Don’t mention the competition. Can this immutable law of marketing stand in the intimate new world of social media?
Social media is about open communication and creates an egalitarian community where individuals and brands interact as equals.
This cosy environment draws brands together in the same conversation and obliges them to interact more directly than they would through traditional marketing communications.
Take this example of a customer unhappy with Westpac’s changes to its rewards program for credit cards.
“@Westpac Letter received and no offer of anything other than to suck eggs, which is why I am terminating my banking arrangements with WBC.” – Politicious One (@Politicious)
A typical contact centre response follows:
“@Politicious Hi there, if you'd like to send us a DM with your full name, contact number & post code we can follow up for you. ~Spencer” – Westpac Bank (@Westpac)
But the customer ups the ante by looping in NAB:
“Wow @Westpac I have been enamoured by the (lack of) contact thus far. Luckily, today I made an application with @NAB who seem to care!” – Politicious One (@Politicious)
And now both banks find themselves in the same consumer conversation. NAB delivers a stock social media response complete with exclamation marks and emoticons:
“@Politicious Hi P, glad to have you on board! Let me know if there's anything I can help with from here ^SH” – NAB (@NAB)
…only to be dumped, as the consumer’s bet pays off and @Westpac addresses his concerns:
“Hi @NAB Received a call from a nice man @Westpac and solved my problem, so cancelled my nab app. Maybe next time if I decide to break up :)” – Politicious One (@Politicious)
Which NAB accepts with good grace:
“@Politicious No worries P! Thanks for the update- Feel free to shout out if you need a hand in future ^SH” – NAB (@NAB)
Both the NAB and Westpac reps replied only to @Politicious even though his Tweet included both their Twitter handles and the standard etiquette would be to reply to both.
It looks like brands are attempting to stick to the marketing orthodoxy of not mentioning or addressing competitors. With traditional communications channels, marketers had greater control of the medium and the message. They could take a conservative approach to the legal, regulatory and PR risks involved in taking on competitors directly. But is this policy tenable as brands increasingly rub shoulders when servicing their customers and marketing to new prospects?
Most brands have worked hard to tune their social communications and find the right voice for social media. In a community which values openness and honesty, they risk undermining this work by sticking with policy rooted in different media. At best they appear awkward by studiously ignoring other participants in the Twitter conversation; at worst they could be seen as sneaky.
Brands should consider their approach to these multi-brand conversations. They will only become more common as consumers realise the power of playing brands off against each another in an open forum. It is the consumer that benefits when each response becomes a challenge for other brands to match, creating a bidding war for the consumer’s business.
Here’s a fed-up St.George customer inviting pitches for his credit card business:
“bye bye @StGeorgeBank – that was one harassing phone call too many. Who wants my CC business? @CommBank @ANZbankJP @NAB @uBank @Bankwest ??” – Sean O'Byrne (@seanobyrne)
While ANZ is on the receiving end of this customer who uses hash tags rather then @mentions to invite other banks into the conversation:
“@ANZ_AU You have got to be the most irresponsible bank I have ever banked with. And I have a lot of Bank accounts. #NotHappy #CBA #BankSA” – Steph Haughey (@StephHaughey)
It is not just consumers that are initiating these multi-brand conversations. We are also starting to see some brands taking the initiative and approaching dissatisfied Tweeters uninvited. But these cold calls are risky, given the difficulty of brands finding the right tone for social media and the fact that they play out in public, as CBA found in this exchange.
A clearly upset Nick vents about Westpac:
“@Westpac are the worst financial organization ever! You have stolen OUR money, left us with nothing and are fucking aresholes #gotohell” – Nick (@hughsiesview)
CBA tries it on, but gets the tone wrong. Its coy reference to Westpac is at odds with Nick’s frankness:
“@hughsiesview Hi Nick, we’ve noticed your dissatisfaction with your current financial institution, is there anything we can do to help?” – CommBank (@CommBank)
…which he now directs at CBA:
“@CommBank @westpac no you're all fucked! Fuck off!” – Nick (@hughsiesview)
Matt Travers is the founder of service comparison website ServiceRage, which uses social media feedback to rank Australian companies.