Taking the gamble out of social media campaigns

Some brands have got into hot water over promotions through Facebook. Marketing Week looks at best practice ahead of new guidelines.


In promotional terms, social media seemed like a fast, cheap way to increase numbers. Publish a juicy discount code and watch fans and likes leap on the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag.

But like any market gamble, the number of people sharing discounts via social media can go down as well as up, and as soon as the enticing big percentage discounts vanish, so do the fans. Added to this, it seems not everyone has worked out how to run promotions through Facebook. Boots had to mollify 9,000 people who all thought they had won a trip to Barcelona in a promotion with hair brand VO5 last November, for example.

With the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM) set to launch new social media guidelines later this month, companies will need to scrutinise their terms and conditions carefully.

Some brands are already using Facebook promotions to good effect. Parenting club Bounty undertook research in January (MWlinks.co.uk/mums), which found that the main reason for a new mum to ‘like’ a Facebook page was to get a discount code or voucher. “It’s all about how you convert fans into buyers as well as the potential buying power of those that engage. Consumers expect even more relevant content from brands and demand added value,” says Ranjit Gohler, senior brand manager at infant food brand Plum Baby.

While Plum Baby ran a traditional couponing campaign through coupons.com with a successful 65 per cent redemption rate, it also engaged with its target audience through a YouTube channel, hosted on Facebook, the content for which was also the result of a social promotions campaign.

Mums featured in the instructional weaning videos won a place at the Plum Cookery School in Buckinghamshire and were filmed to provide content for the Plum Facebook app. To generate awareness for the campaign, Plum Baby reached across social media to the blogger network and parenting blog Mumsnet to recruit its entrants.

While Facebook and Twitter continue to dominate most talk of social media, there is evidence that brands are willing to branch out into the more niche communities that allow them to focus on innovative technologies or ways of delivering their message. Visual representations of brands are increasingly popular as smartphones allow consumers to compete with their own high-quality pictures and videos.

“The introduction of Vine [Twitter’s micro-video sharing site] will mean video-based promotions will continue to evolve in bite-size, six second chunks. As technology develops, so too can the creativity,” says Stephen Jury, marketing manager at used vehicle network motors.co.uk. “User generated content is the backbone to many consumer marketing campaigns.”

The company uses video content in a similar vein to the BBC Top Gear show, where it posts car challenges on YouTube and invites viewers to guess how well each car performed. In keeping with the Top Gear-esque levels of engagement, the vehicle used – a Triumph Dolomite classic car – is filled with balloons and timed against a toaster and a kettle to race around a track.

Baby gifts site Born Gifted used Pinterest in a recent promotion

“There’s been a real shift in the past 12 months allowing brands to develop a personality. Maintaining a humorous yet professional tone of voice while delivering fun content is key to retaining a loyal following,” says Jury. In 2012, motors.co.uk grew its Facebook fans by 316 per cent and Twitter followers by 186 per cent with more than 2.4 million YouTube views and 15,000 competition entrants. The brand enjoys an extended reach to ‘friends of fans’ of 4.9 million.

Baby gift website Borngifted.co.uk has taken a chance on Pinterest, a less mainstream community. Its launch in March 2010 attracted a lot of attention but the community has since not seen as much widespread coverage as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Consumers are invited to pin five items from Born Gifted’s gallery to their own board and the person with the most re-pins by the deadline wins an item from their wish list.

“Social promotions are trending towards pictorial representations of brands and products rather than caption competitions or relying on likes or retweets,” says director Penny Wilson.

Beyond acquiring a short-term boost in numbers, Wilson believes that the visual strength of the campaign is to generate loyalty and the viral element is necessary to spread the word about the brand. “This was a great opportunity to show a small range of products so people could get a feel for them. Sweet or funny photos feature highly in our social promotions and appeal to our target audience.”

One of the biggest desires for a social promotion campaign has also become its bane and the more interesting and innovative the campaign, the more likely it is to have problems. As great giveaways or quirky competitions go viral, the potential number of entrants grows exponentially. Interesting freebies or sought-after rarities can fall prey to professional competition entrants, who use all the tools at their disposal to swing the odds in their favour, with no prospect of becoming brand customers or advocates in the future.

“We are trying to come up with new ways of engaging our real followers, as we have found that some of our competitions have been partly hijacked by professional competition entrants. We intend to target some activity using our current and past customer database and also ask a little more from the general entrant, such as having to search the website for an answer, rather than just hitting a button,” says Wilson.

The IPM’s new guidelines, to be published on 28 February in association with Facebook, will advise brands on how to make best use of the social environment without over-stretching themselves, or falling prey to small but significant groups, who can skew results and deliver public relations nightmares. The IPM guidelines are expected to closely mirror Facebook’s existing terms and conditions and give advice to brands on ensuring their promotions follow the CAP Code and UK law, as well as laying out best practice.

Brands have gradually come to realise that running any form of marketing communications across social-media platforms has little initial financial outlay but can swiftly become a very resource-heavy exercise, and promotions are no exception.

To ensure they are successful, brands have to understand and be able to support the potential for competitions to ‘go viral’ or suffer from professional interference. But they must also apply the same level of due diligence to social promotions as they would to those requiring media buying or point-of-purchase materials.

Pepsi found itself in hot water after a small number of entrants to its hourly QR code promotion won a disproportionate number of prizes by using multiple email addresses to enter.

Brands wishing to engage in social media need to look carefully at the forthcoming IPM guidelines and ensure their terms and conditions are as clear and watertight as possible to prevent any future PR nightmares.

Becky Munday, chair of the IPM, says: “You have to make sure that any promotion you put on a social-media platform is 100 per cent right – and that includes any terms and conditions. Leave any loopholes, for example in the wording of your terms and conditions, and they will be spotted, they will be publicised and they will be exploited. The real challenge is that social media has the capacity to send a promotion viral and not always in a good way.”



Joe Hughes
Digital marketing manager

Morrison Bowmore Distillers

Marketing Week (MW): Why is social the most effective promotional medium for Morrison Bowmore?

Joe Hughes (JH): We simply don’t have the budget for mass advertising whereas we can compete with big-name brands on the social platform. But equally, our customers have a large geographical spread. Social allows us to reach people worldwide, especially in growing economies such as Brazil and Eastern Europe where scotch whisky is gaining popularity.

Alcohol as a sector is very tightly regulated. We can’t run competitions in Sweden, for example, and you can’t do product giveaways in most US states. Social is without territory so it’s a more liberal platform. Of course we have to use the normal constraints such as proof of age for entrants and winners.

MW: Where does innovation in your sector lie?

JH: We’re using Yomego to create a social media campaign focusing on blogger outreach. So far the industry has concentrated on talking to the top bloggers about the whisky itself, similar to the way in which it has used PR to speak to journalists.

Our idea is to talk to bloggers who aren’t on the list of usual suspects, who perhaps don’t have large numbers of followers and grow their community with them. We give them promotions too which they can run as their own competitions, ones that will attract followers. But the promotion has to be something that hadn’t been done traditionally in this sector – hence we offered them an explorer trip to the Isle of Islay. Doing something out of the ordinary helps us attract new audiences while reminding loyal ones what the brand means.

MW: There’s a risk in targeting bloggers with smaller spheres of influence. How do you expect this to pay off?

JH: This is a long-term thing. Once the Islay adventure promotion is up and running we’ll go back to the bloggers to talk to them about the next idea. Over the course of the next three years there are a variety of promotions that we will look for their help with. In the same way that brands build communities we are trying to bring these bloggers up with us. The hope is that if your brand has played a part in their gaining influence, that faith will be repaid down the line.

MW: Is a social promotion about volume, reach or influence?

JH: One of our key areas is to engage with bartenders, who are difficult to talk to as they are in no particular demographic. In March, we are running a competition for bartenders to study mixology abroad. This will be blogger-led. Bartenders who run their own blogs may only have a few hundred followers. We want to steer interaction between them, but the point for us is that social promotions targeting bloggers is a commitment, not a one-off.

Case Study: Alpro #deskfest

Soya dairy substitute Alpro launched a social media promotion to win a trip to New York. This was based on research it had released about the amount of time workers spend eating at their desks. Capitalising on the Instagram trend to capture stylised images of meals, the brand launched the #deskfest hashtag.


“New Year is a key sales period for Alpro. We have created a campaign that targets the urban audience during breakfast time and through a medium with which they engage daily. With social at its heart, the campaign will also include sampling, advertising and PR,” explains Chris Collis, senior marketer at Alpro UK. “It’s about people making healthier choices at breakfast time and taps into the trend of eating at work.”

The New York competition is based on the iconic image of the ‘ultimate breakfast’, which is well known in Manhattan. Consumers can get involved by tweeting photographs of healthy, creative breakfasts that use the #deskfest hashtag.

Pictures are then displayed in an online gallery accessed via Alpro’s website. Running until March 2013, the campaign has generated 91,000 clicks and views so far. Return on investment is measured across the total campaign using a variety of tools to show reach via each of the marketing channels, as well as simply the number of entries to the competition.

While many debate the merits of isolated promotional, sampling or advertising campaigns, the #deskfest activity is the core of a full marketing campaign that began on 14 January to coincide with experiential sampling in Manchester and London, devised by ID Experiential.

The habit of ‘#deskfesting’ was encouraged by handing out breakfast bags to 310,000 consumers. PR via Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogger outreach, was developed by Richmond Towers which generated more enthusiasm for #deskfest through the ‘five day #deskfest challenge’. A dedicated online hub was created in-house with Crab Creative. Further advertising, sponsorship and media partnerships supported the campaign.

Collis says: “What is innovative about this campaign is the way we have delivered true integration across our channels. The campaign is designed to be as user friendly as possible for the target consumer so it is not reliant on one channel.

“We use hashtags but we also have the online hub. Twitter is the main point of entry but we are encouraging engagement through other social channels such as Instagram and Pinterest”.


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