BlogHer Business Day One: Social Media Outreach Case Studies

BlogHer Original Post

Case Study #1: General Motors


Last November General Motors approached podcasters The Manic Mommies about sponsoring the first-ever Manic Mommies Escape Weekend. GM’s sponsorship focused primarily on providing transportation options toattendees.

Jill Whalen interviews GM's Natalie Johnson about GM's strategy for this kind of sponsorship, and Manic Mommies' Erin Kane about why Manic Mommies accepted GM's sponsorship, and what their attendees thought of the benefits GM sponsored.

Erin Kane: We release podcasts once a week, talking about lives as working moms. Started three years ago. One thing we discovered is that a lot of working moms felt lonely and isolated, resonated with what we were talking about, connecting online. Wanted to get our listeners together in a room -- these people need to meet each other. Started thinking about the escape as a weekend. First escape was last November in Newport, RI.

Natalie Johnson: GM got on a conference call one weekend with Erin and Kristen because we felt this audience might not feel as invited into a GM dealership as they might be if we sponsored an event like this. We wanted to give them the opportunity to ride in our vehicles. We picked the attendees up at the airport and brought them to the hotel. There was also a "ride and drive" component for those moms who wanted to test-drive the vehicles. We did have a route that they had to follow. The key point is that they had the opportunity to drive, but they didn't have to drive. It was just an option for them. Being shuttled in the vehicles was something they really enjoyed.

Erin: Our moms didn't want to feel like they were being given a sales pitch. Don't ask me to ask them to not get a facial to go drive one of your cars. GM totally got that. They wanted to add value for the weekend, so we asked them to pick people up at the airport so the moms didn't have to incur that expense. They would've had to rent a car or take a shuttle to get from the airport to the event. The next day they provided the joyrides and transportation to the mansion tours. The experience was so genuine. Everyone just kept commenting about how much of a value-add the GM relationship was.

In my pro life, I do PR, so it was interesting to be on the receiving end of a corporate pitch. I do know what companies want. We had about 100 people there for the weekend. It was a Friday night to Sunday morning event. It was our first one.

Natalie: (asked why this was worth it to GM for just 100 people) We want to build a relationship with these people. We didn't want to have brochures there, but some of the moms actually asked for brochures. We wanted to establish ourselves with this community.

How did this benefit GM? If you look at the results, they speak for themselves. Before escape, would you have considered purchasing GM? 36.6% said yes. Has perception changed since escape? >70% changed their mind. Would you consider purchasing GM after escape? 92% said yes. The experience we were trying to deliver -- we wouldn't have even thought it would have such a strong impact.

One of the comments made: GM is listening and trying harder. GM would do it again.

(asked if corporations should be doing this) Corps are going to have to consider doing things in a way that they haven't always looked at. Nontrad outreach efforts. Understand what people are saying about their products.

Erin: (asked if companies get it) They're trying to get it. Sometimes companies don't even know what a podcast is. It's not for every business. When we started doing this, we started in the garage. Everyone who's not making money probably thinks "why am I doing this? How much time am I spending on this?" We didn't get into it to make money; we got into it to make a community of working moms like ourselves. We don't beat ourselves up for not selling a lot of banner ads in the beginning. We have 40k downloads a month of the podcasts. We just broke the 100k mark this week on the Web site. We recently started blogging tech for Real Simple magazine.

The reach for GM was greater than the 100 people who were there that weekend. GM was on the banners, GM was on the site. Not everyone got in a GM car and experienced it, but there was more value in terms of promotion.

Natalie: I would agree that it's very true. We also had the opportunity to introduce Erin and Kristen to one of our key executives and talk about the environment, which was a key area of interest for her audience.


Would you consider expanding this outreach to have a stronger impact? How do you turn these things into a sale?

Natalie: In order to get the metric you're talking about, we want to continue building those relationships, work with sales & marketing to follow up with people. We were concerned with building a relationship with Kristen and Erin and one with their community. At the end of the day, you have to change the perception first. Then they'll buy the product that you're trying to get them interested in. Right now, people don't trust corporations. There really are some altruistic examples here. Unless you sit in the car, how do you know that the quality has truly improved?

Do people think they know you? Do they trust you?

Erin: Especially with moms, the first person you're going to ask is another mom. What cleaning products do you use? Which minivan did you buy? Share information and tips all the time. I now wonder how I've lived without a back-up camera. It helps you not run over your kid.

Follow-up question on relationships. Corporations are trying to get into this game. How do you build deeper relationships with a community. You did a great event, a one-time deal, you have a logo on a podcast -- what else are you doing specifically, and what lessons did you learn?

Natalie: Relationships take time to build. We do reach out to the mom community through auto shows and ride-and-drive events. We don't look at how large their audience is but whether or not they are influential in the community in which they blog. We try to follow-up with people about questions we receive on the blog. It's challenging to do, but we try to make a conscious effort to respond to the questions we are receiving. Address concerns as quickly as we can. They see that we are listening.

Is it fair to say you have a mommyblogger relationship strategy?

Natalie: It's not written down anywhere. It's something we feel is important.

Do you do anything to amplify your efforts online?

Natalie: We have reached out to other bloggers, but we have worked mostly with Manic Mommies first. There are other corporations we're working with to set up more ride-and-drive activities, including J&J Camp Baby. We're providing transportation to and from the airport. They approached us and asked for some support there.

Erin: We did run ads on our site as part of the sponsorships. I don't want to leave anyone thinking there was a huge influx of cash. As bloggers, content providers, podcasters -- you have to be creative. People think "we charge this" and it's all very formal. The social media space is not as easy to quantify as traditional media. It takes savvy people who are willing to work with a sponsor and figure out what you each need to get out of it. We offset the cost for the moms who were coming to the escape. You have to make it a win-win for everyone.

Case Study #2: Graco


Elana Centor will lead you through the story of the Graco Get-Together program, again with reps from the company (Graco's Lindsay Lebresco), the agency (Converseon's Christin Eubanks) and one of the bloggers who was on their outreach list, Beth Blecherman.

Lindsay: Graco got into social media because we're often seen as a very functional brand. We want to humanize our brand, highlight the fact that the individuals behind the company are parents. We wanted to connect to people as individuals. People tend not to trust corporations, but they trust each others. We wanted to reach out to the parenting community and the mommybloggers as individuals.

Christin: We guide all our clients through community focus. Listen first. We listen for months and months to message boards and blogs within the parenting space. That guided our strategy. Then we take a "karmic communications" approach. We wanted to give them something in return for inviting us into their community. We know bloggers like to get together in person.

Lindsay: We chose Silicon Valley Moms because they are regionally based.

Beth: We get e-mails and we evaluate them. We've had a lot of companies reaching out to us. We like to give our 150 contributors a chance to meet each other. Lindsay was very interested in the community part of it, not just pushing the brand.

(asked how she knew that they were interested in community)

Lindsay: We'd listened to the community, so we knew more of what they wanted. Having a corporate blog at the same time we were reaching out to people gave us a chance to have a voice and our own personality so that they could see who we are. We've been blogging for about four months now. It's in its infancy. (ed note: har har)

Beth: We usually like to set up Flickr groups. When our contributors get together, they like to have pictures. It was a great event, and it was a very soft sale. The product was there. You could talk about if you wanted, but you didn't have to. We don't give any directions to our bloggers other than to show up and have fun.

Lindsay: Our agency (ed note: see above) led us in this direction. Beth also helped lead us. We were willing to be led. We would step back and say, "you're right, let's do it that way." We used simple tools, Evite. We reached out to SVMoms to have a swank poolside party. Chicago group was at a mom's house. DC group was at a restaurant.

(Christin asked how this experience was different from other relationships)

Christin: The wrong question is "what can these moms do for me and my brand?" Graco asked what they could do for the people who cared about babies and baby products -- the moms. The results have been great. One benefit of listening before you engage. You know you can't quantify a relationship, but you can quantify links and the long tail of comments.

Beth: When I'm linking to Graco, I'm happier to link to the Graco blog as opposed to a big company.

How were you assessing Graco's presence before the campaign?

Christin: Proprietary software. We knew people were already talking positively about the brand, so we knew we wouldn't have to push it hard.

Lindsay: When you do research, people sometimes tell you what they think you want to hear. Out on the blogs, they were being raw. It was like being a fly on the wall.

I remember what is important to people from a stroller point of view. People always say safety, but then they also talk about fashion. Do I like the pattern? People won't always tell you they want the stroller to be cool. It's not the first thing we hear as a company, but we saw it out on the blogs.

We talk about links in, Feedburner stats, comments in. We measure those things. Within the parenting space, we're one of the first, so we're learning. Management has been really liberal in how we learn. We want to do better than we did last month, every month.

How does this compare with customer service?

Lindsay: We've been looking for how to look into customer service as a way to contact people. We needed to be able to contact our target audience, and that's how social media came into play. The conversation is about parenting in general. There's not as much product conversation. The questions don't come into the blog per se; they come in through customer service.

Do you notice a change in conversation after get-togethers?

Christin: It's really about relationships. You can measure links and comments, but it's really been cool to see all these moms following Lindsay, to be able to see on these hugely influential mom blogs that Graco is perceived as contributing something valuable.

Lindsay: We also have spreadsheets. And charts. And graphs.

Beth: We need sponsors, because we need our contributors to get together and meet. It helps us to build our community.

Lindsay: Beth's group allowed us to come to the parties and not just sponsor them. We wanted a relationship, not just a presence.

How do you put a budget together for this, since it's so intangible?

Christin: I told you they'd ask you that question.

Lindsay: (points at traditional agency rep) Shifted some money and time from traditional media. We utilized the existing PR budget that we always had. Now we talk about campaigns. We certainly do traditional product outreach, and there's a budget for that, and we put our budget toward the best ideas, online or off.

How many people know what the product is you're promoting?

Lindsay: SweetPeace is a newborn soothing center. It transitions the baby from womb to world, integrating all five senses during the fourth trimester. It offers white noise, we encourage moms to sleep with a swaddling blanket and give the baby that. You can plug your iPod into the tower. We have a canopy that goes over to block out all the external stimulus. Swaddle blanket keeps them nice and tight like they were in the womb.

There was a woman with twins who had come to the get-together. She sent a picture of what she needs for twins. It was very valuable to get that sort of product input.

Are you doing an outreach to grandmothers?

Lindsay: We want to continue to partner with Beth and her group.

Beth: We've got Let's talk.


Case Study #3: Hewlett Packard


Susan Getgood presents a blogger outreach case study. The product was HP's Photo Books. Susan was the consultant on the initiative, and we'll also hear the point of view of the company (HP's Victoria Naffier) and one of the bloggers who was on their outreach list, Liz Gumbinner.

Susan: It helps to have a really cool product and a client who gets it and wants to listen to you. We're going to whip through as fast as we can what we did, so you can ask us questions at the end.

Victoria: Back in July, there were a couple of things happening in parallel. HP was about ready to unveil a tranformation from a printer company to a printing company. We wanted to do that through visual expression and storytelling. We wanted to couple that with our What Do You Have to Say? national campaign via the social media movement.

We were developing wikis and blogs and podcast to go along with the transition for our company.

Then I got approached to launch this photo book product in conjunction with the Print 2.0 campaign. I knew I had to be innovative in getting this product launched. Wanted to launch it in both on- and offline perspective. Wanted to get the awareness out of this new way to do photo books.

I had to have a lobotomy with my organization. It's not about driving advertisements and sales, sales, sales -- it's about creating these relationships that we've been discussing all day. And then sales will come.

We went out to about 5k moms and about 2600 showed interest. We put a photo book in each of their hands. We gave them photo books, asked them to use it. 96% created one, well over 3/4 were likely or very likely to purchase, 60% told friends. The online media tour reached out to 71 mommybloggers. 24 agreed to try it. We gave them 3 photo book samples. 21 out of 24 reviewed. We also offered a 20% off discount for those who wanted to try it.

Susan: The degree of cooperation was really important working with another agency. We didn't want to reach out to the same mommybloggers twice. They brought a coupon, I brought the idea of letting the bloggers give stuff away (thanks for that idea, Liz). I reached out to 41 moms with a demonstrated interest in digital photography. They didn't have to be good, just moms who liked to take pictures and use them on their blogs.

Flickr group where you could see the photos of the moms who participated in the campaign. It summed up why the books are so interesting to us as moms. Not everyone we want to share photos with are online. Wanted to both show the value of the product, but also show the moms in the community how great they are.

We didn't ask anyone to write a word. I'm a firm believer that if the pitch is good enough, people will just write about it.

We gave them products to give away if they wanted. We didn't actually tell them what kind of contest they have to have. Everyone had different contests.

Parent Bloggers Network did a great job of managing the reviews. SlackerMommy actually did a video review, which will be available on my blog.

In about three months, we had the PBN review, the Photographic Memories campaign, the contest, we had 60 mentions. All were different, what suited the mom.

Liz: I write for Mom-101 and Cool Mom Picks. I don't do product reviews on Mom-101. CMP is less mainstream. I did once do one for a K-Y jelly thing - if it makes a good post, then I'm all about it. The most interesting thing about Susan's pitch was that it came from Susan. I was going to open the pitch from the person I know. Most pitches go into a folder unopened.

This pitch actually worked for Mom-101 because I do use photos. It would've been disingenous for me to post about it. I gave an interview, I'm in their Flickr pool, but as the editor of CMP, it changed my impression of the HP brand. The medium is the message. The fact that HP was taking the time to reach out to individual bloggers made them seem avant garde and hip. Suddenly on CMP we're looking at them really differently as well.

Susan: If you read the interviews for Photographic Memories, there are all sorts of people, some who are such bad photographers they can't figure out why we asked them to be in the campaign (ed note: BLUSH).

Liz: It made sense for moms to talk about the HP products in a natural way after being interviewed. They asked for pictures of our kids. It's such a switch from people asking me to give away cereal on my blog. How do I write about that?

Susan: Let's talk about measurement. There wasn't a print campaign in conjunction. The exceeded the initial sales goals by 10X during a small holiday launch periods. We tracked the coupons from the mommybloggers I was working with, and 230 people came to my site to pick up coupons. We know the interviews are still driving traffic to Between all the campaigns there was consistent traffic to the photo books pages on through the entire holiday season, all attributable to this one campaign. It is possible to reach down to a narrow scale and reach out to the people who really want to hear about it, you'll get results.

Victoria: Offline we had great response, too. Now, about learnings. I realized I had to rely on my experts. I wasn't familiar with it. We launched a new product in one of the busiest seasons. In the best of worlds, you just don't make the schedules sometimes. We drummed up all this excitement, then the product was delayed. Thank God it was a good enough product that the excitement didn't drop off. Think about the timing, when you'll have mindshare.

Liz: We didn't care. Everyone was happy to wait. They were good at managing it.

Victoria: Make sure you send the bloggers everything they need. Don't send them something missing a cable, etc. Also, continue to keep the relationship sustainable.

How do you begin the conversation, maintain transparency and not have a disconnect with bloggers?

Susan: It helps that I'm a mom. And now I have my own mommyblog. I didn't before. We think of such large numbers. For any product you have, not all of the mommybloggers care. First figure out who really cares about your product.

Victoria: When we started this project, we had to really talk to our PR group at HP to tell them to let the groups who had the relationships have those relationships. The people who have the relationship should do the pitch.

Liz: Some of our PR people though don't have blogs, don't have kids, may not have vaginas sometimes. Just reach out normally. Talk to people like they're people. It's very easy to delete a press release. It's much harder to delete a personal e-mail.

Susan: The first time someone hears from you shouldn't be the actual pitch. That doesn't mean you can't reach out to them, but don't lead with that.

How do large corporations feel about being pitched by bloggers about doing giveaways and product reviews?

Victoria: In this campaign, we were willing and wanting to. All of the sudden our camera group was giving cameras away to some of the bloggers.

Liz: You might have to demonstrate the value of your blog to them. People need to see that they will get something in return for your exposure. I have this dedicated readership. I have x number of readers a day. Marketers are a little wary of people just trolling for stuff.

Susan: You have to explain some of the same things a publication would have to explain - show the value proposition the other way.

Did the two groups pitching bloggers use the same form of outreach?

Susan: I was much less oriented on what kind of writing the reviews would be and was interested more in the interviews and the outreach. It's a completely different story than try the books, try the printers. Some of the bloggers we both wanted to talk to -- the women I talked to were the ones I knew would give me funny, good interviews. Most of them, I knew. The core components were the same. We didn't want any disconnect about what people were getting.


Case Study #4: Method


Learn about the Detox Seattle program introduced by Method, a line of environmentally friendly home care products. Their goal was to do good, by "detoxing" Seattle, but also to build business, by generating word of mouth about Method and by signing up new Method Advocates. The results of their outreach program were stunning: A huge increase in Method Advocates, lots of online chatter...and nearly 1000 pounds of
toxic chemicals collected and safely disposed of. Learn from Method rep Anna Boyarsky, their agency, Amy Cotteleer from A Squared Group and one of the participating bloggers, Kathryn Thompson, what made this program so successful.

Anna: Method wanted to come up with a product that was countertop-worthy and earth-friendly. We undersood that the health of someone's home is really important to them.

How did you engage with Amy's agency?

Anna: We had a very limited marketing budget. We have a limited print campaign. We do have a more complex story. The name Method might not be as recognizable as the shape of the product. We needed to get the product into the hands of consumers.

How did you overcome the problem that the Method product doesn't "look" green?

Amy: Did anyone else think it was funny that Graco's blog took nine months to get up?

Anyway. We asked a bunch of people if they knew Method. Then we'd ask if we could use their bathroom, and they had it in there. And then everyone would say they got it at Target. I like to call the soap the "gateway drug" -- you may not know there is a whole range of products. You can get it a whole bunch of places. This was all wrapped up with talking about very influential women who combine substance and style.

How quickly did you launch?

Anna: We had a month for it to get pulled together, and it was a month-long program. Someone left early on maternity leave, so it was a scramble. We met everyone before we did the program.

Amy: When you're the agency, you'll promise anything to get a cool client like Method. It's a little hard to say come on over and wash the floor. So we suggested a green house in Seattle. Then we freaked out hoping to get a green house in Seattle. We found a space, infused the brand into it, and hosted some amazing parties in it. People came and cleaned, then we gave them products.

We sent out a brown bag to Katherine and her bloggers. We announced what we were doing. The bigger story was detoxing Seattle and getting some of those toxic chemicals off the street.

Kathryn: We had this group Seattle Mom Blogs. We got a pitch to do an event for us. We changed it several times. We were really nervous, because we didn't want it to be looking like a meet-up and really be a sales pitch. It went over really well. It wasn't like we were having our event while the Method people watched us. They hung out with us.

Amy: 19 bloggers walked into the house. 16 blogged about it that night. It was pretty spectacular.

Kathryn: The party was great, and we doubled our membership in the next few months.

Are there going to be more of these events?

Amy: We're having another event in Boston this month.

Kathryn: I started thinking more about healthier things for my family. This Method thing sort of gave me license to try to be more green, even if I don't weave my own hemp.

Anna: You don't have to pay more for them, and they work just as well.

Amy: We did this programming that was more about lifestyle and choices, more than weaving your own clothing (but if there's anyone who blogs about that, I'm so supportive). We taught people how to make a mint mojito or a lavender something else. All the drinks were based on the Method colors. It was organic. It was raw sugar. It was alcohol. At some point, you used the bathroom and washed your hands with Method.

Kathryn: The house was pretty. Everything felt cool. We were away from our kids. We were using the products. We took some home. It was great. I feel the same way about marketing that I do about blogging. If you don't want to build relationships as a PR person or as a company, don't use social media as your outreach. It might work to get a billboard and put it up on the side of the road about your lawn furniture, but you wouldn't honestly come to my house and say, "you have crappy lawn furniture. Why don't you put up a big sign about good lawn furniture on your front lawn?" People offer to send .jpgs. THANK YOU. Thank you so much. Seriously, if you want to come to my house and hang out, that's cool, but don't come to my house and ask me how lucky I'd feel if you let me put a lawn sign up in my yard. If I do post your thing, we'll both look bad.

I got a pitch about pans. I came back and asked for $150 worth of pans to give away on Seattle Moms Blogs, where I do a cooking column. It started out being kind of a lame pitch, but it ended up really well. The company was willing to work with me.

Amy: I'm always honored when someone wants to meet with me. You've identified yourself as being the busiest person on earth. The fact that you guys show up and talk to me, is great.

How did you convince upper management not to take your limited marketing spend and put it toward a TV ad?

Anna: Everyone is very much on the same page about Method being a viral, grassroots brand. We have a harder time trusting our retailers. We've never done real traditional media. We have a really successful advocacy program.

Amy: There were 12 people who in seven years had self-selected themselves as advocates of the brand. That level increased 1200% because everyone who came through the house signed up. We gathered 1200 pounds of toxic stuff when we did the toxic drop-off. It was something that affected the community in a positive way, which was really important to stuff. In Boston, you can drop off your toxic products and get a free Method product in return.

Do you invite traditional media to the parties?

Anna: Sometimes we get an editor who wants to host a party.

Kathryn: Bloggers love being in traditional media, so mixing is a good idea because it will bring the bloggers more exposure.

Amy: You just have to be upfront and tell people who is coming and why.

Case Study #5: Microsoft


Microsoft has a history of sending employee bloggers out into the online community to foster better developer and user relations. Nelly Yusupova interviews three prominent Microsoft bloggers, Ani Babaian, Sara Ford and Ariel Stallings, about how their Microsoft blogging builds a bridge between the world of corporate social media engagement and their own personal technology passions.

Sara: Microsoft has a <Ed note: insert tech stuff I don't understand here>. I'm a software engineer. I started blogging about accessibility. I was trying to make Visual Studio more accessible for people who are blind. I didn't find blind people, but I found other people like me trying to find information. I decided to share the best practices and things I've learned.

Ariel:I don't market Microsoft product, but Microsoft as a place to work. My big focus is on profiling. We have almost 80k employees now. They're 80k really interesting, eccentric, smart people. I've been profiling a person a week. It's been a great project.

Ani: SEO - search engine optimization. I also handle our webmaster center tools as part of our live search. I started blogging back in 2005 when I joined Microsoft. Before that I was a programmer. When I enjoyed Microsoft, I wanted to get more women involved. I wanted to write more technology in terms of things everyone can understand. Blogging with Moxy is a book I've been working on.

Are there any corporate mandates you have to follow when you blog?

S: Blog smart. We need to make educated decisions. As a company, we hire smart people, so we should make smart decisions. If I see a comment come in, I'll ask a nonMicrosoft reader if I'm taking something too personally before responding.

Ariel: All of my posts come from core value propositions, because I'm writing about marketing.

Ani: I've covered a lot of nonMicrosoft technologies, and everyone always asks me the same things again and again. It's a good way to post things for everyone at the same time. Don't share things you don't want other people to know about.

Do you have to overcome natural suspicions in the blog community?

Ariel: Nobody's interested in hearing about our HR programs. They want to hear about the people. I recently blogged about a male-to-female transgendered exec. Microsoft benefits covered that. It gives us something more approachable to talk about.

How much information do you share about yourselves?

Ani: I am extremely cautious about what I share. Before I was covering identity and Web applications. Last Monday, someone called pretending to be a friend of mine. They couldn't validate all of the information, so they didn't give any more information out to the caller. So I don't tell anyone anything I wouldn't tell a stranger.

Sara: No politics, no religion, no ranting. There's a time and a place for that, and it's called FACEBOOK. I'm very humble if I don't know something. That's how I make connections to my customers. I realized I didn't know 95% of the features of applications I was using all through college. That's why I'm doing the tip of the day.

Ariel: When I go to record someone or profile them, I always send them the profile to approve. I'm not trying to expose things. What I write reads a lot like journalism, but it really is marketing.

Ani: Micosoft Live Writer is a great tool. It allows me to control when things go out. It's in Beta now.

Ariel: I've found a lot of value in publicizing to niches. We have someone who comes to work every day in full goth regalia. She's 40 years old. She interviews like this. She writes a goth etiquette column. She shared the link -- it spread all over the goth Internet. All these people were amazed that she works for Microsoft. It really helped the Microsoft grand. I don't think the goth community was especially pro-Microsoft. I wasn't going after the goth niche, but by not being afraid to take advantage of the enthusiasm I found in that niche, it worked well.

Sara: If you're going to do a tip of the day, make sure it's specific to your scope. Stay specific -- it becomes a slippery slope. We did a picture for every single tip. I try to put something personal in it. You have to do it every single time.

Ariel:  Metrics: Compare your blogging to marketing Web sites. Realistically the cost of blogs is my salary, which is not hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Also, the links I get to my blogs week after week amount to more than many marketing sites.  We're talking about $25 a click versus $.70.

The story here is :  For God's sake, hire a blogger.

<Ed note: Hurray!> 



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