November 19, 2013 - 1 comment.

Sweat the small stuff: how the smallest of social media mistakes can have a big impact

Christmas is in the air. We’ve started drinking mulled wine, munching on mince pies, singing along to Christmas songs and the orders for the office Christmas party are in! But it’s not all about Christmas cheer – for marketing departments across the UK this is the time when a whole heap of their hard-fought-for marketing budget is spent on multi-million pound through-the-line campaigns and months of hard work comes to fruition. Instead of a time being filled with joy, Christmas can be nerve-wracking for both agencies and brands alike, who are waiting in anticipation to see if a campaign with fly and steal the festive hearts of the nation.

Every year we anticipate the Christmas adverts and their release always causes a storm over Social Media. People analyse them, criticise them, applaud them, compare them… you name it, they say it.

As many of you will know first-hand, extensive planning goes into ensuring that expensive Christmas brand campaigns hit the spot with their audience and in return help sales to soar.  A lot of time is spent ensuring that the TV advert is perfect and that the print ads and accompanying website have been through reams of AB testing. However, even when everything is planned and tested down to a tee, sometimes the smallest of mistakes and lack of forethought have the potential to make a big impact. However, social media is often forgotten about and in a fully integrated campaign it is often left behind until the last minute.

Social media can help an integrated campaign fly – but it’s also a channel where the very nature of it means that the smallest of mistakes can have a real knock on effect for a brand. Let’s take this year’s John Lewis “The Bear and the Hare” Christmas advert as an example. Now, I don’t know about you but I think this advert is lovely. It really pulls at the heart strings and was clearly well thought out – as this article in Creative Review reveals. This is why it was a shame that the level of quality associated with the brand slipped slightly when it came to their social media strategy. So much so that it ended up costing them valuable followers.

So what exactly was the problem? Well, many of the tweets about the Christmas advert were directed to @JohnLewis, a very polite gentleman in Virginia who kindly replied to every tweet he received and directed them to @JohnLewisRetail – the actual John Lewis brand account. John Lewis Retail were lucky that John Lewis was so friendly and redirected the tweets – I’m not sure I would have done that! The result? @JohnLewis’ followers have soared to 5,000, compared to the 60 that he had before the campaign was launched, followers that could have been @JohnLewisRetail’s.

That being said, John Lewis (the retailer, not the man in Virginia) did have a brilliant idea that should be applauded. They created two separate Twitter handles for the characters in their Christmas advert – the bear and the hare. On the surface this sounds great; encouraging even more engagement with the brand, more social following and more handles to promote their brand and campaign. However, a small mistake nearly cost them these benefits by promoting the wrong Twitter handles over on their main account.

As an article on BirdSong points out, @JohnLewisRetail mentioned the wrong accounts in their profile, and these were widely spread across the internet. John Lewis were quoting and tweeting to @JohnLewis_Bear and @JohnLewis_Hare when they should have been mentioning @JohnLewisBear and @JohnLewisHare. Although John Lewis later reported that the bear and the hare’s Twitter handles were changed to the more streamlined version with no underscore to help people to find the accounts, I’m left wondering why this wasn’t considered within their initial social media strategy – a lot of confusion could have been avoided this way!

The John Lewis Christmas advert this year has undoubtedly caught the hearts of the UK and it’s a brilliant example of an integrated campaign, however the lacking of foresight in the social strategy stops it from being exceptional. In fact, recent research has revealed that M&S is winning the Christmas TV battle in terms of social media with 58.8 million mentions on Twitter, compared with John Lewis’ 45.9 million mentions. Could this partly be down to the more joined up nature of M&S’s Christmas campaign?

Another example of a mistake in a brand’s social strategy was revealed by Kellogg’s last week – one that showcased how important it is to consider tone of voice and the message that you’re trying to portray. Kellogg’s tweet ‘1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child’ caused a storm across Twitter and people were criticising them for using charity as a marketing plan to boost their own profile and revenue. Kellogg’s later deleted the tweet and apologised, but the damage was already done and the story had been spread across multiple news sources, including national newspapers.

These mistakes are definitely not the first, and won’t be the last. However they do show the large impact that small mistakes on social platforms can have. Social Media has the ability to make or break a campaign or grow a brand. There is no proofing process on Twitter – it is real-time so you can’t afford to make mistakes. Even though a tweet can be deleted, it is not often that nobody saw it, or ‘screen-shotted’ it, or retweeted it, or shared it with a friend. What’s clear is that social media needs the same degree of strategy and planning that other channels are party to.