Another example of why you need to invest in Social Media today


When we develop a social media strategy for a company we often have a hard time getting them to understand that there is a definite need for a well structured strategy with carefully thought out ideas and schedules. And once we’ve done that, we then have an even harder time explaining that because of it’s very dynamic nature, social media also requires the ability to have a nimble and loose approach to engagment. It’s almost a contradiction in terms.

But the ability to engage consumers and address certain issues ‘on the fly’ and in a human way is often more important and more effective than trying to push out corporate driven ideas and messages. Often, consumers will look at the way a company reacts to a unexpected situation and develop their perception of the brand based on that interaction.

A story broke today (Wednesday) about a young customer at Pret a Manger, the legendary UK sandwich bar that has grown from one outlet in London in 1984 to 374 outlets in 2015 and turnover of £500 million. Now Pret a Manger will have a social media team either in house or outsourced. That team will have a strategy but also SOPs for unique situations.

The customer purchased a ‘Chef’s special avocado and crayfish wrap’ from his local branch that he said, from the first bite was, “possibly the worst tasting item I have ever eaten. It tastes like my daughter’s sandpit.”

He went on Twitter and told the company how unhappy he was with his lunch and they responded immediately with an offer (after taking the discussion out of the public domain and into direct messages) of a free lunch as compensation.

The right people in the right place can do wonders for your brand
The right people in the right place can do wonders for your brand

Impressed, he congratulated them on their service and shot off a text that was apparently a reference to a Jay Z and Kanye West song about Paris.

Pret got it immediately and responded with a pun of a Jay Z lyric from his Problems song. The customer then came back again, this time with a play on Silento lyrics which Pret responded to using a play of the Weeknd’s ‘I can’t feel my face’ song.

And so it went on for about two hours, with references to Taylor Swift, Notorious BIG, Dizzee Rascal and finally Adele.

The story was taken up by the national press in the UK with both tabloids and serious papers running stories that reached millions of British consumers in a very short time and hundreds of them commented on the issue or shared it across Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, thereby increasing the positive narrative about the brand. And all from a negative experience.

In addition to the ability of social media to cover many traditional roles, this is a great example of why it is important to have the right people with the right authority who understand the organisation’s values responsible for the brand.

Other lessons to be learned from this little exchange include

1) A humanized approach works on social media. Don’t try to be a corporation, it’s the wrong place
2) Know when to go with the flow. In other words, don’t do social, be social
3) Your customers generally have good intentions. Be nice and they’ll be nice to you
4) A sense of humour goes a long way on social media. Just like in real life, which social media is
5) There really is something called a free lunch. Well this time anyway
6) A structured social media strategy is important but knowing your contemporary music is a must. Presuming you have 2 hours to kill and your boss isn’t around
7) Social media has a reach traditional media can only dream about. So why are you still putting all your money into traditional media?
8) Who needs advertising? Seriously, who does?
9) The right social media approach gets instant results. Are you using the right model?
10) In the right hands, social media is an effective sales/marketing/advertising/customer service/retention/awareness tool. Is your social media in the right hands?

What’s the downside of this experience? There really isn’t one. The exposure was phenomenal and cost Pret nothing more than another sandwich and two hours of a social media team members time. A bit of creativity from the social media team generated more effective brand exposure than any billboard, TV or print ad could ever do. And for a fraction of the cost.

What I’m interested to see is how Pret a Manger leverages the experience going forward. If I hear anything I’ll let you know.

2012 must be the year you develop a social media brand strategy


Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has twice been named as one of the smartest and most creative investors in the world by Forbes magazine. He’s also been called the “Saudi Warren Buffet” because of his impressive track record with his investments.

He first came to the fore with a signficant investment in Citibank in 1991 and now has interests in a diverse portfolio that features stellar brands such as Apple Inc, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, George V Hotel in Paris, Songbird Estates (Canary Wharf), Time Warner, News Corp., Walt Disney, Euro Disney, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Kodak.

So when someone of his calibre announces, as he did just before Christmas 2011 that he was taking a US$300 million stake in Twitter, the world pays attention.

Ahmed Reda Halawani, Executive Director of the Prince’s Kingdom Holdings company said in a statement, “We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years. Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend.”

“Fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years.” I’m prepared to go one step further, I believe that social media is the media equivalent of the printing press, the radio and the Television – all arriving at once!

So if you are CEO of a Malaysian SME and you still haven’t invested resources into social media, I suggest you do so and do so quickly.

But before you do what many do which is to copy all the content on your website and paste it onto your Facebook page and think that is a social media strategy, I suggest you also invest some time in learning about how to use these channels.

Because social media is about relationships. And Malaysian SMEs have, on the whole over the last two decades or so, focussed not on relationships, but on selling their products at the cheapest price.

That’s fine when there is significant demand for a product and you can always produce it cheaper than someone else. But unfortunately today, someone somewhere is producing just about everything cheaper than Malaysian firms.

And this places Malaysian SMEs at a disadvantage, especially when multi national corporations are taking notice of Malaysia and beginning to invest significant marketing dollars in the country.

The good news is that social media, used correctly can actually save SMEs a lot of money because firms can create awareness, gain customers and, most critically retain them across social media platforms for a fraction of the cost of investing in traditional media such as TV, radio, Outdoor and others.

But it is important to develop a social media strategy before embarking on the exercise otherwise resources will be wasted, reputations may be affected and you could be worse off than before you started.

Here are 11 elements that must be included in any SME social media strategy

1) Determine your goals and your target market.
Obvious I know, but too many companies are trying to use the same tactics online as they did offline, ie trying to use the same ‘one-size-fits-all’ communications campaign to create awareness via a series of tactical campaigns. This will not work on social media.

2) Raise brand awareness by creating an online game or contest and hosting it on Facebook.
Tourism Malaysia has spent a significant amount of money on Facebook competitions that have generated many online column inches of comment. Despite limited investment in the content, the activities were executed well. However despite hundreds of thousands of new Facebook fans, tens of thousands of engaged users, significant traction in the social-media space, it is unclear what the actual campaign goals were.

3) Give free stuff away!

I don’t know how Tourism Malaysia will use the data it generated from the Facebook campaign, but to build a database that can be turned into brand evangalists in the future, it might be worth offering prizes for content shared with other users across platforms such as Youtube, Twitter and so on. This can be then be leveraged to gain more brand traction.

4) Use crowdsourcing to determine strategy
Back in 2009, Vitamin water wanted to launch a new brand. In an exercise that Gap management should have emulated, they binned the traditional qualitative and quantitative research via focus groups and intercept surveys. Instead the company turned to social networks and sought the opinion of consumers in a real world, real time environment to decide on the name of the new product. Over 1 million people participated in the project and they got close to celebrities employed to spike interest in the project.

5) Don’t delay your decision, you are already being talked about!
Conversations about your brand are already happening on social media. Embrace the conversation and get engaged but a word of warning, don’t try to use the platform as an opportunity to push your products onto consumers.

6) Don’t be afraid to revise your marketing message
Perhaps once, twice, three times and even more to make sure you engage the right consumers with the right content and don’t generate negative feedback from your audience. But if you do generate negative feedback, address it in an honest and transparent manner and see the conversation all the way to the end, no matter how distasteful.

7) Comments are good
One website we were asked to audit recently didn’t allow comments from other users yet increasingly, consumers are looking to comments rather than actual articles for the data that will influence and determine their decision making.

8) Remember your core message and don’t go too far away from it
Being genuine and transparent and sticking to your overall image is very important.

9) Tell the truth
Target Rounders is a subsidiary of the US retail giant. It is an online group that you sign up for & you get points for marketing a product. They come up with new products & then everyone on their list finds fun ways to promote it for “points.” The company launched a Facebook campaign that utilized a lie created to gain more fans and a larger community! Unfortunately consumers spotted the lie and the project died.

10) Creativity is effective in social media
Prior to launching the much anticipated Shark Week, the Discovery Channel sent a jar that appeared to include a death notice to new media types.

The jar included a note that read, “This jar holds a story – the story of a single tragic incident that needs to be unlocked. Dive in, investigate the evidence and discover what lies beneath the surface of frenziedwaters.com.”

The jar also included a large warning sign, shredded swimming trunks (no doubt belonging to someone who was eaten by a shark), and a detailed obituary dated for a future date at the time of the campaign.

Participants were intrigued and as a result spent a lot of time researching online before realising that the Discovery Channel was behind the whole thing. Nevertheless, the right people were soon talking about the show and building interest.

11) Write a social media policy
For most firms, their social media policy consists of restricting access to social media. But this isn’t the way forward. Used properly and by the right people, social media can be a very effective and inexpensive marketing tool for brands. But there are always going to be risks associated with a new tool so the best defense against abuse is to create a policy for usage.

Social media is making companies be more sharing, collaborative and transparent, not just externally but internally as well. Including employees in the policy development process will create internal advocates for the policy and improve morale.

The social media policy should be more about what employees can do and best practices for social media use versus all the things employees can’t or shouldn’t do on social media.

When shrewd investors such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal are taking stakes in social media you know it is here to stay.

To stay competitive, Malaysian SMEs are going to have to invest more in developing brands. Social media, used correctly will save them large sums of money communicating those brands to consumers and other customers.