

    Good information, but I’m left wondering, so what?  So what that CM has passionate fans….that are willing to vote in some contest.  What does that exactly prove…that scrapbookers are more willing to vote multiple times in a popularity contest?  Ok…so that isn’t a bad thing, but what I’d like to know is what impact a contest like this has on sales and revenue and profits and things that really matter to sustaining a business.  Popularity and attention is fine and helpful, but tell me how CM turned that contest into a sales spike.  That’s the missing ingredient here.  Thanks

  • Great case study!  I imagine the sales and revenue will follow as they always do after a huge bump in positive brand exposure. And to think it all started with a Tweet.

  • Thanks James. We really felt like David in this situation. Knowing that if Target engaged their social network even once, they would likely take us out. The icing on the cake was the congratulatory tweet that Target sent us afterwards! Round after round, it was evident that the brands that were most engaged with their social networks were prevailing. There were more than one Cinderella stories in this competition and all of them involved an engaged fanbase.  

  • I agree! The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal won big with this competition. They had the biggest brands in Minnesota driving traffic to their site for a two month period. Brilliant!

  • Thanks for replying and thanks again for sharing your story. You did great.

  • Nick

    Social channels should be reserved for two-way conversations between a brand and its customers. Doing so builds a deeper understanding of the company’s products and services, customer needs and strengthens overall brand affinity.

    Large brands using social channels to tell their fans/followers to vote for them in a local poll would not be a responsible use of their channels. Because companies chose not to do that doesn’t mean they aren’t social or are not listening.

  • Target may not have tried, but Arctic Cat, Mall of America, Dairy Queen and the Mayo Clinic certainly did!

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks DivineDiva!

    I agree that the MSP BJ was smart. They enabled comments on the voting pages too, making it social. That would be interesting to know, the level of traffic they saw from the competition.

  • caseyhibbard

    Hi Patrick,

    What impressed me here was that, round after round, the company called on its existing fan base and they responded, which enabled this company to make it all the way to the end against companies that did try. 

  • I agree Casey. Creative Memories did an excellent job building and engaging prior to this contest, in order to build a passionate tribe and help it win the contest. But I think it’s also an example of the nature of brand loyalty to a national brand vs. a place or building vs. a company that sells products that have a strong emotional tie, such as scrap-booking. I think the story of the Fiskateers online community is another fine example of this. The Fiskers company managed to mesh its scissors product with scrap booking as well. But it’s also a story that some brands probably never will have the chance to tell. The Mall of America is a series of unique experiences. People enjoy the mall, but it does not have that emotional bond, like scrap-booking does. One could argue the Mayo Clinic definitely has that ability, but DQ? I kind of doubt it. What I’m saying is some brands and niches have natural advantages in the online space. Couple that with smart tactics, and you can really go places.

    Anyhow, great article and food for thought. Thanks for sharing it.

  • This article just shows the power of social media and about paying attention. I really enjoyed reading this case study. I can see how smaller companies have a more intimate relationship with their fans, but when used well, social media can have a large voice for any size company. 

  • A great story, Casey!
    btw – is this also a pdf case study that’s been modified for online?  

  • Start small as a business in order to properly manage it and at the same time think big. Someone there had great insight when they hired a person just to act as a liaison between the company and all their independent reps.

  • Wow, this is very impressive.  I guess it’s really about the quality of the Fans and not quantity.
    Thanks for the article.


  • Pretty impressive of them .Great post by the way.

  • Really impressive post and motivating too. Small business should start thinking about social media for their  business asap…

    “Shilpi Singha Roy
    Facebook fan page –

  • This was a fascinating story – Hooray for the little guy that’s fully engaged.  Well done!  Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Wow, very impressive, Creative Memories! Definitely a great case study about the power of social media and having an engaged, loyal fan base.

  • caseyhibbard

    Hi Mark,

    Yes! You can click on “Print” up top and it gives you the option to get the PDF version.

  • Thanks Brittany! It was a wild ride for us, but quite revealing as well. We got to know our fan base on a whole new level.

  • Thanks Darlene. We truly felt like Cinderella!

  • True, we learned that we have passionate fans, but in part, we already knew this. And true, being able to convert a blast of publicity into sales is smart business. But I don’t know that I agree that sales and revenue and profits are the only things that matter to sustaining a business. Passionate and loyal customers who are willing to shout from the rooftops why they believe in your brand are pretty priceless. Relationships and trust are what keep them coming back to us, versus the masses of retail competitors. We really see this as a big win. Thanks.

  • Steventimm

    Well, no matter who you are, if your loyal and passionate fans don’t support you by consistently buying your products/services, your business will eventually die.  So I would disagree a bit there…..passion and loyalty HAS to manifest itself eventually into sales.  Taking a step back, I guess it really depends on your goal….does CM want to realize growth or is just maintaining the status quo (i.e. current sales rate) the objective?   If you want growth, there must to be a way to leverage a ‘win’ like this into an increase.  You can’t just assume it happens ‘organiically’.  I like metrics…I like knowing where to invest marketing $$ to get the best ROI.  Being able to definitively communicate to Executive Mgmt at CM the impact of this win would be huge.  That needs to happen eventually.  The ‘socialization’ of business is still in the early stages.  The experimenting and learning is happening every day.  But people should not lose sight of what really drives sustainable business models….and unfortunately, it isn’t popularity contests.  That’s not to say this wasn’t a cool thing and CM shouldn’t feel proud or celebrate.  Facebook is pretty amazing and seems to be changing the world on many levels, and businesses like CM should invest and explore new opportunities that are now available through social web sites, but measurement is crucial for social to evolve.  Anyways, keep pushing ahead….you are fortunate to have the opportunity to explore and try new things.

  • I think it’s more “turtle & hare” than “apples & oranges.”  The rabbit took a nap.  I love Target, but maybe they were too confident and we just kept pushing forward!

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Steventimm. This is an exciting times for marketers, but you are correct that it does always need to come back to sales in the end!

  • Bain just released a study showing that customers engaged with a brand via social media spend 20-40% more than other customers.

    So if the only thing CM’s campaign accomplished was to help keep its existing customers “engaged” – I’d say that’s a pretty valuable business objective.

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  • Wow! Amazing story. I am a firm believer in the power of the message – whether it’s on your website, facebook, twitter or any other place where one can read, view or listen. And when your messages hit the heart of your recipients, good things happen. 🙂

  • wow. what a great story. go creative memories. one for the “smaller” guys 🙂

    all the more reinforces the value of engaging your loyal fan base and cultivating a community. kudos.

  • This is a fabulous step by step reveiew of your success. Thank you for including all the detail. You should be very proud!

    There’s a lot of talk about conversion to sales. With an event like this, the sales increase comes naturally. Given that purchasing decisions are an emotional choice in the end, Creative Memories not only rallied the troups but each supporter became part of the win. This “feel good” experience will serve well by word of mouth (new customers) and loyalty (repeat/increased sales).

    Love all aspects of this story.

  • Pratishthachhetri

    here are few easy tips to build a social media community;

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  • Aimey Alastair

    thanks for shearing this with us …… The ‘socialization’ of business is still in the early stages.  The
    experimenting and learning is happening every day.  But people should
    not lose sight of what really drives sustainable business models….and
    unfortunately, it isn’t popularity contests.

  • Wow! That is incredible! 
    Make WAY for the great scrap bookers of Minnesota!
    I think this will be a story we should refer to again in 2012 so we can track the success over time! Socialization can make or break a company.

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  • Roz

    This is really amazing. Oh to have such dedicated fired up fans.