Business

Saturday 23 August 2014

Why social media really clicks with Irish companies

Simon Rowe gets a 'Twitter masterclass' and examines how firms can boost their brands

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

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Use It Or Lose It: Michael Fassbender was the road-test subject for the Tourism Ireland team

Be interesting or be ignored. That's what two of the brightest brains on Twitter advised Irish firms recently.

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David Levin, the man behind social media campaigns for BBC's The Voice and The Apprentice, and actor and comedian David Schneider, best known for I'm Alan Partridge and The Day Today, hosted a Twitter masterclass for Irish bosses to help them know their apps from their elbow.

Not surprisingly for experts skilled in crafting campaigns using just 140 text characters at a time, the Tweet-like brevity of their message was simple: Be human. Be different. Be funny.

"Most importantly, be human, whether you're tweeting about a brand or a business," said Levin. "People on Twitter want to follow people. Users want to feel personality." Although consumers now expect companies and brands to have a social media presence, branded content can still be perceived to be boring, uninspiring and not worth sharing, warned Levin. "So it's important to be different."

Comedian Schneider, who has 155,000 Twitter followers, says "humour is key" to success on social media. "It's an instant hook. There is so much 'noise' on Twitter that to cut through it you need something different. It could be bribes - and that does work - but, really, humour is a lot cheaper. If you get loads of retweets, then people are carrying your brand around the internet for very little money, and humour is more likely to do that than anything else."

Surrounding themselves with the best of British comedy talent at their social media agency That Lot, the London-based creative duo have bagged contracts with brands such as Adidas, MoneySupermarket and the Guardian newspaper.

Describing themselves as "Twitter evangelists", the duo are nonetheless realistic in their expectations of what social media can do for brands and businesses. "Twitter is an incredibly powerful marketing tool that can be the closest touch-point between brands and customers but it's not a magic wand," said Levin. "It needs investment, both in terms of creativity and resources," he warned.

Increasingly, though, firms are becoming more savvy when it comes to social media. And the reason is simple: because they have to. The number of people using social media has become too big to ignore. A total of 94pc of Irish people have at least one social media profile. Facebook is still the Goliath in the market with 2.2 million users - a whopping 57pc of everyone over the age of 15 now has a page on the social networking site.

Twitter is gaining ground, however, as it has 600,000 daily Irish users, who collectively send out about one million tweets a day.

One area where Irish brands can excel is by using social media to ride a "topical wave", said Schneider. "If you can catch the topical wave, that can get you purchase - and at a fraction of the price that you can do it for on TV."

A hugely successful example of this in recent weeks was Tourism Ireland's use of the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West honeymoon in Ireland. Tourism Ireland has set up an "always on" social media 'war room' which jumps into action whenever there is a breaking news story that can offer a positive angle to market Ireland abroad. When news of the 'Kimye' honeymoon in Ireland broke, Tourism Ireland's eight-person social media rapid response team launched a guerilla-type campaign to reach the combined 32 million Twitter followers and 22 million Facebook fans of Kim and Kanye. It targeted news sites, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with branded content. A video featuring places visited by the celebrity couple has been viewed 200,000 times on the tourism body's various YouTube channels.

Working from its Dublin bunker, the Tourism Ireland team has been honing its strategy of "borrowing celebrity brand equity" to showcase Ireland globally. The "content marketing" strategy was road-tested on a number of occasions over the past 18 months by piggybacking on Rory McIlroy's recent BMW PGA Championship Tour win at Wentworth and around Michael Fassbender's Oscar nomination this year and Daniel Day-Lewis's Academy Award win last year.

But the ability to respond quickly to a breaking global news story such as the 'Kimye' honeymoon showed that Tourism Ireland's marketing capability has taken on a superior edge, said the agency's e-marketing and social media expert Brian Harte.

"We've invested and have made the budgets available so that our teams can respond rapidly to these promotional opportunities," he said.

Another social media success story in recent years has been overseen by a more unusual marketing guru - a nattily dressed crisp magnate named Mr Tayto. Through the Mr Tayto website and social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, the brand's iconic figurehead has, to date, hijacked a general election, embarked on a nationwide hunt to find a wife, and released his no-holds-barred autobiography, The Man Inside the Jacket. With 270,000 Facebook fans and over 6,500 Twitter followers, the canny crisp king is making a packet for his bosses at Largo Foods. Tayto marketing boss Alina Ui Chaollai said: "The Mr Tayto Facebook page is a vital part of our communications strategy. Engaging with our 275,000 Facebook fans is a priority for us as it help us to build affinity for Tayto."

And Mr Tayto has an extremely loyal fanbase which his corporate bosses don't want to tamper with. "Consumers today are receptive to brand messages as long as they are relevant to them, the messaging is selective and frequency of messaging is managed," said Ui Chaollai. "We respect these boundaries and in turn our consumers respond favourably to the news we share with them."

But Irish firms' ongoing success with social media may be thwarted if social media channels lose their appeal with consumers and user rates decline sharply. Concerns about Twitter's long-term future have been swirling around for months. User numbers worldwide are falling, growth is stagnant and pundits wonder if Twitter is heading toward irrelevance.

"Social media can be fickle,"admits Twitter guru Levin. "For every Facebook there's a MySpace or Bebo. But the way people use Twitter is more creative than other social networks and that's why I have confidence in its longevity."

And as more Irish SMEs dip their toe in the social media water, they're all hoping that Levin is right.

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