eric whelan

When they were (jokingly) attacked on their Facebook page about how their representation of women in their adverts wasn’t realistic, you’d expect a company like Bodyform to give a straightforward response. Bodyform haven’t exactly been held up as a shining example of great social media use, but their response this time was pretty impressive.

Their response was this fantastic video which has now been viewed by over 1 million people in the two days it’s been online and will no doubt go down as one of the best uses of social media by a big organisation this year. And it’s easy to see why.

Why Facebook won’t give you the results you’re expecting

A new report from Constant Contact claims that 37% of small organisations who said they were using Facebook as a marketing tool don’t think it has helped them at all. No sales, no exposure, no extra traffic through the doors. And it’s not really surprising.

As a digital media trainer, the look of shock on trainees’ faces whenever I mention that I don’t think Facebook is that helpful in engaging new audiences never ceases to amuse me. Amongst the gasps and confused stares, someone always blurts out “then what are we here for?!” which is an understandable question. We constantly hear about how Facebook should be your number one tool for capturing new audiences, how it is a place to showcase the brilliant work you’re doing.

But that’s simply not true.

Recently I led a session training some very big-name organisations in using digital tools for corporate responsibility and this point came up again. While I’m sure some people in the room disagreed with me, I put forward that Facebook doesn’t offer you the tools to find and engage new audiences. You can’t search for topics that people are talking about. You can’t message people as an organisation. You definitely can’t drop in on interesting conversations to encourage users to talk about you or your services. You can’t even see the details of people that have Liked your page on Facebook anymore.

But you can with Twitter. The simple fact is that Twitter is a far superior tool for engaging audiences which is why it is seeing ever-growing engagement while engagement on Facebook seems to be stalling. You can search for topics that people are talking about. You can drop in on conversations and engage people that didn’t know you existed.

Facebook seems to finally have worked out what it’s trying to do. Early users will remember when it was a requirement that status updates began with “Joe Blogs is…”. Since the verb was removed in late 2007, we’ve seen Facebook focus more and more on what Joe Bloggs was doing. It’s no longer about what’s happening now; all Facebook cares about is what has already happened. We only need to look at Timeline – which was introduced earlier this year with an invitation to “tell your life story” – to see that Facebook is becoming somewhere to reminisce rather than reveal. The death of Facebook Places, which allowed users to tell their friends where they were at any given moment, is another sign of a shift in focus.

Digital marketing and community engagement is all about the here and now which is why Facebook marketing just isn’t working for the smaller businesses in Constant Contact’s report. It’s a great tool for talking to people who have chosen to connect with you but again, this goes back to something that has already happened. Chances are, these users are established customers so it’s no wonder these organisations aren’t seeing jumps in revenue; they’re preaching to the choir.

If they really want to grab the attention of new audiences, these companies will have to look elsewhere. Twitter is where people are talking about what’s happening now, what they’re interested and what they’re going to do in the future. These are the people that can be engaged and these are the people that you can entice through your doors.

We need to stop selling Facebook as the be-all and end-all of digital marketing. It’s a great tool - especially for established, high-profile brands - but it’s not going to give you the amazing results so many organisations are expecting.

What can we learn from Bloc’s social disaster?

­Bloc 2012 has been an unmitigated disaster. The outrage from festival goers on the web is impossible to avoid and it definitely looks like there are serious questions to be answered about the competence of the management and security. I’m not here to complain about the festival (I didn’t attend), but there are lessons to be learned from Bloc’s very public disaster which we witnessed as the festival went into meltdown late last night.

Bloc has over 8k followers on Twitter and over 37k Likes on Facebook. As the festival site apparently descended into chaos, social media was the one place that Bloc could have at tried to communicate with those at the festival about the problems that were being faced. But instead, they decided to continue as if everything was going brilliantly. It’s more important, it seems, to save face than to listen to what your audience were screaming at you.

As attendees pleaded for information about why they were queuing for up to three hours to enter the venue before being faced with more queues for the stages, Bloc thought it would be better to put out photos of the “fantastic” performances; performances that their audiences were unable to access. As the issues on site got serious and the police were called in, Bloc took a silent stance, not releasing any information at all to festival goers. A day later, their Twitter still hasn’t been updated despite the scathing words coming from attendees who felt hard done by. #bloc2012 makes for some really interesting, if sweary, reading.

Six hours after the site was shut down, Bloc finally released a statement of sorts. But it’s a case of too little too late; Bloc ignored their audience when they were needed the most. They had a hugely powerful communication tool at their fingertips but instead decided try and protect their reputation by not admitting to their failings.

So what can we learn from Bloc’s complete social failure? These points might seem obvious but I see orgs failing their audience all the time by ignoring some simple steps.

Listen to your audience:
When your audience are screaming at you that there is something wrong, listen. Tweets about huge queues appeared on Twitter from about 6.30pm yet there is no mention of  it in any of Bloc’s tweets from the day.  Bloc should have tweeted about long waiting times and advised festival goers to arrive early to ensure they saw the acts they wanted to.

Don’t pretend everything’s ok:
This was one of Bloc’s biggest mistakes. As thousands of tweets came in expressing frustration about the festival, they continued to tweet about great performances and retweeted the few happy tweets they received. It’s likely that this infuriated those who were having a bad time since it basically undermines their complaints. Saying “everything is great!” when it clearly isn’t is simply not a good idea. Listen, respond and try to fix the problem.

Admit when you’ve messed up:
Easily the most glaring mess up that Bloc made was their silence. A day later, there’s still no admittance from them that they made a huge mistake and lost control of the event. Festival goers are obviously angry about what happened, but much of the flak Bloc are receiving from them could have been avoided if they had of simply accepted it and apologised. I’m not saying they needed to put out a full statement at 1am, but a tweet and Facebook update with any kind of information would have gone a long way.

Still nothing from Bloc a whole day later.

Make it right:
Even at this late stage, Bloc can still save themselves from the social disaster they’ve created. There’s still time to communicate with their audience, explain what happened and say sorry but considering their silence last night, I wouldn’t be confident this will happen.

I understand that things were tricky last night – there was a real risk to festival goers and obviously fixing this and getting people out of the venue safely was top priority. But that doesn’t mean Bloc should have ignored their entire social audience. The complete silence was disastrous and in some ways, chilling. It could easily have made attendees feel as though the festival had abandoned them. It takes all of 30 seconds to write a short update. Why didn’t Bloc do this? Why did they decide to completely ignore the thousands of people who were turning to social media for guidance?

The only people that were willing to offer any advice to festival goers last night was the venue, The Pleasure Gardens. This is a simple tweet that Bloc could have copied: hell, they could have retweeted it.

But instead they stood silent and let thousands of people who were their responsibility fend for themselves.  Let’s compare The Pleasure Gardens’ most recent tweets to Bloc’s. It says a lot, doesn’t it?


Canadian band Metric played in London last night and used Instagram to give away five pairs of tickets to their show.  Tweeting that they’d be posting pairs of tickets near the venue, the band put the passes in envelopes which were then stuck in easy to recognise locations around Shepherd’s Bush. They posted these photos on Instagram and Twitter, allowing their fans to race to win for the passes.

Really simple but effective way to use Instagram to grab your followers attention! 

How not to engage an audience on Twitter… yes, again.

In the third of what appears to be an ongoing series, yet another organisations has proved how  oblivious it is of what Twitter is used for. A few months ago, I wrote about how a Twitter account for an in-production BBC 3 TV show was spamming anyone and everyone on Twitter to try and find people to take part. Not surprisingly, it ended up that The Year of Making Love was a disaster, with only 300 out of 1000 contestants turning up for recording and a good number of those that did eventually walking out.

Now a production company, again producing a show for BBC 3, have taken the same approach to finding subjects, spamming accounts looking for retweets to help find people to take part. The only difference this time is that the company seemed to be approaching other companies as opposed to going directly to potential subjects, but that’s a very minor difference.

While @YearofMakingLuv got away with it, Twitter were having none of it from @BoomTownTVShow, whose account was quickly suspended. What’s the lesson? Twitter’s a place for conversation, not for spamming. It’s good to see that Twitter themselves have started to crack down on accounts that don’t understand that.

Facebook Timeline for Brands

A few weeks back, I tweeted about Timeline coming to brand pages on Facebook. A friend who works for a digital agency had just come from a meeting at Facebook during which they were told that Timeline would roll out to brand pages in late February or early March.

Mashable are now reporting the same story so with the roll out looking more likely, I wanted to point out why Timeline will make such a big difference to marketers.

The most obvious addition to Timeline is the large cover photo which can be added to the top of the profile. This is one of the features that has been heavily reported since Timeline was originally unveiled in September and its merits are fairly obvious; Heavy branding and a more personalised feel to the page.

But there are two other additions to the Timeline that have generally been overlooked. It’s these tools that got me interested in what was displayed on my Facebook page again as I was finally able to paint a proper picture of myself on the social network. For brands, they offer a way to highlight important stories and events in addition to their day-to-day updates. The first one of these additions is the event adder.

This option allows you to add significant events or dates to your Timeline. It’s a way of displaying important stories that otherwise may not make their way onto Facebook - for brands, this can be awards, major product launches etc. One brand that I work with was recently awarded a Blue Plaque, and an award like this is a perfect example of one that could be highlighted using the event adder. These events are highlighted differently than standard updates or statuses, with their own icon depending on what kind of event it is (the above event was sports-related, hence the trophy) and are mentioned in your followers’ news feed. They are also highlighted when visitors scroll backwards through your timeline, grabbing much more attention than, say, a status update.

Secondly, there is the Feature function. Whereas before on Facebook, stories were all given the same priority regardless of their importance and there has been no way of curating what stories are highlighted on your page, this new function allows you to pick and choose which stories get the most screen real estate.

Using this feature allows you to create a hierarchy of stories and ensures that your followers will find the stories you want them to. When used, the story you have chosen to highlight spreads across the page. In the case of an image or video, this is displayed in full size which not only breaks up the page well but gives the Timeline a much more interactive, media-rich feel.

For marketers, these tools are going to be invaluable. Up until now, we have been forced to adopt the reverse chronological display that Facebook has given us. But now, for the first time in Facebook’s 8 year history, we are being given the opportunity to curate how our content is displayed. They’re such simple tools that it’s surprising that they’re only being integrated now. But I guarantee that anyone who uses Facebook professionally will start to rethink what content they’re putting out based on these new tools.

In January, an Israeli anti drug group used the Timeline to brilliantly highlight the difference a year on or off drugs can make. This page may have since disappeared (deleted for breaking Facebook’s ToS, most likely) but it’s a perfect example of what’s possible using the Timeline and I believe that this is just the beginning of a fantastically creative time for brands on Facebook. 

*I’ve used images from my personal Facebook to illustrate this story since there are obviously no brand pages to screengrab just yet.