Sue Tabbitt looks at how three very different big-name companies are using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to protect their business and drive its growth
Social media offers a powerful means for companies to engage with customers. Without a clear strategy, they risk being left behind as everything from marketing to dealing with complaints goes social.
The toy maker
Educational toy brand LeapFrog made its first foray into social media in the UK a year ago. Its marketing-led strategy targets mothers who use Facebook.
Over Easter, LeapFrog ran a promotion ostensibly supporting parents in encouraging children to read. It emailed the 600,000 people on its database, directing them to its Facebook page for details of an online egg hunt and the chance to win £250 of products. To take part, customers had to click through to LeapFrog’s Amazon store.
The campaign generated 4,000 more fans of LeapFrog’s Facebook page, a five-fold increase in visits to its Amazon store compared with the previous week, and a 25 per cent rise in sales, says Robert Dekker, LeapFrog’s senior marketing director for Europe.
LeapFrog UK now has 20,792 Facebook fans. The highest count in the UK currently is 2.29m in the consumer goods sector (Cadbury’s Creme Egg), 427,000 in the telecoms market (Vodafone), 318,000 in the beauty sector (Nivea), and 152,000 in the car industry (BMW), according to stats compiler Socialbakers.
Although translating these numbers into increased business must be the ultimate goal, Dekker believes it’s important to play the long game. “Social media need consistent use, not just peaks of activity around campaigns. People are easily put off when it’s used as a blatant marketing tool.”
To this end, LeapFrog aims to increase its educational content, providing Q&A sessions and tips on issues close to its customers’ hearts – such as how to entertain children on long journeys. It also plans to start using YouTube, providing videos showing how to get the best from its products.
The telecoms giant
BT has been using social media for three years to support customer service. It too has had to refine its strategy as it has learnt what consumers find acceptable – and what they find unacceptable.
Two years ago, the company came under fire for potential privacy breaches when searching Facebook postings for comments about the company. Now it focuses its energy on Twitter, where comments are public.
BT uses an internally developed tool called DebateScape to “listen” for online comments about the company on Twitter and forums such as MoneySaving Expert. The software sifts out genuine issues and passes them to the customer services team.
This allows BT to swoop in where its brand is being bashed online, offering prompt help. In the best-case scenario, it aims to convert a disgruntled customer into a brand ambassador who goes on to tweet happily about how impressed they’ve been.
BT can also deal with localised network performance issues by identifying patterns of complaints and use the official BT Twitter account to broadcast service announcements. In this way it lets customers know it is on the case.
BT measures its success in terms of the number of “customers helped”. At the last count, this was over 100,000, says Warren Buckley, MD of customer service at BT Retail. A software tool from Lithium connects online complainants to the BTCare Community Forum, a self-service portal providing FAQs and tips from other customers. This draws 175,000 postings each week.
As well as helping to protect the BT brand, there are strong commercial reasons behind the company’s investment in social media. It wants to steer customers away from communications channels that are costly to administer, such as the post (the company still receives 260,000 letters through the mail each year), email and the phone. Four years ago, only 19 per cent of BT customer queries were dealt with via the web; now it’s reached 53 per cent as customers learn to serve themselves.
While the cynic might see this as a step backwards, it does give customers the instant fix many crave, not to mention a stronger voice and community identity.
Buckley believes it’s important to be brave when harnessing social media. “This is an environment where you can only learn by doing,” he says. Something else he’s found is the need to establish new relationships internally. Buckley’s team often needs a ready response from BT’s marketing and legal people, for example.
“It’s a case of ‘I need a comment I can make in the next 45 minutes in 140 characters’ or ‘We have an outage in X region and I need a response I can put out immediately’. That requires a strong virtual team,” he says.
He identifies Google+ as a platform BT may need to support in future.
We’ll go where our customers go,” he says. “Just as we would never knowingly fail to answer the phone to someone who calls us, we would never close ourselves off from new channels.”
The food chain
For wholesome fast food chain Pret A Manger, which entered the social media arena in September 2010, it is the quality of customer engagement that counts, rather than the volume of passive followers. The company has 15,000 Facebook fans, 6,500 followers of its main Twitter account, and 1,600 follow a Twitter feed devoted to its menu.
“When we want to know how a recent product change has gone down it can take a week or more to build up a picture based on sales reports, so we often look to Twitter to see how it’s been received,” explains Jamie McRonald, Pret’s online marketing and web manager in the UK. “This helps us to shape what we do in the future.”
“Our customers fell over themselves to let us know they preferred the old recipe,” he says. “We removed popcorn from the shelves and it didn’t return until we were really happy that the taste was back to where it should be.”A good example was when the chain tweaked its popcorn recipe.
When posting on social media, McRonald says he’s found it’s important not to over-think things.
“The whole point of social media is its spontaneity and vibrancy. Sometimes I’ve thrown away a day’s work because it sounds like something a marketer would write.”
Above all, it’s important to start the conversation and keep it going. Customers will talk about you online anyway; adopting a social media strategy is about influencing what’s said.