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A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

I have just read about Coca Cola’s recent Twitter fail at the Super Bowl (and campaign website fail also). A question comes to mind: could the brand have anticipated *and* avoided the issues experienced as it quickly reached its (increased) tweet publishing limit on the social network?

In my view, yes. On two grounds.

First, given the sheer size of the audience targeted on the day of the event, I feel it was ill-advised to use Twitter as a communication tool to thank *individual* users who were voting in its game. The risk of reaching the allowed hourly and daily limits was very real. An eventuality that became all the more real when voters on D Day were redirected to vote via Twitter… when the campaign site crashed under the heavy traffic.

What was the size of the audience I hear you ask?

Enormous. On the day of the incident only, as the ad aired at the start of the game, over 108 million Super Bowl TV viewers (vs 100 million estimated) tuned in and were able to vote for their favourite team through the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.
Add to this the fans of the brand as content was seeded across all its social channels leading up to the game and during the game to get the voting and engagement going: nearly 60 millions Facebook fans, 0.5M+ Twitter followers plus YouTube viewers on top and without counting Tumblr and Instagram.

Not surprisingly, the levels of participation were no less impressive:

On its website, Coca Cola boasts “over 11 million fan engagements” and continues on with “Over one million fans visited CokeChase.com to vote for the characters they liked best. More impressively, those visitors stayed on the site, each participating in an average of eight “sabotages” against opposing factions. While the company anticipated fewer than one million total sabotages, nearly 7.3 million were performed”.

So, did Coca Cola simply become a victim of its own success having underestimated user engagement levels?

Yes but not just.

Regardless of audience sizes, I don’t feel it was necessary to thank voters participating via Twitter. In fact, it would have been ok not to thank them on Twitter in my opinion.

As a frequent user of social media networks, Twitter doesn’t strike me as being the right forum to do this i.e. I would expect a brand to thank me personally for my participation on Facebook but not on Twitter, where this kind of 1:1 interactions are pretty scarce in my own experience.
I feel Twitter is used at its best mainly as a source of up-to-the minute news bites – and when I retweet any of the tweets I receive from the brands, bloggers, etc I follow, I don’t expect them to thank me in return. I guess that’s how I have been conditioned.

As for Twitter’s response and policy on campaigns of that scale – I was relieved to read that Twitter expects advertisers to know better: “For Twitter, the issue boils down to protecting user experience and making sure that people and brands are tweeting in a judicious way”.
Judicious = sensible and Coca Cola was nothing but sensible on this one occasion.

I was equally pleased to find out that it is not Twitter’s intention to create special accounts with super high daily publishing limits. This would equal to a form of spamming in my world and as a Twitter fan, I would be devastated if it ever were to turn into Facebook any time soon, where the level of “advertising spam” is driving away users.

Finally, this one marketing glitch on Coca Cola’s part doesn’t take away the brilliance they have otherwise demonstrated in the planning and execution of their Mirage campaign – this truly was a marketing coup on many grounds and a fine example of how Social TV works – more on this later!

For now, check out the ad that kicked off this one-of-a-kind TV-and-social-media game if you haven’t seen it yet:

I have just read about Qantas latest promo event in the heart of Sydney CBD.

I happened to be walking past Customs House that day and picked up one of the leaflets handed out at the tent where the sand sculptures (v.beautiful BTW) were exhibited.

The promo includes a Facebook competition which you can enter only if you are a fan of the brand.

Check out the lealfet below:

photo (3)

The first thing that’s requested of you to be able to enter the competition is to like their Facebook page.

In other words: Give me your like (and with it the opportunity to broadcast 24/7 to your newsfeed) and I will give you the remote possibility of winning something.

This one line made me want to unlike that Facebook page instantly. Yet this has become common practice amongst advertisers.

To make it worse, the next step requires you to grant permission to an app that will post 24/7 to your timeline. So both timeline and newsfeed are now taken over (slightly intrusive to put it mildly).

In my view, the act of giving a like to a brand should be a genuine act of advocacy for it to generate *enduring* value for the brand (be it awareness, WOM, sales etc) – not obtained via some form of disguised blackmail.

There’s got to be a better way to win over non-fans. Take my personal data for the prize draw and then give me time to get to know you before I get to like you. And if you insist I like you instantly, then give me something back instantly too. It’s called instant reward or instant gratification. Coca Cola did this brilliantly with their Share a Coke campaign – Just zoom in on the picture below:

share a coke

The Share a Coke Facebook page lets you share a song with your friends. Simply and with no catch. (And big thanks to my colleague & mate Kate for sharing this great example with us. Simply and with no catch also :)

Coca Cola Australia has close to 1 million likes (and 60M globally) vs 310,000 for Qantas (globally…) – what does that tell us? That Coca Cola unlike Qantas know a thing or two about social media and how to interact with their audience.

They are not desperately crying out for your Like for a start:

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 6.48.43 PM

Unlike Qantas:

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 6.49.38 PM

Further, you can unlike a page as fast as you like it (or after entering the said competition). And thank God (or Facebook) for that.

Lastly, I have just come across some telling stats from Pew Research Center’s latest survey that just reinforce how damaging the “like me please” approach is – with irrelevant content being the #3 reason for US Facebook users taking a break from the social network. No wonder – if I am forced to like most advertisers out there to be able to enter an online promo, then I will be taking a break soon too.

I recently read about Nike’s decision to bring the day to day management of their social media in-house. With zillions of fans around the world and one of the biggest followings on social media no doubt, this didn’t surprise me.

Traditionally they have been reliant on agencies to do this for them; one of them I happened to work with did it brilliantly. At the time the agency had a full time blogger (former journalist and football enthusiast) on their staff, whose sole job was to blog and respond to Nike Football’s fans posts all day long. I remember thinking what a brilliant job his was! This one guy’s sole job was to blog all day long about what he loved the most and get paid for it. The other thought that crossed my mind then was how long before they insource the job?

What I see in favour of such a move…

Saving on costs – possibly. Gaining an in-depth understanding of your fans by being at the receiving end of their comments and having to deal with it all instantly – certainly. Getting your hands on and making sense of the precious social media data and any insights you can derive from it – absolutely.

All these are valid considerations. The fact remains that, in my view, brands still need an agency’s (brilliant) creative minds to come up with social media campaign ideas that strongly resonate with their fans. Ideas that create the social media buzz and aren’t afraid of shaking up the status quo that may prevail within the client organisation. Social media banter is after all nothing but conservative. Anything goes. An in-house community manager may not just cut it.

Other hurdles I can see…

Community managers are pretty tough hires to make. The blogger I mentioned was a writer by trade and football was his passion. Axe, one of Unilever’s most successful brands, outsources its social media to 2 PR specialists, who live & breathe the brand and carefully craft all their posts to sound like what a 16 yo might write – with millions of fans ‘watching’, the tone has to be right to be credible. The creative writing + the ‘knowing your brand and audience well’ make this job a hard one to fill. Having said this there is no stopping giant brands buying an entire social media agency (Hyundai-Innocean style) or hiring their agency social media staff back.

The logistics could be another pitfall for brands with a global presence. One thing the article on Nike mentioned was their intent to manage all communities from their Portland head office. For social media to be managed effectively you have to be able to respond within minutes of your fan’s comment. How can you do this effectively, and without fail, out of one location across multiple fan pages and timezones? By having someone watching the newsfeed 24/7??

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