AdAge conducted an interview with Ross Hoffman, Twitter’s director of brand strategy, that revealed the social network’s plans to, well, plan social engagement spontaneity. A program called Hatch is a new initiative within Twitter’s ad team, which is essentially a stable of marketers that work with brand advertisers to plan ad campaigns months in advance of major events such as the Grammys, or more local events like product launches. In short, it looks forward to times where Twitter’s activity volume around a specific topic will be high and creates strategies that will help brand advertisers capitalize on that increased engagement.
“Probably about a quarter in advance, we’ll prepare a laundry list of questions for a brand and an agency really getting at the root of what they want to do: [whether] it’s around an event, a product release, a key time of the year. We want to think about the innovation that we can push with them.
We work with the brand [and] agency in those weeks and months leading up to a day where we’ll have one to three pretty good ideas about where we’ll be going. As opposed to getting in the room and saying, ‘We’re gonna leave this room with greatness.’ We want to do that ahead of time.” – Ross Hoffman
Social Media Landmine
Social media – and Twitter in particular – unlike traditional marketing channels, is a real-time platform. For marketers, success in positively engaging and influencing consumers in these channels requires the ability to take advantage of conversations or themes that are capturing the public’s hearts and minds at the moment.
Although real-time engagement on platforms like Twitter is equivalent to walking through a landmine for businesses, the benefits of successfully traversing the deathly obstacle course can pay large dividends. The You Can Still Dunk in the Dark Oreo campaign during Super Bowl ’13 is a famous example of getting it right – and winning.
On the other hand, many brands have tried this and failed miserably. The most recent case of a brand getting it wrong is DiGiorno Pizza, which attempted to capitalize on the popularity of the trending #WhyIStayed hashtag used by women to highlight stories of why they remained in abusive relationships. The trend grew in response to the video of NFL running back Ray Rice assaulting his wife.
Real-time Social Engagement Strategies
I can see the appeal of Twitter’s Hatch program; if designed and executed successfully, the social network provides marketers a fertile landscape from which to harvest a bountiful yield. Yet, are the risks too high – especially given the fact that there are more brands which have failed than succeeded?
The key may lie in the strategy developed. Earlier this year, we posted an article on the difference between real-time marketing and real-time content in which we suggested brands are better served by generating content that is relevant to their audience, connects to the brand’s voice, and displays genuineness in context instead of trying to be the first to push out a witty meme.
“At base, we still need to understand consumers and shoppers in a deep and meaningful way; we still need to communicate a core reason to interact with our brand… and our standard for creative excellence is heightened,” states Coca-Cola VP of strategy and development and eCommerce for North America in an interview with CMO magazine.
Starbucks’ Tweetable Coffee Program is a good alternate real-time strategy in social media marketing. It wasn’t based on an upcoming event; instead it utilized the real-time nature of Twitter’s conversations to proactively insert its brand and product into the collective psyche of the social audience. The campaign allowed U.S. customers to sync their Starbucks accounts to their Twitter accounts so that by simply tweeting @tweetacoffee and the Twitter handle of a gift recipient, the recipient instantly receives a $5 digital eGift.
The point is, to achieve the success of Oreo’s real-time You Can Still Dunk in the Dark campaign requires more than planning for future events predicted to be popular on Twitter. It requires a marketing team that is willing and able to listen to real-time chatter and understand the underlying emotions and social relevance they represent. Further, the business must ensure its marketing team understands the brand essence and given the latitude to make real-time decisions when these events are occurring. Janda Lukin, vice president and brand leader for Oreos spoke about this shift in a recent interview with Forbes.
“…decision making [has been] pushed down further into the organization. That’s been driven by the fact that the speed of communication and information is a lot faster than it was 12 years ago. As an organization we’ve learned to become more nimble in pushing down decision making across our communications for responding to opportunities from a real-time standpoint, particularly within social.”
Of course, they must possess the courage to say “no” when the conversation does not align with the brand voice, despite the popularity of the online conversation or the scheduled campaign.
Can Spontaneity Be Scheduled?
As we see it, Twitter’s Hatch advertising program will fail to capitalize on future trending topics if it only sees them as “media events” instead of real people sharing real time emotions, views, and experiences. Creating a clever ad campaign to tie in to major events is just that: Advertising, which seems to die a quick death on social media.
Selling through conversation flash mobs such as those building around the #WhyIStayed hashtag requires a more nimble approach that is more reliant on the business’s internal culture and decision-making processes than planned advertising. Further, it’s best if the brand already has a relationship established with that community; otherwise, the attempt will surely be seen as opportunistic regardless of how pithy the planned commentary is.
Can social media spontaneity be scheduled?
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego