Thursday, 7 July 2011

Social Media storm in a tea cup

Social media might be the latest fashion in communications strategy, but it doesn’t mean firms full understand how it affects them. There is a necessity for many firms entering the social media scene to evaluate some pretty core and fundamental cultural issues.

The problem is many social media projects are sold as the new must have by agencies or by internal PR functions keen to keep up with the Joneses. It is not normally looked at in greater detail.

While your consumer brand thrives on the boost given by a warm campaign based around giving out freebies, launching competitions and inviting photos, it sometimes hides problems that need to be addressed at planning stage.

Take a look at Twinings. Who could not like this warm and very British company, producing good quality tea and with a slick set of subtle adverts.

However, if you look at their own website there is a torrent of negative user generated comments pouring through, let alone their Facebook site. It seems a change to the blend has upset a large portion of their customer base that dislike the new blend brought in around June.

Looking around the social media sites and through their press release, there seems to be a key part of social media missing. There is nothing which engages with the customers whom find the new blend too lemony for their tastes. The closest to customer support seems to be talk of private correspondence confirming the change in product.

The Customer is Always Right

It might be an old adage, but the inaction is suprising for a brand with growing competition in the specialist tea market. Why would you buy an expensive blend you no longer like? Even if it leads others to experiment with other blends, it’ll lose customers as some will find that the supermarket own brand isn’t too bad.

There’s also a thought that a blend of Earl Grey available through the internet only or via specialist stores might actually retain loyalty. If its YOUR cuppa, then you’d be willing to pay a little more for the experience.

Brands are stronger than products

My other thought was the experience of Coca-Cola when they changed the formula of their drink.

Blind taste testing proved beyond doubt that a new formula was a preferred drink. So changing the
contents of a can should be an easy sell? Right?

We all know that wasn’t the case. The problem was that Coca-cola was the drink of choice for certain people. Changing the experience changed their relationship with the brand and made them sit up and think about why something seen as reliable and safe had changed.

I see the same issue here with Twinings. I’ve no idea which is the “better flavour”, but they’ve created an issue which could have been avoided. The person who buys a slightly different pack, is unsure about it, sits down and tastes the new blend will find their world has been changed a little. This makes them unsure about the world, the brand and the certainty the old blend gave them.

When I worked in radio, a change of DJ would cause a week of complaints, even if it was just for holiday cover. On the original DJs return, the same people would complain about the change.

Coca-Cola has learned from their experience. Have you ever wondered why they have so many diet colas? It’s not just to segment the market. They can launch the new TAB, or Zero cola whilst maintaining the original diet cola. Natural selection dictates whether the market fragments or replaces a moribund brand. Soap Powder companies have been doing it for years.

How could this have been avoided?

Good social media planning can avoid all the issues.

1.Is your organisation happy to be involved in an open, two way relationship with its customers. Not all firms are for reasons ranging from customer service strategy to resources available to quality of product to internal culture.

2.What social media will be entered into, who manages it and how.

3.What protocols do you have in place regarding topics, subjects, who should respond and when.

4.Putting in place a crisis management plan specifically for social media. Remember, silence is not an option and likely to be seen as an admission of guilt, even if you’re blameless.

5.What secondary channels can you use if their social media is flooded. Firms like Google use their blog to overcome torrents of feedback during outages. Traditional media is another useful channel despite obvious fears.

From the looks of it a big brand like Twinings haven’t grasped these five points. Deleting comments from your Facebook site and stoic silence is hardly a good strategy in the age of social media openness. It’s the second storm after an issue regarding the shifting of some operations to Poland and Twinings need to take a long hard look about how they react in future.

Just look at the problems caused to News of the World advertisers on social media. It doesn’t have to be an internal or controllable issue that causes a customer relations crisis.

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