Why do Big Brands keep failing on Twitter?

10 03 2012

Another major corporation has come a-cropper in Twitter-land. Given the recent examples of major campaign stuff-ups, and an assumption that these corporations are buying in advice on their social media campaigns, it is hard to understand how these things keep happening.

The latest incident involves supermarket giant Coles. At 7.55PM on 6 March, they invited twitter-readers to:

Now leaving aside all the very first-world consumerist implications of this sentence to start with, it would seem that a major corporation asking people to finish sentences about their brand in public is asking for trouble. At 8.48PM they followed up with:

(The attached responses below the tweets demonstrates some of the erudite negative comments they received)

To give them credit – they monitored the responses and acted quickly (tick). This hasn’t stopped the issue but it has probably lessened it. And secondly, in response to an on-twitter accusation that they had deleted the critical tweets:

Big tick for not trying to cover up their mistake.

Unfortunately these companies seem to be surprised by negative responses. While some of the responses played along and gave positive responses, many others responded disparagingly, with comments including references to the supermarket duopoly that exists in Australia and the effect it has on prices for consumers and the prices paid to farmers.

So this set me wondering why these issues keep happening. What is it about social media, and Twitter in particular, that these campaigns fail. Here are my thoughts.

1. In old marketing campaigns, the brands told us what to think. The message was one-way, and they could say pretty much whatever they liked within the bounds of the Advertising Code of Conduct and the law. These campaigns are very much two-way communication and “open response”. This is not a television campaign. However the message has not neccessarily been adjusted (exhibit one, #QantasLuxury campaign)

2. Some of what is happening is almost market research – only market research conducted in public. If you were researching an advertising campaign you might ask these sorts of questions. But you would not be giving the research participants an unfettered voice and a microphone, the way that social media does.

3. Do they know their audience? These campaigns seem to assume that they are talking to their “fans” when in fact they are talking to potentially everyone, including their harshest critics. I wonder if the brands had an ideal response in mind when they wrote the campaign and that blinded them to the possible negative responses.

4. Brands seem to underestimate how polarised opinion can be. Tweeter “Brand Meets Blog” rightly pointed out that if an individual had tweeted this question, the response might have been quite different.

5. The style of campaign exhibited in the Coles “it’s a crime” campaign and the #qantasluxury saga are more like old competitions. “In twenty-five words or less tell us why you should win”. However Coles did not offer a prize so there was n inctentive to write nice things, and Qantas offered such a pathetic prize (particualrly in light of their recent industrial debacle) that again there was little incentive to write nice things. I am guessing when they ran these sorts of competitions off-line they probably still got some negative responses, but fewer because these were people who cared enough to pay for a stamp to air their negative reaction. On social media it is so much easier, cheaper, and negative responders get an audience which can rapidly build momentum for you witty / negative comments.

6. Maybe Twitter isn’t the place for your broadcast marketing campaigns. A quick look at the rest of the Coles Twitter feed shows a brand that is engaging with both positive and negative feedback on an individual basis. It is actually quite exemplary in the way it deals with complaints, responds to positive feedback, cross-references to its other feeds (such as @ColesRecipes) and generally chats with tweeps. Complaints about in-store music are dealt with respectfully and humourously, complaints about stores, products and service are followed up both online (so we can all see they care about the issues) and referred to their other complaints handling mechanisms for more detail. One wonders why they stuffed up this functioning communication channel with a silly campaign.

Do you know of any really good Twitter campaigns? How did they compare, what were the factors that kept them on-track and made them work?


Want more social media stories?
Managing social media complaints before they explode into Tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook shares
The saga of #qantasluxury

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