Pulling in the same direction

From ’e-commerce’ to ’f-marketing’, seamless social media integration is redefining the essence of brand/consumer interaction.


Four out of five of the UK’s top retailers are on Twitter and 72% are active on Facebook, but most are shouting rather than listening. That’s the conclusion of research from internet consultancy, Auros, in April 2011, which found that many retailers are still failing to use social media to its best effect. Yet for those brands that have got it right, insights from this intimate dialogue are starting to be integrated seamlessly into wider marketing activity – from companies picking up buzzwords to use in brand messages, to brands putting sentiments expressed in the social sphere at the heart of print campaigns. Social media’s true power is not as a standalone channel, and organisations are realising that shared ownership of this space – from product design to customer services and marketing to PR – is the way forward.

Ash Choudhury, head of digital marketing, UK and Ireland at Nokia, says the debate about who owns social has evolved for the communications provider, which now has a dedicated social team and a community manager. “Facebook activity was initiated by the communications and PR team and it was there to promote key messages, almost like press releases, so it was a very one-way message in a very corporate tone of voice. It does a fantastic job of getting the message out there quickly, but the opportunity to have feedback and comment and encourage people into conversation led to a realisation that the space is not owned by PR or marketing or customer relations – it is a combined effort.”

Katie Sheppard, head of marketing at online dating company Match, takes a similar view, saying that the company has long had this debate, but that it now sees social media not as a silo but as a company-wide responsibility. “Brands won’t make it work with a singular approach because it’s one of the few routes to customers that touches almost every aspect of the business, including PR, customer service, online acquisition and brand,” says Sheppard.

“For this reason our social media is supported by a core group from across the business to ensure full visibility across the organisation. Day-to-day it’s run by PR and online and offline marketing, supported by specialist agencies.” But integrating social media throughout an organisation, while valuable, brings with it the challenge of ensuring that the company maintains a consistent tone of voice and that activity remains on message, regardless of which department information emanates from.

At Land Rover UK, which works with Wunderman, social media is a joint venture between its UK PR team and its marketing team, but Mark Beamont, marketing communications manager, agrees that managing social output is a challenge. “The big problem you have in a big business like ours, and with good reason, is thatmany areas of the business are talking in the social media space – so you have product, design, IT, HR – but there needs to be something that pulls it all together. There is a move to bring together an editorial board so we have control over what is being put out there.” Ocado is taking management of this spacevery seriously, using Facebook and Twitter to resolve delivery issues speedily.

Matt Knight, head of marketing, insight and communication at Ocado, says: “Today, we employ a dedicated team of people to answer queries through social media; constant engagement in this arena serves to feed our reputation for high-quality service. Customers respect us for talking openly and that, in turn, is good for business.” But while it is important to control a brand’s output in this vast and fragmented space, the real art is to monitor input – to listen. Nokia, which also works with Wunderman, is one of a growing number of brands using listening tools to ensure it can methodically observe every mention of its brand across all social channels. “We use listening platforms to understandsocial sentiment, to observe the kind of posts, the kind of conversations, interactions and the demographics of the people who are engagingwith us,” says Choudhury. He says one insight gathered from monitoring conversations is that awareness of the company’s range of accessories is low.

“We have lots of really interesting gadgets available but they just don’t seem to be part of that conversation because people think it’s all about brand and it’s all about phones. There is a relevant need to have our accessories team involved in the conversation, sharing their

Nokia has also incorporated user-generated content into its offline activity, recently integrating photo content generated via a Facebook competition into an outdoor campaign for its N8 smart phone. A photo of the winner will be shown on a billboard in their home town this month. “Digital absolutely integrates with our offline,” says Choudhury.

Other brands increasingly understand how to integrate social media marketing into their broader marketing activity. Match’s recent Going The Distance campaign was based around a married couple travelling the UK in search of the secrets of true love. At its core was a Facebook app and fan page that allowed people to track the couple’s progress via an interactive map, blog and regular webisodes, as well as giving consumers the opportunity to contribute their own comments. Social media generated precious assets that could be re-used. “Social touched everything we did. It helped drive the content of our TV spots and supported our PR campaign,” says Sheppard. “We’ve also been able to use many of the secrets driven by social to support and inspire a print campaign and create informative content for our members.” The campaign attracted over 200,000 views on Match’s YouTube channel, “hundreds” of new followers on Twitter and a series of successful TV spots.

In March this year, Heinz worked with We Are Social to run a successful integrated campaign around the launch of its first limited edition Heinz Tomato Ketchup. The manufacturer made the first 3,000 bottles available to purchase exclusively through Facebook (in advance of the product being available in retailers) – an ’f-commerce’ initiative which was a UK first for a food brand.

Around 1,200 bottles were bought on the first day of the campaign. “Facebook can be a great way to create ongoing consumer engagement
and when aligned with the other elements of the marketing mix can play an important role in supporting new campaigns,” says Ian McCarthy, Heinz head of marketing. “The love of Heinz Tomato Ketchup has resulted in lots of discussion and a real sense of community, and by offering our consumers additional value by being fans – such as being the first to buy a new product and delivering it free to their homes – the number of fans and the level of engagement continues to grow.”

McCarthy says the use of social media also allows consumer feedback and opinion to better inform brand marketing. “Tools such as Facebook Questions can give marketers a realtime response from loyal fans.” Heinz used Facebook Questions to ask consumers whether they preferred Balsamic Heinz tomato ketchup or the standard product, and it is a mechanism it plans to use in the future to understand consumer views on specific subjects.

It might be early days, but embracing social media as a part of the entire marketing mix – not treating it as a separate phenomenon – and putting as much (if not more) emphasis on listening as on broadcasting messages are two key lessons that have emerged for brands. As Knight says, “We are in the early stages of getting to grips with the data from social media, so at the moment the greatest lessons we learn are from comments, questions and suggestions posted by customers on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

“Seeing our customers converse with each other, and interacting with them via the same channels, really helps us understand their current issues, concerns and enthusiasms, and to develop our service accordingly.”


Alex Pearmain, head of social media, O2

O2 has a dedicated social media team, but our focus is on true integration, and to have a truly cross-functional approach, involving all aspects of the business.

We are in a different position to many brands, as we recognised the opportunity very early – we’ve had a blog for many years, and joined Facebook and Twitter long before most major brands. The last 12 months has been a continuation and acceleration of this investment. One milestone has been the creation of a real-time response team within the social media team, to engage minute-by-minute with people.

Equally, we are investing in a proprietary listening and evaluation tool. This was built with an agency but is bespoke to O2, and reflects the importance we’re attaching to insights that go beyond conversation management, and that inform all areas of the business about the attitudes and approach of our customers to our products, services and brand.

When it comes to integrating social media into our wider marketing activity, the focus is on ensuring it is a consideration before, during and after activity. It is about ensuring that activity is flexible enough to evolve in real time based on the audience response. Finally, it is about evaluating and learning thoroughly after the activity and – crucially – not letting activity end. Brands need to retain and engage the audience for the future, something we have been working with Nixon McInnes on with our recent ’O2 Stories’ work.

Achieving this requires real commitment from all, and we aim to bring together people from across the business regularly to share and showcase the learnings – one example includes running a single integrated social content calendar.

Our social media focus for 2011 is about continuous conversation – that’s why we’re committed to 8am to 10pm conversation across our channels. We’re audience-led when it comes to which channels we focus on – and feel all the channels our audience are active in can contribute specific opportunities as part of a holistic content and conversation strategy. Social media increases the need for flexibility and quick evolution of approach – rigidity is the enemy of relevance in this space.


Dominic Burch, head of corporate communications, Asda

We look at social media as a conversation with customers and therefore it needs editorial control to ensure you get the balance right. For example, every post you make on Facebook is effectively interrupting the consumer’s wall – you are competing with their mum, their sister, their school friends, their chums from university – and you have to be mindful that the conversation you are entering into is a dialogue rather than you being in sales or corporate mode.

We still feel the best people in the business to manage that are the communicators. We don’t think of ourselves in PR as being a media relations function – we are responsible for managing Asda’s reputation and as part of that we ensure we get the right tone of voice when we talk to customers directly through social media. That doesn’t mean social media can’t open up access points to lots of other parts of the business.

We have spent the last two or three years doing a much better job of listening to customers and using social media in a way that allows us to listen in to lots of conversations about our brands, our shops, the people who work there, the service we give, new products etc. If you set yourself up in the right way you can glean an awful lot of great customer insight that you can then start to feed back into the business. We see the first stage as being on listening alert and using all the tools available to listen in to those thousands of conversations taking place, and then try and find ways to translate that into insight that is actionable. That is challenging but retailers are expert at listening to and understanding customers.

I think there is a danger that brands try to monetise social media and therefore try to approach it from the wrong direction. Our approach is one of looking at social media as a hugely powerful tool that enables us to get much better customer insight. Social media is what it is – it is not more complicated than having a conversation.


Patrick Kelly, account director ExactTarget

Companies need to realise that social media interactions make transparency mandatory. Social media does not exist in its own silo the way marketing responsibilities are usually segmented; rather, it should be seen as another channel to communicate with customers and prospects. Progressive companies need to move from simply having a presence in this channel to aligning company objectives to an overall plan once target audiences and channels have been thoroughly researched.

Social media offers a plethora of new channels, each with its own purpose, but it’s important to remember that insights gained can impact departments across an organisation/ PR, sales, HR, marketing, customer services and so on. If it’s about anything, social media is about interaction and companies can utilise the interactions and insights gained via social media by integration with other channels, because it’s so easy to share.

The era of transactional marketing whereby customers interacted once via a purchase is quickly disappearing, and being replaced by lifecycle communications based on where the customer/consumer is in the buying process.

Companies need to understand what they want to achieve with their target markets and then each participating department should collate its own relevant search terms, customer, employee, or competitor lists and so on. The best aspect of social media is that it demands companies engage with their audiences as humans as opposed to a unique ID on a spreadsheet or database.

So start small: monitor for words or conversations that relate to one’s speciality and then engage without trying to control. Social media has handed consumers a megaphone to declare their views to their communities; companies can act on the insight they gain by merely joining the conversation, not dictating it.

The key to then continuing the conversation is collaboration of data: every interaction or communication, whether on Facebook, email, SMS or a blog, will affect the customer’s perception of a brand. As we all know, perception is the reality when it comes to brands, so it’s vital that marketers are able to combine data from all channels in order to create a cohesive approach to communications. When departments do not collaborate, they not only fall short in effectively using customer data, they create a one-way conversation that forces information out to consumers but fails to listen to their response.

A November 2010 report from Forrester, CMO Mandate: Adapt or Perish, revealed a cruel reality for these marketers: “In the future, there will be two types of companies – those that are agile and adapt to consumers’ changing media behaviour, and those that go out of business.”

topline trends

  • Four out of five of the UK’s top retailers are on Twitter and 72% are on Facebook (source/ Auros), but many are intent on broadcasting sales and marketing messages. To exploit social media, brands must listen and gauge customer sentiment.
  • More companies are taking a company-wide approach to the management of social media, recognising that it can provide a valuable platform for every aspect of the business.
  • Many brands are establishing editorial boards to manage output on social media channels and ensure consistency and relevancy.
  • Listening tools are proving popular for brands looking to comprehensively track and monitor conversations about them in the social space. Nokia has integrated customer’s commonly used key words into the vernacular of its brand messages and wider marketing campaigns.
  • Social is a valuable way of generating comment and feedback from consumers that can be used in other on- and offline campaigns. Match used feedback from social media in its recent Going The Distance print and TV campaign.
  • There is a growing recognition that brands’ management of social media needs to be ongoing and dedicated and not just campaign related. O2 says its social media focus for 2011 is around the concept of ’continuous conversation’.


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