Category Archives: Planning

Social media customer service as awesome brand building

You want to meet someone special. Someone that you could start a long, prosperous and mutually beneficial relationship with. Someone whose goals match yours and who you can work with to achieve your goals together. You know what I mean?

No, I’m not thinking about joining an online dating site. I’m thinking about how we work with our clients here at FACE. It’s a partnership, and over time it gets even better. At the start, it can of course be terrifyingly… new.

When you’re in a truly social business, you have to put yourself out there – just like in any other relationship. You have to talk openly. You have to listen. To experience the benefits of a dialogue with your clients or customers– not just a monologue by your brand – you have to be real. My former colleague Pete Blackshaw used to say: you’ve got to demonstrate trust, authenticity, transparency, confidence, consistency, and integrity to be socially successful. Subtext here is that being selfish and isolated is not recommended.

Alongside account manager Anna Dorywalska, I thought we’d share some thoughts.

Consumers are changing, so should you

What do you do when you want to find information about a new product, service or organisation? Do you Google the name and check relevant websites, or ask your peers and see what Twitter has to say?  How about complaining about a company – phone call to their customer service or quick note to your Facebook friends and Twitter followers? In times when trust in businesses is declining (check out the Edelman Trust Barometer), an increasing number of us are likely to say the latter in both cases.  It’s easier, quicker and, lets face it, less frustrating. For that reason it’s important for organisations to be truly present in social media and engage in conversations evolving not only around their brand, but also competitors and the industry in general. Participating in honest and dynamic discussions will help you strengthen existing relationships, but also be crucial in acquiring new brand fans.

This is how they do it

Whether your online presence is established and you’re rocking your customer service on social, or have only just started thinking about jumping on the wagon – one thing is certain, your customers are talking about you (and to you), and they expect you to react. And it’s a good thing!

@O2’s epic response to customer feedback during their network outage in 2012  probably will be used as an example of great customer service for years to come. The company managed to turn what seemed to be a hopeless situation into a successful showcase of its social media ninja skills (forgive us for using this phrase!) and company values.

O2 Conversation for Blog

Not only O2 have benefited from a humorous and witty approach to customer care online. Netflix, Sainsbury’s, and Bodyform have also decided to show their ‘human face’ via social and engaged in a friendly banter with customers.

We acknowledge some companies, financial services in particular, might find this type of approach challenging or even impossible.  Fear not! It’s not only about the humour. What matters is having a solid social media strategy, a dedicated team (consisting of one or 20 members, depending on business needs) and technology supporting both.

As Daryl West, Social Media Insight Manager at Telefonica UK, says:

“Social media customer service is now a large part of our service remit with over 4000 customer queries handled by more than 20 trained social media service specialists on a weekly basis. We helped develop an engagement platform with FACE that helped create a strong workflow management system that could filter and categorise queries to drive efficiency in social customer service.”

Telefonica was one of the first companies to realize the potential of social and implement innovative solutions within the business. The brand hasn’t stopped there and being a social business is as important as ever. Says Daryl:

“We truly believe that our presence on social media demonstrates to consumers that we are a forward thinking brand that’s future proofing our customer service by being responsive and supportive on new and developing service channels. Furthermore, we also use social media service as an indicator to flag customer problems, if repetitive issues arise in social we can flag to our other service channels. This is a great way of using real time social media insight to feedback and maintain excellence across all service channels.”

Being real should be easy, not to mention fun, right? So why is the threat of social failure still one of the most frequent concerns I hear from clients?

Well, because just like personal relationships, brand and client relationships take work – and sometimes they can be scary. Inevitably, sometimes needs won’t be perfectly aligned and there will be differences of opinion on the right steps to take. And at FACE we’ve had a breakup where we’ve listened to our client’s point of view but in the end had to be confident about our transparency and remain consistent and true to ourselves. Thankfully, when you’re a truly social business, working on your client and customer relationships also defines you. Each interaction is an opportunity to affirm and communicate what your brand stands for.

FACE CEO Andrew Needham wrote just a couple of days ago about the importance of “delivering customer obsession in the digital age”. Business is changing – moving away from a old manufacturing “product first” model, towards one where customer needs lead.  That’s why we think social media listening, engagement and customer care is so important. It’s what turns an interaction into a relationship – it’s what turns brand awareness into customer loyalty.



Erika Ammerman is the Head of Social Insight at FACE. She has worked for clients ranging from healthcare to hair care and beyond. Connect with her on LinkedIn.



Anna Dorywalska is a Social and Pulsar Account Manager. She is following her passion for social media, working with brands including O2, eBay and Samsung. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.


Humanising Brands: The role of market research in 2014

In the past 12 months I have seen a lot of people in advertising start to talk about the need for brands to open up and start to build relationships:

 “We can hypothesize that perhaps the key to brands succeeding in this new world is to mimic a human relationship as closely as possible with consumers”
[Edelman's new "brandshare" model]

“As companies become more digital and equipped with advanced marketing analytic tools that allow them to know and predict consumers’ behavior even better than consumers themselves, they need to be more human as well. It’s time to shift the paradigm. Brands need to not only connect directly with their fans but also rethink the concept of brand ownership. Brands can be owned by both the company and the community of customers, fans, and followers that rallies around them.”
[John Windsor of Havas & crowdsourcing agency Victor & Spoils, writing in Harvard Business Review]

And Clay Shirky was talking about “humanising brands” as far back as 2008.

Image by Flickr User Steven Shorrock

What’s this all about? It’s recognising a need for brands to build a dialogue with customers, listening as much as talking – and talking one-to-one as well as broadcasting. It’s about recognising that in the digital landscape, consumers aren’t just “little people” but can be peers and influence leaders – and so brands need to earn the respect of powerful brand evangelists who will shout from a mountain top how wonderful you and your brand really are.

But how do you do this? The journey of humanising brands goes beyond social media tactics and good community management. No – at FACE, we’d argue that brands needs to fundamentally change their behaviour and really put the customer at the heart of what they do.

Nicola Green, Director of communications and reputation at O2, expresses this well:

“I truly believe that brands should treat their social-media conversations like their real-world conversations – it’s all about understanding your audience, engaging with them in a human way and being consistent. Take the time to get to know your social community and build a rapport; you’ll learn what resonates with them and where the lines are in the sand. You’ll also learn what your audience expects from you – which, more often than not, can be swift customer service when something goes wrong.”
[Source: Marketing Magazine]

In 2014 I believe we are going to see more forward thinking companies adopt the strategy of humanising their brands in 3 key areas. This will open up big opportunities for the market research industry:

1. Develop a ‘listen first’ culture

Brands will demonstrate an authentic desire to listen and respond to people’s needs in real time by rolling out social listening solutions across customer service, research, marketing, product, operations, and HR. This type of active listening is the foundation of building meaningful relationships.

Brands need an objective market research partner to help develop select vendors and set the key benchmarks and metrics that will underpin the listening programme. They also need help to interpret the huge amounts of qualitative data they will be generating to support stakeholders across the business with faster decision making.

Yes, we said qualitative data. This is the value that market research can offer above the typical technology-led, dashboard-based social listening solutions that lead the market at present. It’s about going beyond volume and sentiment, and focusing on people and their needs.

2. Co-create

In 2014 we’ll see an increasing use of co-creation with customers and external experts. This will be carried out by R&D and marketing/products teams, and  to develop both new product innovations and communications. This gives people more personalised experiences that can create a stronger bond between the individual and the brand.

To run strategic co-creation programmes requires world class facilitation and moderation skills to manage interactions between large groups of internal and external partners. Arguably the more important role market research can play here is as the architect of these type of initiatives who ultimately can navigate objectively the politics of companies, and deliver outputs that meet the brief.

3. Agile Communications

All good brands are now publishers, producing content across a huge number of touchpoints. And they’re learning that brand conversations, meanings and needs evolve very quickly. To maximise the opportunity that real time communication offers, companies will be busy building agile CRM  & publishing teams who will be responsible for engaging people with relevant information and high quality, timely content that will delight customers.

To support this type of comms team requires continual input from consumers in the creative process to establish what’s relevant, what’s perceived as high quality, and what’s most interesting and shareable. This means that market research can play a role if the research is fast enough. Creative development needs to become more agile – and in 2014 we’ll see this roll out further. New models for content creation are starting to emerge where consumer communities are being consulted in realtime as an extension of the marketing team to ensure that what is being published will hit the mark.


We’ll no doubt be blogging more about each of these themes in 2014!

Meanwhile, for more about how humanising brands will open up new opportunities for research take a look at these recent articles from across the FACE team:

Building a listening programme:

Innovating co-creation:

On agile communictions:



Fixing Abercrombie & Fitch: how socially intelligent research can reconnect them with their customers

Our last blog post talked about ‘social intelligence’ as “a new life skill for brands”, and focused on Abercrombie & Fitch as retailer desperately in need of some.

But over on Twitter, @AlexPearmain had a question for us: “What would you have them DO?” A very good question! And, being a bit of a fashion brand nerd, I couldn’t resist working out the answer.

That is, if Abercrombie was closer to their customers they’d have seen this coming. Here’s how research could help them get back together.

Defining the problem

So Abercrombie have faced global negative press – headlines like, ‘Thin and beautiful’ customers ONLY: How Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t want ‘larger people’ shopping in its stores.

But this discussion is led by adults, people outside A&F’s target demographic. Maybe their customers think differently?  Marketer Nicola Carter argued in the Guardian:

“A&F’s target audience are the cool kids at school, primarily teenagers. If Mean Girls is to be believed, members of this cool clique are thin, attractive, and prepared to protect their position – even if that means picking on the fat kids. It sounds like A&F’s positioning as a cliquey brand that likes to exclude others (especially the bigger boned) will be just great for that group’s filters.”


Some adults’ opinions certainly do matter to Abercrombie & Fitch: those of investment analysts, the people influencing their share price. That share price is well below 2011 levels, and below the heights reached in 2005-2008. Finance sites report their stock as a sell recommendation, and rising up the ranks of the most-shorted. Analysts’ comments continually talk about Abercrombie ‘losing its cool’ and failing to keep up with trends. So A&F need to do some serious repositioning work to fix that problem.

But worse, the evidence is strong that Abercrombie’s target customers are indeed being put off. Sales fell 13% last quarter. And Abercrombie are having continuing problems with inventory, which strongly suggests they don’t know what customers want, when, in which stores and in what quantities. Consumer tracker surveys back this up: sentiment about the brand is down.

Meanwhile, Florida 18-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe has set up a petition with 78,000 signatures calling for an end to their size discrimination. And their Facebook profile is a mess:

Abercrombie & Fitch criticism on Facebook

Our brief

Put Abercrombie & Fitch back in touch with its customers.

Recognise a grain of truth in the offensive things its CEO has said in the past - “Candidly, we go after the cool kids… A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

So Abercrombie seeks to be an aspirational brand. We can work with that.

Thing is, it’s out of touch with what’s aspirational among its core audience.

It also needs to learn about how aspirations have changed. What’s aspirational in a difficult economic climate? Is ‘aspiration’ even as relevant to Millennials, or are other values in the ascendant? And how does Abercrombie evolve its white preppy aspiration model in an America that’s rapidly becoming majority-minority?


[Source: The Black Ivy, project by Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumb of The Street Ettiquette fashion blog]

Our research approach

So we’ve been talking about “socially intelligent research” a lot recently at FACE – now here’s a chance to outline what this might look like in practice.

1. Participation is continuous with teens’ existing digital lives

Why this is socially intelligent: An immersive research experience gives deeper, more accurate insights. We can also use passive data collection from social media to gain insights at scale to validate – and extend – our thinking.

What this looks like:

  • Research tasks take place on Pinterest and Tumblr – sites they’re already using. We don’t want essays about what teens find aspirational – we want them to show us visually
  • Chats and video hang-outs through Skype and Google Hangouts
  • All already mobile-optimised – completely essential for this age-group

Doing research that fits with teens’ digital lives also means integrating the data created by their social media activity. We’d do this in two ways:

1. Social media brand tracking to capture what tens of thousands of people think about the brand, not just our direct participants. These insights can be fed into the research community as questions or tasks – or resources we invite them to reflect on. This way we triangulate our insights and build much more robust conclusions.

2. Integrate teens’ digital activity into our community as a data resource. With their permission, mine their Facebook activity, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, YouTube and other media use.  We get more accurate data – what they actually say & do, not their recollections of their behaviour. And the participants are of course incentivised for this data sharing and get to focus on the more fun and creative tasks.


2. Teen participants as co-creators, not research subjects

Video has to be central to this research – we’re talking to a generation making YouTube videos, Instagram video, Vine and Snapchat. It’s also a great way to deliver stories and on-the-ground narratives in a digital way – cutting down our research time and costs.

So we’d propose to use video in many of our tasks:

  • “Auto-ethnography” and narrating their experiences
  • Interviewing friends
  • Involve a couple of particularly video-literate participants in editing and producing final videos, aggregating the group’s submissions

Key to an ethnographic model is inviting self-reflection – that is, never disrespect your research participants by assuming they’re not capable of analysing their own behaviour. Teens can be some of the most self-aware people out there in terms of thinking through social & group norms and how they modify their behaviour to fit. Given that we’re talking about what’s aspirational, it’s crucial to bring this social reflexivity in.

We’re doing that with the video ethnography methods – but we’d also involve our participants in the research analysis process and test our insights with them. They are co-creators and the ultimate judges of our brand positioning outputs – if it can’t pass our teen test panel, it’s not yet a solution for Abercrombie.


[Source: How To Be An Explorer Of The World by Keri Smith]

3.  Immersive experience for brand stakeholders

Why this is socially intelligent: Research needs to work as thoughtfully with the needs & cultures of our clients as we do with our participants. Abercrombie’s a fashion company: 100-slide Powerpoint decks won’t help them change.

What this looks like:

  • Video outputs strong emotive communication of the overall message. We’re trying to reposition a brand – it’s got to work at gut-level if it’s going to succeed.
  • Video is also more shareable around the company than a PPT
  • Moodboards on Pinterest and Tumblr provide a lasting and visual resource, helping designers and stylists keep in touch with their
  • Final delivery involves face-to-face interactions with our participants – e.g. in-store walkthroughs and workshops. This brings the message home to Abercrombie execs in an immersive and unforgettable way


So that’s an outline of how we’d help Abercrombie get back in touch with its customers and return to being a brand teens want to wear – and buy – again.

Most of the project’s run digitally, meaning it’s faster, cheaper, and able to cover more of Abercrombie’s customers and markets. It combines the scale of social media research with the deep ethnographic insights of qual – because here at FACE we don’t believe these things are exclusive. And it produces rich visual, video and immersive outputs – no Powerpoint required.

Socially intelligent research, using social data, to turn brands into ‘social businesses’ able to tap into all the ideas, creativity and resources beyond their walls. That’s our vision.


Liked this thinking? Follow Jess on Twitter (@hautepop), get in touch ( or hear her talk about how Gangnam Style went viral in our webinar next week.

The Insight Innovation Exchange Summarized Using Online Buzz

Face CEO Andrew Needham and US Office Head, Philip McNaughton, were at the Insight Innovation Exchange conference in Philadelphia earlier this week. I could not attend, and I was rather disappointed. While I know I have work to do, I still wanted to see Andrew and Philip present on Socially Intelligent Research and catch up on the latest industry buzz.

So I hopped on Pulsar TRAC and started a simple search looking for mentions of the conference and its hashtag (#iiex), similar to how we tracked Le Web two weeks ago. This way I could gather the digital buzz, and that’s the next best thing to being there.

Using Pulsar TRAC I was able to gather all the mentions o the conference. Granted, total volumes were only around 1,500, but that’s not the point. The point is that using Pulsar TRAC’s ability to parse the data, I was able to see what ideas presented got people excited, what articles were shared, and who I should be following on Twitter.

Day 1

People enjoyed the morning’s action-orientated presentations. Charles Trevail’s talk, “Inspiring the Future” was all about how to find breakthroughs in the face of adversity. When Jeffrey Henning summarized it on, the message continued to travel around the conference the rest of the day.

Day 1 Volume

Trevail was followed by Robert Moran, who kept the energy up with an emphasis on how the industry will look in the future. Apparently we’ll either be futurists, identifying trends, or doing “fast fashion” data analysis, looking at data in real time to facilitate improvements.

Ryan Smith went up next to talk about “Cheaper Faster, Better: How Technology Delivers ROI to Insight Organizations.” His focus on the importance of the researchers who make sense of the data and the continuing development of technology was well-received online.

Following Smith, Jasmeet Sethi from Ericsson spoke about being frugal, both by necessity and choice, in order to help spur innovation. This was perhaps one of the most buzzed about talks, driving mentions at the time and afterword with the sharing of the summary of it on

The afternoon’s online chatter continued where Smith left off. Two different speakers, Seth Grimes and Zachary Nippert, had a very similar message: big data is only as good as it is useful, and we need tools that will help us make it useful.

Day 2

Day 2’s online buzz was focused more around behavioral economics with two keynote speakers, Mark Earls of “I’ll Have What She’s Having” fame and John Kearon of BrainJuicer driving most of the online chatter.

Day 2 Volume

The ideas that resonated were, again, that we need to focus on the people, not the technology. According to Earls, rather than focusing on the new technologies themselves, we should be focusing on how this new technology can enable researchers to identify how people are connected to each other, what goes on between them, and finally how things spread from person to person.

Kearon, in turn, discussed the role of emotion in decision making. He focused on the need to understand emotions and habits in order to understand how we make decisions. This resonated with the audience, probably at least in part because of such lovely quotes as the one below:

Kirk vs Spock

Using Pulsar TRAC’s bundle visualization, you can see that “people” – though not the most frequent keyword – ran through most of the other topics discussed online the rest of the day.

People in Conversation

Day 3

The first spike at 9 am focused quite a bit on Simon Chadwick’s talk on investment in market research. People retweeted the stats in his presentation, focusing on such things as a 141% increase in VC funding for MR, particularly in big data, mobile, and social media but not in traditional research at all.

Day 3 Volume

But perhaps the biggest driver of mentions on the last day was sharing links. During the entire conference, only 12.6% of mentions included a link, but on the last day, 22.7% of messages included links.

Links Visualization

The top shared links of the day were all summaries of presentations:

But who would I have met?

That’s all well and good, but beyond going to a conference to hear about what’s hot in the industry, I go to them to meet people. How could PulsarTRAC let me do that?

I used Pulsar’s ability to find influencers based on not just volume, but also engagement to reveal who I should be following online. After all, I don’t just want to follow people who are vocal – I want to follow the people other folk turn to.

From this list, the top 5 influencers I should be following out of the Insight Innovation Exchange are:

  1. @melcourtright, Melanie Courtright, VP of Research Services at Research Now, presented “Research Now and Experien: Bridging the Digital Gap” at the conference
  2. @Pspear. Peter Spear of Spear Strategy, “brand listener”
  3. @SpychResearch, Ben Smithee, CEO of SpychResearch
  4. @lennyism, Leonard Murphy, Editor-in-Chief of the GreenBook Blog and key conference organizer
  5. @AndrewNeedham, Andrew Needham, CEO of Face… I do believe I know this influencer


But what was it all about?

The conference was an interesting combination of technology and research methods. At first I was worried that we’d get side-tracked by sexy displays of technology, but it remained focused on how we can use technology to assist and augment our research and analysis. But while the first day was marked by excitement, the next two days saw lower online volumes as people got into the routine of going to panels. The panels themselves were very quick, mostly only 20 minutes long, so there was less to Tweet about for each speaker.

I wish I had been there in person – but seeing as I had work to do in New York, this Pulsar TRAC search was the next best thing.


Want to learn more about how you can use online buzz to follow content and conversations? Register now for our Viral Video Webinar: Gangnam Style vs Harlem Shake on 10 July!

3 Reasons Social Media is Different In China

By now brands know that they can’t just waltz into China and expect the same strategies they use in the US to work there. But too often this takes the form of trying to “localize” their activities by putting a Chinese spin on to plans originally created for Western markets.

This, I argue, doesn’t take culture seriously enough. It treats it as a problem of basic translation, as though the copy and digital channels can simply be swapped in to “Chinesify” a digital strategy, while the foundational insights and structural approach remain the same. But this doesn’t recognize what culture is.

Coke Blog Image 4

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined culture as “systems of meaning” and “the total way of life of a  people”. From linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that “the structure of a language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers and thus influences their thought patterns and worldviews.”

So designing a brand strategy in China has to start from this fundamental basis: meaning, thought patterns and worldviews. “Sina Weibo = Chinese Twitter” is not going to cut it.

In one of my previous blogs, I described how three Western brands are succeeding in China through deep insisghts into Chinese digital behavior and family relationships.

Here I look at more depth at digital content strategies, and how some brands – such as Coca-Cola – have succeeded.

Let’s look at how Coca-Cola uses online content in the two markets as an example.

Coca-Cola Mirage Campaign

In the US, Super Bowl ads are an attraction in and of themselves. So when Coca-Cola wanted to make an engaging ad campaign called “Mirage” for the football game, they went all out. “Mirage” was a choose-your-own-adventure style ad with three teams racing to get a Coca-Cola. After watching the set-up TV ad, Super Bowl viewers could then log in and vote on whom they think should win the Coke and even “sabotage” the other teams, unlocking more content.

Coca Cola Share a Coke in China

In China, Coca-Cola recently launched their “Share a Coke” summer initiative. In Western markets, this initiative takes the form of names on the bottles, but in China the names are substituted with nicknames like “cool dude.” The packaging campaign is combined with online activities, such as a Sina Weibo contest, search marketing ads on Baidu, and a campaign website. This campaign is all about community and the social aspect of the brand. It encourages people to literally share a Coke, or at least share content with each other. Meanwhile, the American campaign is competitive, pitting teams against each other.

Now, of course the two types of campaigns are different. One is a three month campaign for summer and the other is event-driven. But by studying how these campaigns structure their content, we’ll be able to identify some key principles of developing social content for China vs. the US.

Channel integration in the US… but channel multiplication in China

Our social media in the States is dominated by Facebook and Twitter. In the US for instance, 94% of US teens have a Facebook page and 24% use Twitter. The percentage on Twitter is rising, up from 16% in 2011. While there are plenty of other social networks in the US, only 11% of online teens use Instagram, 7% YouTube and 5% Tumblr [Source]. As Facebook and Twitter have developed, they’ve also built in ways to integrate content from other channels, with Facebook news-sharing and Twitter Cards bringing this content in-app. This further reduces the need for users to travel to other networks. Brands can concentrate on their Facebook channel and Twitter channels to reach much of the market in the States.

Not so in China. Chinese people are members of more social networks on average than Americans – 3.4 networks in China compared to 2.1 in the US. Part of this could be because each network has its own distinct purpose:

  • QQ/Qzone is focused on gaming, as is
  • Sina Weibo has most brand and celebrity activity (most like Twitter)
  • RenRen started by reconnecting school-friends
  • WeChat is for chat
  • Pengyou uses real names
  • Jiayuan is for dating.
  • Douban is devoted to interests and hobby groups, e.g. music & film

[Useful infographic and article]

Channel specific strategies in the US… but channel agnosticism in China

This network proliferation affects how brands have to structure their campaigns in the different markets. In the US, there seems to be a focus on making content fit the channel. This kind of strategy only works, however, because there aren’t really that many channels to focus on.

As part of the “Mirage” Super Bowl ad, Coca-Cola went ahead and made custom content for a variety of platforms, such as Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. They shot behind the scenes photos for Instagram and pre-recorded the race losers’ press conferences for YouTube.

In China, this simply wouldn’t work. You’d have to craft different content for both Weibos (Sina and Tencent) separately, not to mention all the other platforms. That’s a bit much, particularly when Western brands are still building their content teams for the Chinese market. Why not just be channel agnostic?

Amy Chen, Interactive Marketing Director at Coca-Cola Greater ChinaThis is Coke’s strategy in China. Amy Chen, interactive marketing director at Coca-Cola Greater China, described how it is important for a brand to remain platform agnostic, “If your communication is good, it doesn’t matter which social platforms you use to receive customer response.” [Source]

You can see this philosophy in action in the Chinese version of “Share a Coke.” On the campaign website, users can easily share content to both Sina and Tencent Weibo and they’ve used their TV ad in their Baidu search marketing. Content is not channel specific – it’s channel ambivalent.

Chinese internet users create more content than Americans online

There is more to this than the structure of the social networking landscapes in the two markets, though.

Chinese people are more active content creators than people in the US. In China, 76% of internet users are content creators, actively posting to social media. In the US, that number is just 25% (see more stats here).

Using that knowledge, let’s revisit how Coke approached the US and China again. In the US, the campaign focused on releasing new content and voting. Not sharing, and not submitting ideas. Yes, there was engagement – the audience could also choose to sabotage the other teams. But the focus wasn’t on posting, organizing friends, or inventing new ways to sabotage. It was a simple, though definitely fun, game.

Meanwhile in China, users on the campaign website are invited to create their own nick-names for their Coke bottles and share those with their friends. As part of the Sina Weibo contest, followers reposted the nicknames that caught their eye. Yes, this is low-level content creation, but it is content creation nonetheless.

Chinese consumers are more accepting of branded content

According to this study, 77% of Chinese web users believe brands with a social media presence are more attractive. Compare that to this research that says that only 15% of North Americans even trust posts by brands on social media sites.

This might be why Amy Chen also made a point to say that brands should nurture the trust they have from consumers. For example, not running a “win an iPad” promotion and to gain followers when you risk losing all those followers once the promotion is over. What she means is that brands should maintain their authenticity. This in turn will help them retain the trust consumers have in them.

Going back to the two Coca-Cola campaigns, then, there is a clear difference between the type of content consumers were asked to engage with. In the US, the content was actually a humorous story about three different teams racing across the desert. Yes, they were racing to get a Coke, but really people were engaging with the fun story. After all, the three teams were showgirls, cowboys, and badlanders. Maybe they should have added pirates and ninjas, but that’s still plenty of fun characters to play with. It’s branded content, but the story is not just about the brand.

Meanwhile in China, consumers were engaging directly with the Coke packaging, suggesting and sharing nicknames that they would put on the bottles. This aligns with another of Amy Chen’s points – putting the consumer on a level footing with the brand by having them share the common message. In the Chinese campaign, consumers are playing directly with the brand itself, co-creating the meaning. Unlike the American campaign, here the brand is truly center-stage as consumers design their own product packaging.

These three points add up to two very different pictures in the US and China. It’s more than just saying that they have different social networking sites in China than in the US. There is a very different approach to using social networks and engaging with brands in the two markets.

Some brands get it. Coke certainly seems to. In the US, fan engagement with the “Mirage” campaign surpassed expectations, topping 11 million. It’s still too early to tell if the “Share a Coke” campaign will achieve similarly stellar results in China, but I’m optimistic for the brand. They’ve put the effort in to understanding the Chinese social media landscape and consumer-brand relationships – let’s hope it pays off.

Key links:


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