Jumping on the social media bandwagon

For just about anyone engaged and/or employed in advertising these days it seems social media is a foregone conclusion, especially when dealing with their latest customer and their brand. The bandwagon consensus is that everyone needs to have an active social presence and be tweeting and posting on Facebook to be relevant. Do they really though? Are there brands and companies out there that really aren’t going to benefit from joining the groundswell? Certainly not every single company on the planet needs to engage in a social media campaign, right? Right.

AdAge just posted an interesting article a couple days ago by Mike Werch, recounting his experience squatting on a brands identity on Twitter. From the onset, it sounds a bit dubious but as Mike states “I intended to be a voice for the brand, not someone who harmed it.” As such I found the short article an interesting, and insightful glimpse into a average person’s social experience with a big brand. Using the @HJ_Heinz (now @notHT_Heinz) moniker, he set forth to unleash his personal enthusiasm for a well established brand with strong roots in the Pittsburgh community, while exploring what would happen once they found out. It didn’t take long (just two weeks), and once Heinz discovered the pseudo-account they simply contacted Twitter about the breach in Twitters terms, and the name was changed to @notHJ_HEINZ. Simple, decisive corrective action for which I can find no real fault. Could they have contacted him to try and co-opt his feed and expand it? Sure. Could they have tried to engage Mike and see if he could become a brand ambassador for Heinz on Twitter? Yup. Could they have gotten seven kinds of upset and slapped him with a cease and desist letter from their lawyers? Sure, although they did none of those things and simply opted for the simplest solution.

The real question isn’t should Mike have done this, or should they have contacted him? Rather should they be on Twitter and would the company benefit them from being there? Many consumers and professionals alike, being engaged with social media trumps what the company wants to do, which is 180 degrees wrong. Just take a look at the comments after Mike’s article on AdAge, there’s a pretty good run of the gamut there ranging from what Heinz did was wrong, to Twitter is a flash in the pan and worthless. The things is though, you have to want to engage your audience for it to be effective. You can’t simply pick some intern in the marketing department and tell them they are now tweeting about the company – you have to find someone who loves to talk about the company. More than that, there has to be a reason to be there, and there has to be a plan, even if that plan is to simply monitor the conversations that are already in place. Of course monitoring those conversations without an effective platform for engaging them can be fruitless if a situation arises which needs direct attention.

Heinz handled the situation exactly as they needed to, and that’s really all that needs to be said. The only wrong way to handle it would have been to let it continue. They are a strong brand, with an excellent product, reputation and a well executed marketing and advertising strategy which lends itself to the fact that they are the Coke of the ketchup world. Heinz has an excellent web site with a metric ton of content, a lot of which lends itself to be shared among its online community. If they don’t want to be on Twitter all day tweeting about this and that, so what? Maybe they just like it better when we do it for them, which is ultimately what having an online community is about, right?