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DB CONFERENCE 2011: Socially aware

In this modern age of Facebook, Twitter and bloggers, drinks companies neglect the world of social media at their peril, the conference was told. Alan Lodge reports.

dbconf.jpgSome might be surprised, others might be a little concerned, but the fact is that the fastest-growing demographic of Facebook users is women aged 45-55 years old.

Whether they are keeping track of what their children are up to, chatting with their friends or simply aiming to keep pace with the world, Neil Morris (pictured), director of innovation at marketing and communications firm Engine Group, believes it’s more of a reflection on the way the world has changed rather than an insight into the concerns of middle-aged women.

“It’s a world in which the way we consume media is changing so fast, that we can’t hope to embrace every opportunity,” he said. “Social media is not the change, rather it is the most obvious manifestation of a broader change.”

Having pointed out that one in three of the UK population is now on Facebook, while one in nine also use Twitter, Morris made clear that social media is now very much at the heart of modern-day life and, as such, drinks companies would be foolish to ignore the opportunities it offers.

“Social media has always enabled conversations and conversations have always been going on since we started, but the difference for me is that now my conversations are amplified in a way that, even with email, with telephone, with face-to-face conversations,
were never possible previously,” he told the conference.

“We have moved into a new age of influence and trust, and an age where we increasingly look for personal recommendations from friends and family and an age where increasingly we are relying on the opinions of people we don’t even know to inform our brands, our purchases and our lifestyle choices.”

The truth of his words is undeniable. This is a way of connecting with consumers that no amount of radio, television or print advertising can buy. It gets them involved, gets them excited and makes them feel part of the brand.

The coin is, however, two-sided. “We’ve got to be careful in making sure we identify the risks involved in social media,” continued Morris, highlighting a recent Nestlé campaign on Facebook in which the company responded to some comments by saying: “It’s our page, we set the rules.”

“The lesson here is that you can’t set rules any more, you can’t treat consumers in an online space like
that,” said Morris. “It’s not like it’s a one-to-one conversation in a shop, this is on Facebook and it’s impossible to judge just how many people are looking at that conversation.

“The kind of minor PR misdemeanor we might have got away with five-or-so years ago is now amplified massively.”

Catherine Flynn

Catherine Flynn, business director at social media agency We Are Social – whose clients currently include the likes of Pernod Ricard and Vitamin Water UK – claimed that the growth of social media as a communication method, with old-school email in decline, is down to the fact that it is a much more “fun” way of interacting with people.

“Our online time now in the UK is dominated by social networks and blogs,” she said. “Email is in decline across all age groups and we can reasonably expect email to all but disappear in the not-too-distant future.”

She gave examples of the work she has carried out on behalf of drinks companies in order to build relationships with customers, as well as tips to enable social media managers to keep abreast of their brand’s online activity.

“Have you set up Google alerts for your brand? Are you using free tools like TweetDeck to monitor the mentions on Twitter?” she asked.

“In social media it’s not just about running a campaign, but about ensuring you’re there to monitor conversations. The conversation has to be ongoing. We all know what happens when you neglect relationships.”

Moving on to examples of how the drinks industry has embraced social media techniques, Flynn highlighted how Bacardi has recently focused the majority of its marketing spend into social media platforms as opposed to brand websites; and when Heineken recently passed one million fans on Facebook, we saw them going out and hugging consumers in bars around the world.

“Jim Beam were recently praised for their social media strategy which integrates really well with their above-the-line advertising, and our own work with Jameson has seen us cultivating a community of film fans around the brand’s cult film agenda, not only getting people to book tickets to events, but also forming a community with a blog and content revolving around film.”

Flynn also made reference to how Captain Morgan only had to say “Captain likes cola” and have 920 people “like” that and 60 people comment on it. “It’s the envy of social media brand managers everywhere,” she said of the Diageo-owned rum.

Tom Harrow

Tom Harrow – aka The Wine Chap – was the last of the three panellists to take the floor in this session. According to the London Evening Standard, Harrow is one of London’s most influential people, blogging on all things vinous.

Harrow considered the dos and don’ts when it comes to social media. “Having a blog and being treated as a blogger allows you to evaluate the ways other companies attempt to engage with the blogging community as a whole and shape your own strategy accordingly,” he said.

He discussed the concept of “clinking from a distance” – allowing people to share a “virtual” drink over the internet, to discuss their experiences as if they were sitting together in a pub. “A quick drink after work translates as ‘I want to communicate with you’,” he said. “How can you create a way of replicating this interaction remotely?”

He went on to make a few suggestions as to how this could be achieved. “Bloggers have personalities, often silly but catchy names, and they don’t always need the knowledge of an expert or the fluidity of a great writer to be able to blog well, but to get noticed you do need a distinct personality.

“Getting noticed is not necessarily about being good, but it’s about being followed, for example, on Twitter. It’s not about talking to, but rather talking with people. We don’t just offer answers, we pose questions too.”

As the session concluded with a Q&A, Morris highlighted a new concept he is testing out – bloggers’ events. “Rather than just running press events, and events for the public, we are currently running specific bloggers’ workshops and they love this because they get to do stuff before the mainstream press get to have a look.”

According to Morris, it is vital that social media managers are a “human voice” behind a brand, rather than a corporate entity, which “defeats the object of creating a dialogue”. He added: “Just ensure you are honest and consistent.”

Alan Lodge, April 2011

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