Blog: Petah MarianSocial media: why it pays to pay attention

Petah Marian | 8 July 2010

I stumbled across this article in the New York Times about food brands getting sociable on Facebook and Twitter.

The NYT article enthuses over Kraft Foods' efforts to raise its profile with promotions like Oreos' 'World's fan of the week' and a campaign for Wheat Thins centred around a mobile team which gives surprising treats to brand fans.

As part of its Wheat Thins campaign, the article described how a young woman named Tabitha, "who wrote on Twitter 'AAHHHH Im outta wheat thins ... Mi life is officially over!'",  is greeted by the brand team at home with a forklift loaded with what looks like a couple of cases of product."

However, witty viral campaigns aside, social media can be a double-edged sword. Just ask Kraft. Cadbury relaunched its Wispa chocolate bar following consumer demand on social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, to great consumer approval.

However, when Cadbury was acquired by Kraft, those same forums and people that evangelised its products lashed out against the UK institution's purchase by an US conglomerate. This criticism became especially heated when Kraft announced it was closing Cadbury's plant at Somerdale in south-west England.

The response was even more scathing when Kraft launched a product called 'iSnack 2.0', a Vegemite variant, in Australia late last year. The name was a result of its 'Name Me campaign'. When the name was chosen, Kraft said it wanted to align the product with a younger market and tap into the credentials of Apple's iPod.

A source close to the matter said after the iSnack 2.0 launched, Vegemite received 40,000 (mostly) derisive comments within a matter of days of being launched through social mediums like Facebook and Twitter. The reaction was one of the first events in Australia to highlight the power and reach of Twitter and other social media platforms.

Within four days of launching the Vegemite and cream cheese blend, the company succumbed to public backlash and launched a second online poll, giving consumers the chance to vote on six pre-approved names, landing it the far more less offensive Vegemite Cheesybite.

The agency source said the response showed "that even though a company can produce, fund and everything else that goes along with 'owning' a product/brand, they really are just stewards, as the public tend to take ownership into their own hands, with comments and reactions".

What all of this highlights is that when you harness the power of the masses, you can't always predict how they will behave. Managing your social media presence is more than just fun viral videos, requiring real attention to what people are saying about your company and working to change their perceptions. Because even if you're not paying attention, your potential customers will be.



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