Social Media Research – is the current Waitrose campaign debate missing the point?

Social Media Research – is the current Waitrose campaign debate missing the point?

When you can’t be sure if a social media campaign is a success or failure then maybe it’s time to do some research. Waitrose’s recent Twitter campaign generated a vast amount of publicity and split opinion among marketing folk in the process. For those unaware of the furore, the supermarket asked its Twitter followers to complete the following sentence “I shop at Waitrose because…” I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

A torrent of amusing and ironic tweets about Waitrose’s perceived “poshness” issued forth from its followers. It seems there is a fine line between a campaign going viral, and one being hijacked the public. This one got hijacked. “I shop at Waitrose because…” certainly seemed to push a few buttons, here are some of the amusing tweets which concluded the statement:

“...the butler had a week off”

“...Clarissa’s pony just will NOT eat ASDA Value straw”

“...everyone on our estate does. Even the gamekeepers”

“...I don't shop at Waitrose. The servant does”

Instead of abandoning the campaign immediately, Waitrose's official twitter account reacted with good humour, thanking followers for their amusing #waitrosereasons tweets. You may argue, what else could Waitrose do to react to the situation, or did they anticipate this type of response?

Was the campaign as ill advised as some marketing experts pointed out? Given its change in positioning during the recession, with Waitrose trying to distance itself from its “expensive” tag, the campaign can be viewed as a massive own goal. Certainly marketing commentator Mark Ritson thought so, his piece in Marketing Week “Why marketers are socially stupid” pulled no punches.

But was the campaign a great vehicle to raise awareness and get more people involved in the brand? The same article quotes, Jason Woodford of digital marketing agency SiteVisibility, who thought the campaign was “a clever marketing ploy” which “reinforced its brand values of quality and reliably excellent service as a key point of differentiation from the other grocery chains”.

However, perhaps both camps in the debate are missing the point. Much of the coverage has been based on the effect the campaign has had on Waitrose’s reputation. I think a more salient point, is what effect it has had on engagement and online advocacy among its fans and followers.

We know that large numbers of Twitter followers got engaged in the campaign, but what we don’t know is whether they continue to be engaged, what the nature of that engagement is or whether they are indeed advocates or critics. It may be possible to mock a brand but still like it (and people like to mock). We also don’t know whether the majority of tweets were meant as good natured banter or withering sarcasm.

However – we now have the tools to find out through social media research. What Waitrose should do now is monitor and analyse the Tweets. This will provide a broader picture – often the press focus on negative tweets, but in reality, positive tweets may well have been more representative of the overall response. Also it will enable Waitrose to identify key influencers and engage with them. This will allow the supermarket to generate further content and get involved in further research activities with the influencers, to determine whether such tweets have a negative effect on advocacy and sales. This is a great opportunity for Waitrose to engage with its online community, even recruit for its own private branded communities. Some of the Tweeters have shown to be witty and inventive –aren’t these exactly the people Waitrose should want to co-create with?

Of course the majority of Tweeters may turn out to hold highly negative views of Waitrose. But until the comments are analysed and acted upon and research is conducted among the Tweeters themselves, we will never really know whether the campaign was a huge blunder or an inspired risk.

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