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Brand banter on Twitter: Too much social media, not enough marketing?


By Jon Davie, UK chief executive

March 9, 2014 | 3 min read

Marketing is, or should be, about solving business problems. Raising awareness, driving reappraisal, rewarding loyalty or reducing churn – strategic tasks that sit squarely at the door of the marketing department.

If this is true then surely social media marketing should be about solving business problems using social media. Or more subtly, perhaps, solving business problems in a social world.

Clients are increasingly open to the opportunities that social has created. But it strikes me that a lot of social media marketing is heavy on the social media – the platforms and behaviour of consumers –but light on marketing – the business problems that we’re trying to solve.

Oreo is held up as a case study for brands using social media to great effect. And in Oreo's case, it makes a lot of sense. The business problem was clear – it’s a 100 year old brand, with high recognition and a vaguely positive association. But for younger audiences, the brand just didn’t seem particularly relevant.

By using social media in clever ways, Oreo has been able to make a new generation feel differently about the brand. The much-heralded SuperBowl tweet last year was part of a coherent strategy to use social media to address a genuine business problem, not just a one-off piece of social media activity.

With this is mind, it was completely in keeping with the strategy for the Oreo Twitter account to engage with the account of competitor KitKat, challenging it to a chocolate-themed game of tic-tac-toe. And then late in 2013, a nice example of using Twitter for customer service by Tesco Mobile escalated into a brand party, with Yorkshire Tea, then Jaffa Cakes and Walkers Crisps got in on the act. It was funny, well executed and got plenty of positive feedback.

But before you can say ‘award-winning case study’, other brands started to jump on the bandwagon, and ‘brandter’ – banter between brands in social media – became a legitimate tactic. The Valentine’s Day attempt by one frozen fish company to woo a random selection of brands with fishy chat up lines was particularly cringeworthy.

Brandter is a classic example of too much social media, but not enough marketing. Twitter is a platform where people banter with other people. So if brands are on Twitter, they should behave like people, right? And if we get some of our conversations retweeted, that’s evidence of ‘engagement’, right?

Not necessarily. If we want clients to take social seriously, then we need to get serious. Marketing exists to solve business problems. If ‘engagement’ is the best answer that we can come up with, no-one is going to give us the chance to answer grown-up questions.

Jon Davie is managing director at Zone


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