Puma, which has long-term ties with Usain Bolt, encourages fans to tweet about the brand by giving access to exclusive content
“As a brand, we tend to let other people talk on our behalf, rather than using a megaphone to communicate,” says Remi Carlioz, global head of consumer marketing at Puma. The sportswear giant was one of the first brands to use Twitter’s Flock to Unlock advertising tool in August 2014, incentivising followers to retweet its campaign tweets in order to unlock exclusive content.
Puma’s tactic is part of a growing trend. As consumers become more savvy about what they can expect in return for amplifying brands’ messages on social media, and as Facebook cracks down on ‘like-gate’ apps and content (see Facebook’s Like-gate) – companies have to find more effective ways to reward their fans for authentic social media activity, either through standalone initiatives or by integrating their loyalty programmes.
Puma wanted to fuel interest in its Forever Faster global campaign ahead of its first TV airing, in the hope of raising awareness in the run-up to the start of the football season. Its campaign ran for 48 hours and once an undisclosed target number of tweets was reached, those who had retweeted the Puma tweet were notified that exclusive content had been unlocked for them.
“The spirit we have of rewarding users on different platforms with content is the right path [to go down],” says Carlioz, adding that the critical mass was achieved “really quickly”.
“The volume is one thing, and obviously was a major indicator for us. The response – and positive sentiment at 98 per cent – was as satisfying as the number of tweets.”
Puma is not alone in investing time and money in creating inventive ways to reward its fans on social platforms. Rachael Pollard, head of digital and customer relationship management at food ordering website Just Eat, says word of mouth on social media is extremely important for the brand, which relies heavily on online reviews and ratings.
“The ultimate key performance indicator in social media is engagement. It’s not only about growing our fans and follower base, which of course is important, but we need to know exactly what we will do with them afterwards, otherwise it’s an inflated number.”
Just Eat does not have a loyalty scheme but instead runs a mix of broad and personalised initiatives to encourage social media use. Its Takeaway Tuesday Twitter initiative is a weekly campaign that incentivises users to retweet the brand’s #TakeawayTuesday tweet for a chance to win a £25 voucher. “We tend to find a surge of engagement in its loosest form – there is always the challenge of the ‘quality’ of follower – so we are always keen to follow up Takeaway Tuesday with compelling content,” says Pollard. “We want to engage people so they haven’t just followed any old company to get a free £25 voucher.”
We want to engage people so they haven’t just followed any old company to get a free £25 voucher
The company also runs personalised promotions, rewarding key social media influencers who engage with its brand. It recently sent a Derby County baby grow to an expectant dad who was a Just Eat fan with a large Twitter following. The brand is the football club’s shirt sponsor. “We hoped he would tweet about it but we didn’t mention it obviously,” says Pollard. “He did tweet and it was huge, a lot of his followers started to follow us.”
Other brands have taken a more structured approach, formally integrating their loyalty schemes into social media platforms to amplify the message and make it more convenient for customers. This month Belgian fashion brand Kipling will launch its Kipling Friends loyalty programme. For every €1 or £1 spent, the Kipling ‘friend’ will receive 10 ‘smile points’, and if customers like, share or comment on a product on Kipling’s social media channels, their loyalty cards will automatically be topped up with 150 smile points. For every 1,000 smile points acquired, customers receive a €10 or £10 discount.
Digital marketing manager Jürgen Derycke says: “We decided to give points not just to fans who buy something but who also communicate and interact with us via social media. A happy fan is very valuable because they communicate their happiness with friends and that is more important than advertising in a magazine, for example.”
Like Just Eat, Kipling also rewards fans who interact with the brand on social media. “We will send free gifts or exclusive presents not for sale in the shop, and we invite loyal people to VIP sales,” says Derycke. “The more you believe in the brand, the more you will be surprised.”
American Express is well positioned to integrate loyalty with its credit card. In the past few years it has taken this to another level, combining it with users’ social media activity.
“Word of mouth, or what we call advocacy, is very important; it’s central to everything we do,” says Stacy Gratz, vice-president of international digital partnerships and development.
“We know that if we give our card members real value in a public and shareable way, it is a powerful way to appeal to them and to people who may not have been exposed to our brand before.”
One example is its partnership with Foursquare, which delivers tailored rewards when users check in to certain locations. “If a card member is at a store getting a coffee, for example, and they check in to Foursquare, an offer will pop up from Amex,” says Gratz. “If they spend £10 they get £5 credit, and once they swipe their card to make the payment, they get a push notification saying ‘Congratulations you have £5 credit’. It instantly rewards card members.”
American Express also has a partnership with TripAdvisor. Card members in the UK, US and Australia can connect their American Express account with their TripAdvisor account.
“TripAdvisor offers a way for us to reach card members where they are already spending time,” says Gratz. When card members leave a review, they are badged as an ‘Amex card member’, so other card members can see where other platinum card members have stayed or dined. At the back end, we can verify that the reviewer actually made a transaction at this location, so it is a truly verified review.”
Incentivising users to talk about your company on social media has a risk of devaluing the brand or being seen as undeclared paid endorsements. But it seems that by harnessing genuine fans and rewarding them with something of relevance and value, it can be a powerful tool. As Puma’s Carlioz says: “We were the first ones to send bloggers, Instagramers and Tumblr influencers to the Volvo Ocean Race three years ago. We did not pay them, we did not control their messaging and the results exceeded our expectations.”
Kipling’s Derycke takes the same stance: “If people really believe in a brand, they are rewarded for that. I wouldn’t interact with a brand I didn’t like just for discounts or free presents, but if I really believe in a brand and it gives me that personal service, then I only see the benefits of it – it will make my ambassadorship even stronger.”
Ultimately, it is about respecting the user. As Gratz says, American Express has learnt that it gets more value and interaction by making its social media activity user-centric and interactive. “That works for us more than ‘likes on Facebook’. We certainly have done those types of activities but we have moved away from that.”
Carlioz believes people can easily sense a “bad or fake campaign, a fake editorial review or a paid post” and says Puma tries to be transparent. “It’s no mystery that Usain Bolt has had a relationship with Puma for the past 10-plus years. So when he recommends one of our products, I think people know where it’s coming from.”
From November 2014, Facebook will ban page owners from forcing users to ‘like’ a page to access Facebook app content, a strategy that has to date been employed by many brands to build their fan base on the social platform.
The policy change will include app access to enter promotions or competitions. To date, this practice, known as ’like-gating’, has worked as a virtual barrier to prevent access to hidden content, only making it accessible when a user likes the page. Other premium content such as games, game points, videos, music and ebooks are also often restricted in this way by brands keen to increase their audience.
Facebook has stated on its developer blog: “You must not incentivise people to use social plugins or to like a page. This includes offering rewards, or gating apps or app content based on whether or not a person has liked a page.” However, the company does say that it remains acceptable to “incentivise people to login to your app, check in at a place or enter a promotion on your app’s page”.
The move is designed to ensure “quality connections” and to help businesses reach the people who matter – or to avoid brands creating artificial fan bases. The post concludes: “We want people to like pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives. We believe this update will benefit people and advertisers alike.”
Case Study: Marriott Hotels
In May, Marriott Hotels launched Marriott Rewards PlusPoints, enabling customers to link their Marriott Rewards account to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in order to earn more points.
The initiative is designed to take the brand’s customer relationships into the digital space. “Consumers, and our members, want more media gratification and they are looking for easy and intuitive ways to engage with us,” says Rich Toohey, vice-president of Marriott Rewards. “PlusPoints was one of the ideas we thought would be square in the centre of that trend, giving members a new way to participate in Marriott Rewards.”
Since its roll-out, the hotel chain has made changes to PlusPoints, relaunching it in July. “We re-tooled the earnings structure to simplify it, so consumers get 25 points for each behaviour. It was a challenge to make sure we had the right behaviours happening, and we made changes to make it work, given the rapidly evolving social space.”
Members can earn 25 points for each social media action, such as sharing or retweeting content on Twitter using specific hashtags. “They can do the same on Instagram, but on Facebook it’s restricted to social check-in. Those are the kind of behaviours we’re rewarding.”
Marriott is gleaning important customer insights from the scheme, including which of the social platforms its members engage with the most. “It will be interesting for us to understand how our members are choosing to participate,” says Toohey.
More broadly, Marriott is trying to become a regular part of its customers’ lives. “We will watch how many customers are using this and building a connection almost on that everyday basis – we’d love to see that because that’s where we are starting to engage them in a meaningful way.”
One of the challenges of setting up PlusPoints was technological. Toohey says: “Tech was a challenge at the back end as we need to be able to deliver points to people quickly – that is critical.” He adds that gaining critical mass also took work, but the growth has also been organic.
“We emailed some of our members inviting them to try PlusPoints. They responded very well, but there have been others who have found us themselves and decided they want to do this. That’s been exciting to see.”
So far, PlusPoints has gained “really good traction”, says Toohey, with a broader demographic of customers than anticipated. “You might think Generation Y would be more responsive, and we have seen a lot of Gen Y and some Gen X, but also baby boomers; it has prompted a broad response from our member base.”