The short answer


The long answer

Online marketing is becoming a two-way conversation and the consumer now owns more of the conversation than ever before.

In traditional media marketing, the brand retained control of the conversation. The brand told you what it wanted you to hear and when and where it wanted you to hear it: At a certain time of the day on the TV, a carefully positioned billboard by the side of the road or in a direct mail pack that was delivered to your house on the exact day they wanted you to receive it. Email newsletters can now be sent using powerful eCRM tools based on segmentation information about the products recipients prefer to receive – and the best time the email should land in their inbox to increase the chances of a subsequent purchase.

Then Web 2.0 arrived.

First came customer reviews of products on websites such as Amazon, Dell and Wal-Mart, and seller feedback and reviews on eBay and TradeMe. And this sort of functionality certainly influences purchase behaviour: In a recent TNS poll, 28% of Kiwis bought goods as a result of reviews and 34% changed their mind after reading a review online!

We now have blogs, forums, Facebook and LinkedIn (plus other social networks such as MySpace and Bebo to an ever decreasing extent), and of course, the ubiquitous Twitter. Twitter is one of the fastest growing websites on the Internet – traffic has increased by 1000% in a year, and that’s not counting all those Twitterers using apps such as TweetDeck and Seismic.

The Growth of Twitter in 12 months

Traditional advertising appears to have lost its influence, especially with one of the most desirable consumer groups – the young and the rich – and personal recommendations from friends are now more important than ever.

When you convince your customers to talk about you, you can capture the attention of potential new customers in a quick and effective manner. Twitter and Facebook give the consumer a voice in which not only to vent their frustration but, alternatively, satisfaction with a company or brand.

Amazon praised on Twitter

Dell recently announced that they have made over US$3m just through their adoption of Twitter and their collection of 1.3m followers. Obviously, to measure ROI from social media campaigns a web analytics tool like Google Analytics needs to be utilised, with all Twitter links tracked through to the sale conversion point.

And a recent study (PDF) by Penn State University found that 19% of tweets concerned brands, and 20% of those held sentiments about those brands. 50% of the tweets were positive and 33% were critical. It is imperative for brands to react to the criticism and turn those negatives into positives.

Here are a few example industries where Social Media is having an impact between a brand and its customers:

Airline Industry: Twitter and YouTube campaigns

Twitter is starting to make an impact upon the US airline industry – 1 in 5 visitors to JetBlue, Southwest and United Airlines also visit Twitter. Between them, these 3 sites have over 2 million Twitter followers (JetBlue makes up 65% of the followers).

JetBlue do a particularly impressive job – they have a JetBlue Twitter account (used mainly for customer service), the JetBlue Cheeps Twitter account where the latest deals are posted which then links through to a Twitter-specific landing page. Talk about adding value specifically for the Twitter followers!


The reason for the low number of United Airlines followers (35,000) compared to their competitors could be that they took to Social Media too late. It was only until their realisation of a video on YouTube did they take social media seriously. The video, titled “United Breaks Guitars” has had over 5.5m views which can’t have helped their brand image very much:

In contrast, the GrabaSeat promotion from Air New Zealand has almost 10,000 followers and Air New Zealand update their special deals around 7am every morning. Does it help the SEO for their site at all? Not directly (all Twitter posts are no-followed), but the buzz around the Twittersphere should help assist inbound links and act as a form of link bait, and undoubtedly, this will result in a traffic increase as well.

So, would I actually follow GrabaSeat (or JetBlue in the US) to hear about the latest deals…? – You bet your life I would. And would I tell my friends…? – I’m telling you now, aren’t I?

FMCGs: Facebook campaigns

Cadbury is a company in particular that listens to their customers within social media outlets and have responded twice in 2 high-profile turnarounds.

The first of these was when tens of thousands of chocolate aficionados in the UK lobbied on Facebook for Cadbury to bring back the Wispa chocolate bar. Cadbury ultimately succumbed because of this massive consumer demand, and they indeed brought back the much-loved bar.

More recently, thousands of Kiwis encouraged the company to remove Palm Oil from all their chocolate, in turn potentially preventing the deaths of thousands of Orang-Utans in Indonesia and Malaysia. Cadbury again succumbed to consumer pressure and the majority of those consumers with a previously negative perception, were turned into brand advocates telling their friends about the news on blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter and the most old-fashioned method, by talking to them in person.

Telecommunication Industry: Facebook and Twitter Campaigns

Vodafone UK took two approaches to social media and looked closely at how customers were describing their brand online.

Firstly, they discovered that the Vodafone brand was associated with negative comments on blog posts and forums. Their marketing team signed up on these blogs and forums, fully open and honest about who they were. They engaged with their critics, turned the negative feedback into positive feedback and now Vodafone frequently use forums and blogs to engage with and include customers in their marketing activities. They even interact with customers in this way online to gauge feedback on proposed products, services changes and enhancements. This has resulted in a drop in the negative perception of the company and has enhanced a ‘caring’ brand profile within the digital landscape.

In a separate initiative, Vodafone attracted users to their Facebook page by employing a team of customer service staff who could respond immediately to queries, resulting in authentic and transparent conversations with customers and prospects. Since then, Vodafone have rolled out the same program to Twitter which they have found to be equally successful. The Vodafone NZ arm now has a Twitter account with almost 5,000 followers and recently 2Degrees also implemented this strategy, gaining 2,000 followers.

Film and Cinema: Twitter Reputation Management

Did you know that the film Brüno saw a drop of almost 40% in ticket sales from opening day Friday to Saturday, and then even more into Sunday? The next 5 grossing films that weekend (Ice Age 3, Transformers 2, Public Enemies, The Proposal and The Hangover) all saw substantial increases in ticket sales from Friday to Saturday.

The only thing that changed was those that went to see Brüno then jumped on the Social Media “wagon”, twittering about how shocked, offended or even bored they were with it. Brüno was a trending topic for several days, with some Twitterers reported to have tweeted their dissatisfaction whilst actually watching the film. Brüno has been dubbed the first movie to be defeated by the Twitter effect.

Social Media Marketing Campaigns – Final Thoughts

Most marketers worry about unhappy customers telling friends about their negative experiences. But realise that users now have so many more ways of telling others about their positive brand experiences, too!

And what’s the opportunity cost of not engaging with consumers and turning the negative experiences into a positive ones…? If you won’t – your competitors will.

So what do we make of all of this?

  1. Even if your brand is not willing to undertake a social media marketing “campaign” per se, monitoring what consumers are saying about your brand online needs to be a priority. (Quick tip – give SocialMention a spin).
  2. Be prepared to engage on the customer’s terms at all times, including choice of social platform.
  3. Understand what consumers say they actually want.
  4. By getting involved first-hand, brands can improve their public perception and create brand champions for free.
  5. Talk to First Rate if you are interested in reaching out to New Zealanders on Facebook, or if you would like to know how social media is important for any search engine optimisation project, specifically link building and content provision.

Overall the message is clear: The customer has spoken. Who wants to talk WITH them?

Will Cadbury continue to sell the Wispa and keep Palm Oil out of their chocolate?

Only time – and more importantly – sales will tell.