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.


Case studies of how two Malaysian brands used technology in a crisis

This article looks at two high profile situations in Malaysia and how these very different institutions used technology and social media to communicate with and engage stakeholders during a crisis.

Case study one: Syabas
Syabas (pronounced Sha-bas) provides water to the state of Selangor, the largest and most developed state in Malaysia. Following a diesel spillage on the Selangor river (a major source of water) at the end of August 2013, Syabas shut down four treatment plants, essentially cutting off water supply to nearly 1 million homes. I was personally affected by this issue and was without water for over 24 hours.

When my taps ran dry, the first thing I did was go to the Syabas website where I was greeted by a pop up press release telling me there was no water. I also found a 1800 number. I called the number and a recorded message told me to go back to the website. I revisited the website which told me that I was living in an area that was affected by the shut down. This wasn’t really very helpful as I new this because my taps were dry.

Not really helpful
Not really helpful

So my next stop was Twitter. I found the Syabas Twitter feed and fired off some tweets asking for more specific information that would allow me to plan for my family of seven who could not shower, flush toilets, wash clothes and make contingency plans for our open house scheduled for Sunday 1st September.

None of my tweets generated a response. I was stunned to find Syabas has over 10,000 followers on Twitter but doesn’t follow one person. I appreciate that not many companies have the resources to listen to what their customers are doing all the time however, one of the key reasons for being on Twitter is to be able to quickly identify conversations and trends about their business, their brand and their services.

No followers makes it hard to use Twitter effectively
No followers makes it hard to use Twitter effectively

This then allows brands to address issues in a transparent, prompt and empathetic manner and also leverage positive comments and discussions, join in with the conversation and encourage engagement.

So after trying the 1800 number, the website and the Twitter page, my last resort to try and get some actionable data to help me plan ahead was to go to the Syabas Facebook page.

No luck on Facebook because Syabas had disabled the comments function which meant that I could follow them but couldn’t make any comments! As they were only reposting the press releases posted on the website, this was pointless. So I was unable to source any information that was relevant to me or get specific answers to specific problems.

Please listen to us but don't ask us anything
Please listen to us but don’t ask us anything

Incredibly, Syabas was on every social media platform yet was using those platforms not to engage with consumers but to broadcast only the messages it wanted consumers to hear. All Syabas seemed to want to do was push generic and pointless press releases to consumers. Yet the whole point of these platforms is to allow consumers to interact with the brand and get closure on personal issues.

And this is particularly relevant when it comes to negative issues or complaints. During a recent stay at the Marina Bay Sands, I complained on Twitter. Within 30 minutes the MBS was following me and asked me to follow them back so that they could send me a Direct message. Not only did this make me feel someone was listening, it also allowed them to take my complaint out of the public domain. The Marina Bay Sands has 8,500 followers and follows almost 1,700 people.

The irony of this situation is that Syabas actually dealt with the physical problem very efficiently and the water was back online to over 650,000 consumers within 36 hours. But by then it was too late and what could have been a PR success turned into a social media nightmare as frustrated consumers turned to forums, online newspapers and social media to vent their anger.

Case study two: Sekolah Sri Cempaka
Sekolah Sri Cempaka is a private school in Malaysia. It quickly embraced the arrival of technology in the classroom and places a great emphasis on communicating with students via its digital platform, Schoology. On Saturday 7th September 2013 a fire broke out at the school in the exclusive neighbourhood of Damansara Heights in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.

Within an hour Twitter was awash with chatter and soon after images of the fire were all over Twitter and Facebook. This fire could not have come at a worse time for the school with students busily preparing for critical exams.

The school quickly announced the fire simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook. The school then expanded its reach on both Social Media and the school Intranet to communicate with concerned students and parents.

Openness and transparency, success factors for social media
Openness and transparency, success factors for social media

Throughout the next 36 hours numerous rumours developed and began to spread however, the school was quick to inform stakeholders of the real situation. By acting quickly and in a transparent, engaging manner, students and parents were reassured and potentially damaging rumours were negated, before they got out of control.

As the crisis unfolded, the school maintained contact with students and parents. Sharing with them the important developments – news of the damage, the fire department inspection, plans by the school, discussions with the education ministry and so on. This gave concerned and busy parents a regular stream of credible information which allowed them to plan ahead.


The new technological landscape is here to stay. Here are five things you must do now to prepare your company for a crisis:

1. Every company, government department and institution should have a clear, transparent, policy on social media and a clearly defined social media crisis management strategy to address comments/posts on the website or social media pages during the crisis. And this should be part of a grater social media plan.
2. Make sure you have enough properly trained staff to administer your social media pages and respond to issues raised by angry consumers.
3. Unless there is a potential threat to your organisation or your staff, transparency is key.
4. Always, always, always engage. Ignoring consumers or shutting down conversations is the worst thing you can do.
5. Have a back up solution ready for such situations.

These two institutions responded very differently to a crisis. One got it right, one didn’t. Which one best represents your brand?

Social Media in action – a case study

For whatever reason, a guy in the UK called Richard Neill posted a comment on the Facebook page of Bodyform, the manufacturer of female hygiene product Maxipad.

Richard complained that Bodyform had lied to him through their advertising. Apparently Richard watched Bodyform commercials on a regular basis as a child and young man and couldn’t wait to get his first girlfriend to experience all the wonderful experiences shown in the commercials.

Alas it wasn’t as portrayed and he took it out on the company on their Facebook page. You can read his short rant here. The comment has so far got over 100,000 likes and nearly 5,000 people took time to post a comment.

Bodyform could have left the story to fizzle out but they decided to respond with a clever video that featured an actress in the role of CEO Caroline Williams who apologized to Richard and went on to say that they needed to protect men.

The video has received nearly 5 million views and over 8,000 likes.

There is a lot of chat online about how good was the response from Bodyform. What do you think? Did the company do the right thing? Was the content right? Were they right to use an actress or should the real CEO have engaged Richard? Was it just a bit of fun between a company and a consumer?

Personally I think it was a clever use of social media by the company and reflects how to engage consumers on a more personal level. The company has engaged with the writer, and the millions of people who have dropped by to see what all the fuss is about in a like minded way. No airs and graces, confident and light hearted. My only minor criticsm is that the real CEO should have presented the video.

Of course the major question now is “How can the company leverage its new position in the minds of consumers?”

A tactical fail for a major brand on twitter

Qantas has had a bad run of luck recently and has also made some questionable corporate decisions. Especially in relation to the ongoing wage negotiations with the Transport Workers Union that is threatening further disruption to the Aussie carrier.

The most recent Public Relations disaster is related to an attempt by the newly formed social media unit to implement a social media campaign.

The Twitter campaign asked users to describe what would be their “dream luxury inflight experience” and use the hashtag #QantasLuxury to generate traction.

The airline probably thought it would generate comments related to Spas, champagne and top quality service.

However, Aussies known for their acerbic wit, jumped at the chance to lay into the beleaguered national carrier. One of the first was, luxury is “giving yourself a pay rise whilst grounding your whole airline and taking local jobs offshore”.

Another example “#QantasLuxury is feeding a family of 5 on pittance they pay their ground staff while Alan Joyce is on $94k a week”

Cherry Pizza came up with “#QantasLuxury is sitting in your first-class lounge chair, watching a failed social media campaign get out of control.” How right she was!

The misjudged campaign was an unmitigated disaster and in an effort to end the suffering, two hours after launching the project, Qantas thanked users for their tweets. Unfortunately for Qantas, social media doesn’t work that way and 36 hours later the topic is rumoured to have generated 14,000 tweets, the best of which are featured in a presentation on slideshare and the topic is still trending high on Twitter.

It didn’t help that the prizes offered were a set of Qantas pyjamas and an amenity kit!