How Coke & Denny’s React To Real-Time Events On Social Media
How are some of the world's largest companies doing real-time marketing? Contributor Mark Traphagen summarizes tidbits from SMX Social Media Marketing.
You can buy a Coke at a Denny’s restaurant, but otherwise, the two brands would seem to have little in common. However, at SMX Social Media Marketing in Las Vegas last week, representatives of those brands demonstrated their common belief in the value of both planning and agility in harvesting the power of real-time events.
In this column, I’ll recap the SMX Social Media session, called “Reacting To Real-Time Events: Being On-Point For Mass Appeal.”
Jen Miller Of Coca Cola: Building A Real-Time Response Hub
Jen Miller, Director of Social Product Strategy for Coca-Cola, described the brand’s Hub Network, a high-tech command and control center designed to assist Coca-Cola’s many product brands and its huge team of marketers in capitalizing on real-time events.
Jen noted that people take 93 million selfies each day and check their phones over 100 billion times. Web users have come to expect everything to be real-time. As technology enabling real-time responses has improved, so have user expectations.
That technology is getting smarter all the time. For example, machines are able to understand images almost as adeptly as humans do. This ability is important to brands like Coca-Cola, as people will often times post an image of one of their products but not label or tag it.
Being able to respond and engage even to casual or non-obvious mentions of your brand provides opportunities to surprise and delight social media users. However, these increased opportunities are accompanied by heightened expectations from a brand’s fans.
“The world has changed; the way we work must change,” Miller stated.
The Challenge Of A Global Brand
Coke is the world’s most socially-discussed brand. That’s both a great opportunity and an enormous challenge.
Social media users consistently love Coca-Cola’s beautiful and engaging campaigns. Those campaigns create “moments” to which people want to respond. But few realize how many responses each moment can generate.
Yet, leaving those responses unengaged not only disappoints fans, it leaves on the table rich data that can lead to both product improvement and better future marketing campaigns.
In addition, being able to track and analyze those massive numbers of fan responses allows Coca-Cola to be nimble in changing or retargeting present campaigns on the fly.
Coke’s Hub Network: Listen – Analyze – Engage
Miller shared that Coke is mentioned more than 35 times a minute — and that’s just in English! Obviously, if Coca-Cola was going to be serious about real-time social media responsiveness, it needed to increase its assets and invest in both new technology and methods.
The answer: The Hub Network.
The Coca-Cola Hub Network is a sophisticated command and control center tasked with implementing the brands three-step goal: to be able to listen, then analyze, and finally to engage in real time.
The Hub Network supports Coke’s 2,200 marketers. It provides those marketers with data as well as suggestions for creating or altering campaigns; but, the individual marketers make the final decision on whether and how to use that data.
Not only does the Hub Network generate campaign ideas and track responses to those campaigns, the group also analyzes conversations around their brand to understand their brand better and to track and respond effectively to emerging problems. This provides valuable feedback that helps Coke create even better campaigns in the future
Miller remarked that brands like Coca-Cola face even more challenges in the future because social conversations are becoming more fragmented and not always easy to find. These conversations aren’t all taking place on the major public social networks.
Science + Art + Community
Coca-Cola’s Hub Network has three guiding operational goals:
- Benchmarking data to understand and act
- Utilizing visual content creation and insights – being able to recognize logos shared but not tagged, for example
- Scaling the connected community
Being able to discern “good” from “great” conversations by data computed in real time gives them a benchmark to know when to act or not act. To implement engagement, the Hub Network believes “speed trumps perfection.” In other words, it’s often more important to jump into conversations or react to changes in user sentiment quickly rather than waiting until the perfect asset is created.
As an example of Coke’s agility, within minutes after #selfie started to trend when it was announced as the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year, Coke put its “hustle team” on it to quickly develop and distribute assets their marketers could use if they wanted to.
However, it’s not all instant response and “hustle teams” in Coca-Cola’s Hub Network. Planning enters in, too, like anticipating events likely to go viral (#royalbaby for example) and having campaigns ready for their marketers.
Miller said that brands need to be playful but thoughtful. They should ask themselves, “How can our brand enter into a social conversation in a way that people will enjoy and feel like it fits?” People will be more accepting of a brand entering their social media conversations if it seems like the brand “gets it” and adds either to the fun or the information (or both).
However, Miller noted, a brand sometimes needs to be willing to push the boundaries a bit and take some reasonable chances. Case in point: Cokes very popular #americaisbeautiful Super Bowl ad.
Coca-Cola experimented with several possibly controversial topics in that commercial, including the first same sex couple in Coke ad. For campaigns like this, the Hub Network plan is to seed the content and then evaluate responses over time.
In this case, the ad generated an unexpected conversation on immigration. Because of the developed technology of the Hub Network, Coca-Cola was able to quickly see when it needed to get involved, and when it could stand back and let the community make the response. The latter is an example of the principle of leveraging communities to scale response.
As a side benefit, the data gained after the Super Bowl helped Coke to see how it could best adapt the campaign months later for the Sochi Olympics.
Jen also said the best thing is when fans want to share your brand content. Coca-Cola tracks a brand love score, and they watch to see if social seems to affect it. She added that it’s important to get your team to agree on the core metrics to watch.
Eric Jensen – How Denny’s Became “America’s Diner”
Eric Jensen, Denny’s Director of Advertising and Merchandising, shared how Denny’s Restaurants used real-time social media to help resurrect a dying brand.
Just a few years ago, Denny’s found itself in the position of having 97% brand awareness and yet becoming increasingly irrelevant. Adults that had loved Denny’s in their college years were not coming back to the restaurant as they matured. How had Denny’s lost its fans?
Jensen said the company had to face the reality that its brand had become outdated. People were increasingly looking for “fast casual” — high quality food delivered fast and cheap.
Compounding Denny’s problems was a lack of distinctiveness. It was no longer the only restaurant open all night serving breakfast. If all that wasn’t enough, it was still trying to overcome loss of reputation from a much-publicized 1994 discrimination scandal.
So the company changed.
Denny’s started by listening to customers. The company spent two years studying its guests. Customers told them, “Your assets are dated. We want a comfortable place. Your menu’s outdated. We want more value and healthy choices. And you’re a diner.”
They thought deeply about that last one. Instead of denying the “you’re a diner” critique, they adopted it and made it something special. “Denny’s is America’s Diner” became its new slogan and the impetus for the complete re-imagination of the brand.
Denny’s knew it was uniquely positioned to bring back the nostalgia many people have for the neighborhood diner, but with the quality and comfort modern consumers expect. And for that combination of values, there was no competitor.
The next step was to ask themselves, what does it mean to be America’s diner? Jensen emphasized the importance of understanding your brand’s purpose. While researching its own history, Denny’s discovered that its founder had said, “I love to serve people.”
How could the company expand on that? It came up with its new operating and marketing principle: feed people what they’re hungry for (and it’s not just food!), the key function of a diner. Denny’s internal rallying cry: became “We love to feed people.”
All the marketing (not just online, but also TV, menus, in-store assets, etc.) is now based on: what people are hungry for that a diner fulfills.
Jensen added that to be successful in social media it is critical to convince upper management that direct ROI doesn’t matter for social. You have to get the execs to focus on the value of engagement figures, and to understand that social is a brand-building campaign. Don’t forget to track press mentions and count them as successes if the successes were caused by your social campaigns.
Kevin Purcer: How An Agency Helps Rebuild A Brand
Kevin Purcer, Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Strategy at Erwin Penland, shared how it as an agency helped Denny’s to develop real-time marketing campaigns to build the “America’s Diner” brand image.
Eric Jensen of Denny’s noted that Denny’s considers its relationship with the Erwin Penland agency as absolutely essential to its success. He recommended that brands wanting to grow online partner with an experienced agency that the company trusts, as well its own team members.
The agency’s objective was to bring the diner booth to the social cloud. To do that, it knew Denny’s had to be able to ebb and flow with real-time conversations, just as friends do around a good meal.
Recognize Who Is In The Booth
For social media, the agency knew it had to find out who the younger people are that come to Denny’s. It modeled out that generations’ 24/7 appetite for conversations that happen in a diner booth and how they translate to the online world.
Creating The Conversations
The next task was setting up operations to be able to create and stimulate “diner booth” conversations online. However, Denny’s is a much smaller company than Coca-Cola. It just can’t implement something on the magnitude of Coke’s Hub Network. In fact, Denny’s entire online content team consists of six people!
The Denny’s team starts with a daily scrum about how various campaigns and content pieces have been performing. Out of those discussions they make adjustments as needed to their content calendar (The Wall), which is literally a whiteboard on their office wall.
The tools the team uses for real-time monitoring are very simple: what’s trending on Twitter, Reddit, Google, etc. While technology is great, Purcer noted that there is no substitute for live community managers which are plugged in and listening.
Even though Denny’s wants to be agile in its real-time responses, it does have editorial guidelines to decide what it can do and what it actually does in response to anything it encounters online.
Another crucial aspect of Denny’s real-time response is the ability to amplify in real time at the right time. This has the flexibility to respond in real time when it’s right to do so. Denny’s has done careful data collection and analysis so that any boost that comes at the right time, it calls CEV (Content Engagement Velocity).
Too soon or too late, and the amplification does not have its maximum effect. Sometimes, Denny’s uses a modest amount of paid social promotion to boost, based on a benchmark of content that is trending well. It is able to identify those opportunities and act on them within 15-45 minutes.
Purcer said that another key to Denny’s agile, real-time response is the brand’s open culture. Anybody from the CEO down can email the social team to suggest what they should be talking about or comment about conversations in progress.
Some Denny’s Real-Time Social Highlights
Purcer shared some highlights of content his agency had helped Denny’s create in response to real-time trending events.
Here’s what they did when news first broke about the first gold-colored iPhone:
And here’s what they tweeted when Apple announced it was buying the popular Beats by Dre headphones brand:
What results has Denny’s seen from these real-time campaigns? Purcer shared that these campaigns generated 600 million+ social impressions, 101% follower growth, over 9 million engagements, and 2,322 average engagements per post.
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