‘Pipe Kitty’ shows power of viral marketing

Friday, June 15, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 24

If the phrase “pipe kitty” means anything to you, you’ve likely witnessed the tremendous power of viral marketing. Though certainly not a concerted marketing effort, Greenway Home Services, a local HVAC, plumbing and appliance repair company, began a viral marketing sensation this past weekend.

Learning via Facebook of the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County’s outcry to the public for a plumber to assist with the rescue of a kitten in distress, Mike Wilson, Greenway vice president of operations (and my husband), came to the rescue.

Founded around a service culture of “do unto others,” it’s a regular occurrence for the Greenway team to come to the rescue of those in need. Typically, this maxim is applied to their customers, but this time, it was a starving 6-week-old kitten’s turn to benefit.

Having spent five days trapped in an underground pipe, malnourished and crying, the kitten, which would become affectionately known across the Mid-South as “pipe kitty,” was in need of a gallant rescue. Wilson called in his plumbing team, not realizing at the time they would spend the next 12 hours digging this kitten out of the ground by hand.

Fueled by the kitten’s cries, they would not be deterred despite the lack of daylight and callused hands. Plumber Fred Simmons said early on, “We’re not quitting until this kitten is free – period.” He was right. Around 4 a.m., Pipe Kitty was freed and released to the Humane Society only to be later adopted by Wilson himself. “We’re naming her Piper, of course,” says Wilson.

Over the course of the night, the Greenway team set up a Twitter profile called @MyPipeKitty to update the community on the group’s rescue efforts, in addition to posting updates through Greenway’s own social media profiles. The community rallied around the rescue crew, cheering them on via social media. Greenway engaged with the community, problem solving with them about how best to rescue the kitten. Suggestions were shared with the rescue team, with several of those suggested strategies put into action in the field.

The news media ran repeated stories throughout the weekend – locally and nationally, as the community couldn’t get enough of the story of this tough group of plumbers with the soft hearts. Celebrities, like Carrie Ann Inaba of “Dancing with the Stars,” even tweeted their good wishes to the Greenway rescue team.

Greenway was solely concerned with doing the right thing – they certainly didn’t set out Friday with a mission of generating press and going viral. However, their approach to opening a social media forum to garner the community’s support in collectively solving this problem was spot on. They also allowed prospective customers a window into their culture.

In support of the daily heroic acts conducted by the Humane Society, Greenway is launching a new program to recognize area animal advocates, making donations in their honor to the organization.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).