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Reactive social media: a conversation with the agency behind hilarious Specsavers tweets


By Amy Houston | Senior Reporter

July 2, 2021 | 6 min read

Reactive social media tactics have created some of the most memorable online moments of the past few years. The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston speaks to Laura Perry, head of creative operations at creative communications agency Tangerine, to find out whether this approach still packs a punch.


What are the pros and cons of being reactive on social media?

At its core, reactive social marketing is when a brand responds to trends, news stories, pop culture or major events, providing a chance to be creative and engaging in a meaningful or humorous way.

Building a strong presence online is an integral part of this strategy and can’t be achieved overnight. Having a solid plan in place and the infrastructure to publish responsive content will ensure comms won’t feel hollow. So which companies are doing this particularly well?

As a specialist creative comms agency, Tangerine has successfully elevated the Specsavers identity online, establishing a recognizable tone of voice and fostering a burgeoning social presence. To get better insight into this I speak to Laura Perry, who heads up its creative operations, to get her thoughts on brands that are killing this tactic. “There is no doubt about it, there are some brands that do reactive social incredibly well and have helped set a precedent for other brands.” She cites Paddy Power, Netflix, Greggs and KFC as brands that have “strong identities – they are confident, consistent and relentless, they don’t lose the momentum, get scared, or switch off from reactive social”.

Perry also states that “the supermarket ‘brandter’ deserves a noteworthy mention”. We all witnessed the conversation play out between Aldi and M&S over their respective caterpillar birthday cakes, and the subsequent #FreeCuthbert movement.

However, it’s worth noting that social media users can more often than not see through the ‘click for likes’ mentality, and simply tagging brands for the sake of it will not work. Always keep the brand values top of mind and have conviction in your approach. Don’t jump on every and any bandwagon – assess what your community wants and give them what they need.

Creating a personal relationship with your audience is one of the many benefits of reactive marketing, but are there any downfalls? “Everyone’s a critic, and everyone will openly have an opinion about the content posted,” Perry tells me, but stresses that you can’t “let one, two, (sometimes more) negative comments outshine the positive aspects of creative reactive and to stay strong and aligned with the strategy”.

This is when a strong, trusted relationship with the client and alignment on brand strategy becomes imperative. Reactive social sometimes means posting without sign-off from the client. This tactic requires trust. I ask Perry how Tangerine maintains those relationships. “Working with [brands] as an extension of their team, rather than a separate entity, has taken time and dedication. We’ve built and refined strong tone-of-voice guidance and a clear brand personality directly with them, to the point where we have their trust and therefore autonomy (to a certain extent) on what we’re able to post.”

Demonstrating the value of reactive marketing through regular reporting to clients and communication is key to elevating the brand-client trust. Perry tells me that at Tangerine there are times they need to flag an idea that’s a bit “borderline”, and to solve this they have “worked with clients to set up WhatsApp groups for out-of-hours reactive opportunities for those ‘too-good-to-miss’ opportunities”.

Inevitably Covid-19 restrictions have affected how we communicate online and social media users are looking for different sources of entertainment, which has provided brands new opportunities to be creative. People want “to be removed from the pandemic, not reminded of it,” Perry tells me.

Having an ‘always-on’ approach to social media is so beneficial, but it’s important to remember the real people behind teams. On this subject, Perry says: “As an agency, we need to be reactive all day and all evening, but we have worked hard on making sure that delivering great work doesn’t come at the expense of individuals’ wellbeing.”

Social media moves so quickly that sometimes switching off seems almost impossible, but it’s so important that agencies get this balance right. It’s something that Tangerine is constantly working on. “After this last year, it has never been more important,” Perry concludes.

Being reactive on social media provides a huge opportunity for brands to show relevancy and organically build a strong online presence. Striking the balance of proactive and reactive communication is key for brands in the fast-paced online space.

What are your thoughts on reactive social media? Join in the conversation on Twitter using #TheDrumSocial

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