Social media in the UK: Safe bets, risky hits

You’ve heard it all before. To master your marketing, social media campaigns included, you need to “know your audience”. The trouble is, that’s often easier said than done, particularly when you’re trying to reach a local audience; succeeding in the task is far from guaranteed, even when big brands are involved.

Here are three examples of recent social media campaigns from the UK, which illustrate the importance of getting this right, and the dangers of getting it wrong.

The direct link

About a year ago, ZSL London Zoo decided to embrace Facebook Live in its strategy to connect with its followers and drive more engagement on its page. It’s important to remember that not everyone warmed up to that new tool at the time, particularly in Europe which generally tends to be a somewhat slower adaptor to new trends in social media than the US or Asia, but the move certainly worked well for ZSL. It’s been a brilliantly simple way for the organization to give its fans exactly what they want, by utilizing a resource it already had so much of.

Most of its videos focus on the animals themselves, such as this popular clip of two rare Sumatran tiger cubs captured on camera bare moments after their birth. There are also those, however, which strikes a more educational note, by featuring live Q&A sessions with the animals’ handlers. In line with best practices, ZSL’s Facebook videos make use of subtitles, so they can be followed easily in mute mode too.

A large amount of engagement the posts achieved and the total views the videos get are a testament to the strategy’s success. Some of the most popular clips have attracted viewership numbers that dwarf the 100k or so fans of the ZSL page, which essentially translates to significantly higher brand visibility.

The indirect link

Innocent Drinks is another example of a UK brand which has managed to connect with its audience, and perhaps more impressively, in a far less direct way too. The smoothie maker is known for its unorthodox approach to everything from its early days to its current website, and of course, its social media marketing strategy could be no exception.

Innocent’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have a distinctive feel to them, in that they never miss on an opportunity to highlight the brand’s “Britishness” – and that’s despite the fact that the company is now majority owned and controlled by Coca-Cola. Case in point, the regular, creative “weather updates”, which employ a characteristic dry British humour to report on the UK’s usually gloomy weather, or the recent sarcastic coverage of last month’s Eurovision (pictured below) contest, an event that’s popular on the Continent, but typically ridiculed by most Brits.

Innocent’s strategy is both clear and focused. Even though some posts may be unrelated to their actual products, they certainly do a great job in reinforcing their image as a vibrant, young and smart brand that’s loyal to its roots; one that its health-conscious target audience would be happy to interact and be associated with.

The weakest link

That type of connection surely can’t be claimed by Walkers Crisps, another British brand, in their own recent campaign. During a rather poorly thought-out competition for tickets to the UEFA Champions League final, they asked their Twitter followers to send through a selfie, which would be superimposed on a blank placard sign held by the veteran footballer and long-time Walkers spokesman Gary Lineker in short promotional video clips.

The football-themed campaign turned out to be a spectacular own goal, as supervision of the pictures sent was minimal to non-existent. Instead of genuine selfies, the campaign was bombarded by headshots of people no brand would ever wish to be associated with; disgraced celebrities, foreign dictators, and serial killers. And it could have been much worse. The videos from the campaign were set to be projected onto giant screens all over Cardiff, the location of the match, though Walkers managed to pull the plug on the campaign in time.

The Walkers social media department dropped the ball in this example on many levels. First, there’s an obvious need to establish a process for checking any incoming user-generated content. Second, as anyone who’s come across the various Trump executive order memes would agree, it’s never a good idea to hold a blank sign up and ask the online community to fill it in however they see fit.

Perhaps the campaign’s biggest fail though was the fact that it underestimated the creativity of the very audience it was targeting. The British public has a strong track record of piling on a form of collective online sarcasm on loosely controlled social media campaigns, most famously demonstrated by last year’s #NameOurShip poll by the NERC.

The bottom line

While the above relates to social media in the UK, the takeaways are obviously more general. Marketing to a local audience is neither a simple nor a straightforward task. Proper research is always an absolute pre-requisite, in order to understand the local culture and the online attitudes, the behaviour, and the practicalities of the audience involved. And this, of course, becomes all the more important when the brand involved is not local itself, as is the case for those in the above examples.

The situation is also way more delicate for brands looking to develop a greater European social media strategy. Although it’s often regarded as one area, the Continent’s numerous different languages, local customs, historical backgrounds and national sensitivities, make it a potential social media minefield without prior extensive research, a proper plan and a well-thought out strategy.

For a start, it might pay off to keep in mind the key takeaways from the above examples. Open up to new tools rolled out by social media platforms, even if your competitors seem less than eager to jump in there first. Dare to be different if that fits well with your image and helps your audience identify with your brand. And of course, if you’re looking to run a viral campaign, put the appropriate checks in place so that you safeguard your brand’s reputation at all costs.