‘Retweet to win’ contests damage a brand

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The local social media scene is awash with companies, brands and personalities diving in and trying their hand at this new “engagement” thing. And while there’s nothing wrong with that — the age-old strategic (nay, common sense) principles will always stand.

People commit to something based on shared value. People are people, they have emotions and don’t react the way you think they might. People don’t always want to engage with you. People need you to understand that there’s a time, a place and a medium. People want better products over more prizes, deeper engagement or clever communication – always.

It’s into this torrent of social buzz that Afrihost has dipped its proverbial promotional pen, again. Their first Twitter promotion involved following the CEO to enter a competition. I didn’t approve, but after an understanding tweet from CEO Gian Visser, I wrote it off to experimentation. Let’s face it, you don’t build a community by buying followers. Not a permanent, value-based community at least.

The next effort broke recently, and involves retweeting the hastag #AfrihostRelaunch and a Bit.Ly link in order to enter. The competition mechanic also allows you to retweet this combo as many times as you like, for as many entries as you like. This has resulted in a flood of entrants from around the burgeoning South African Twitter-sphere.

A quick search on Twendz showed that Afrihost were hitting over 103 tweets per hour (at least when I checked on 14 September 2010). You might think this qualifies as a major success? Everyone’s talking! Everyone’s entering… but think about what that means.

Twitter has a follow mechanic. If I have 10 “friends” that enter that competition 10 times — that means I’m going to see 100 Afrihost entries in my stream of information. This is a stream that I value for news, links, current events, contextual opinion and engagement with various industries. Now, it feels like my cell number is on the receiving end of a popular short code SMS campaign. And I don’t even send tweets to SMS. Heaven forbid.

Let’s have a look at what is fundamentally wrong with this approach, from a marketing strategy point of view, and then perhaps at one or two suggestions. Frustration with this competition has led to quite a bit of commentary on Twitter – but sadly, there are a lot more entries than there are indignant people.

Fundamentally, this is interruption marketing (hats off to Walter Pike for highlighting this term for me). Interruption marketing is archaic. It’s the nail that appears before every man with a hammer. It’s the battleship of communication. Radio, TV and sponsorship are all interruption techniques: take an experience and insert yourself into it, in the hopes that enough insertion will increase awareness. It’s intrusive and seems to work less and less effectively in this message saturated world we live in. 

Imagine a six year old, screaming “Afrihost Afrihost Afrihost Afrihost” into your ear. That’s how interruption marketing can come across on a conversational platform.

By using this competiton mechanic, Afrihost aren’t guaranteeing themselves any opt-in opportunity. A tweet does not allow them to contact me in future, so aside from irritating people – or at the most causing a bit of buzz amongst those who don’t find this info-overload offensive – the competition doesn’t seem to have legs.

A visit to TwitterCounter shows an increase in followers to @Afrihost of about 100 in the last 3 months.

They’re neither driving a brand position nor a value proposition. The content lacks context. All I get from it is that there’s a relaunch. The sheer volume induced by the mechanic doesn’t exactly encourage me to click through to their site. I haven’t yet…

These kind of competitions hurt the social graphs of your customers. That’s a dangerous space for a brand to play in: creating a mechanic that causes their potential customers to piss off their friends. The first person I publicly unfollowed (for retweeting 10 competitions entries in the space of a minute) came back with a concerning statement: “I’m on twitter to follow, not to be followed”. Chew on that one.

While many have commented that Afrihost aren’t to blame for the behaviour of Twitter users in South Africa – they’re certainly the ones that started it. And their brand is associated, not only with every inane competition entry, but also with every negative comment of the periphery that is being pulled into the grand relaunch, whether they like it or not.

While innovation and experimentation can be great for a brand it has to be weighed against the potential risk of negative search rankings. I wouldn’t put this near the top of the list, for it’s merely the chance of a perception change should someone be searching for your brand. But it can’t be ignored. Toddle on over to Google’s filter by updates (you’ll find this option down the left column) and have a look at the keyword “spam” that is starting to creep in.

It gets even more interesting as you change the date filter from today, to September, to 2010. I’m not entirely sure how the Google tweet-ranking algorithm works, but a comment of mine is top for 2010. And it’s not a nice one either.

These kind of contests populate the web with shallow, duplicated content. Someday, Twitter is going to be able to index and return the instant wisdom of millions in a search result. And not just searching today – but searching history. You think Google search results are getting over-SEO’d and difficult to sift through? Try Twitter in a year if these mechanics persist.

And what’s worse? They’re not selling bandwidth or positioning their company against the myriad of small bandwidth players starting to crop up, post the arrival of the SEACOM cable. And isn’t that their game, after all? Isn’t that what marketing is meant to achieve?

Solutions.
If you must run competitions via Twitter, and please, think very carefully before you do, then here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Allow one entry only. It’s still not perfect, but will decrease the spam factor considerably
  • Make the entry add context, or at least humour to the Twitter stream. Complete a sentence, invent a word, give an opinion.
  • Even better, encourage contribution that could actually benefit your users. Research a topic, share insight, write a post, point out links, find a picture.

And finally, if you have to prod to keep the momentum going (and this is something we inevitably have to do as marketers), then curate the content and context that is flowing in. Pick out the gems and retweet them. Add something to my life. Give me a reason to check you out. Give me a reason to love your brand.

Or get out of my conversation.

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  • http://deems.co.za Deems

    Good article and I agree – but very hypocritical considering your own tweet and win an ipad competition don’t you think?

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    @Deems Haha! Not hypocritical from the writer, more from the publishing platform :) But then again, give Memeburn some credit for publishing balanced views… That’s all you can ask from a news source…

  • Jacobus van Eeden

    We’re not hypocritical at all, our iPad contest is completely different, apart form tweeting you’ve also got to like our Facebook page, Afrihost don’t have that, their campaign is inferior to ours. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.alston Alan Alston

    I think everyone should backtrack just a little bit and realise that Afrihost is most definitely not a brand. It is a hosting/connectivity company/ISP with a new logo giving away a couple of iPads. The only connection here to a brand is that of them trying to connect themselves to a real brand, Apple.

    Go do some reading as to what a brand is.

  • http://twitter.com/kobuse Kobus Ehlers

    It is rather amusing that Apple products have become the currency of social marketing… *ooeeee shinneeeyyy

  • http://twitter.com/TimBritz TimBritz

    It doesn’t matter which platform you use – offline or online – competitions are the WORST marketing tool to pick! They add very little to brand equity and attract, more often than not, the wrong respondents, who have ABSOLUTELY no interest in your brand whatsoever!

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    1 entry per RT or only one entry full stop?

  • http://twitter.com/TimBritz TimBritz

    Every product/ service is inherently a brand

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    I have a feeling Afrihost themselves may disagree with that statement. Went to the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia – always at least 73.5% correct):

    A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business

    I think Afrihost is definitely a brand. I’ve read comments of people standing up for them because of amazing customer relationships/service – that’s attaching value to a brand. That’s equity.

    Why give away iPads with no link to product or service if you’re not trying to raise awareness of a Brand… in fact, they say, “we’re relaunching our brand”. :) I just disagreed with the method of promotion – nothing else.

  • Jacobus van Eeden

    RT don’t actually count, you’ve gotta tweet from the contest page and click the like button their. If someone RTs in Twitter it doesn’t count or show in the feed we’re tracking. So, basically, one entry period.

  • http://twitter.com/_____C Roger Kirchwood

    Yes, it’s interruption marketing. And as TV, radio, and sponsorship show, that’s extremely effective. Your only criticism of it is that it’s “archaic” – but if it works, why fix it? You’re annoyed by it; other people, who may never have heard of Afrihost, now know about it. YMMV.

    There’s a lot of duplicated content, but that’s because they didn’t opt to make it more complex. I’d have found it a bit more interesting if they did have a complete-the-sentence, or extra points for writing a blog post or photoshopping or including them in your forum signature. You cut them some slack before because they were experimenting, and they’re experimenting now, too. Cut them some slack, and let Gian know that he could do it better. Maybe next time, you’ll have less to complain about.

  • http://twitter.com/jono1980 Jono

    Personally, I think you’ve done more to promote this “competition” than anyone Andy. You definitely deserve a prize.

    I was fortunate enough to avoid the deluge of SPAM and only really heard about this malarky via your criticism.

    I agree, the concept is rubbish. It’s probably not attracting the right kind of followers or attention and it certainly adds no value. However, it’s actual individuals who have compromised their tweets (and your stream). I don’t think Afrihost can be solely blamed for people acting like, for lack of a better word, twits.

  • http://socialmediaiq.co.za Peter du Toit

    I completely agree with the points you raise here. Any behaviour that associates your brand with what others consider stream spam on social networks must be taken seriously. Businesses continue to face serious challenges as they begin using this environment to reach business objectives and this is one example.

    It is interesting how Facebook has regulated how “competitions” can be run on it’s platform: http://www.facebook.com/promotions_guidelines.php (notice the examples at the end of the page) I would suggest brands study these guidelines and understand the spirit behind them. Although applicable to Facebook in my mind these guidelines will work elsewhere too.

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    Interruption marketing does work – on those channels. It fundamentally does not work on digital channels, especially social platforms. That’s why we have banner CTR’s at 0.05% and that’s often considered good.

  • http://twitter.com/mike_met Mike Metelerkamp

    I completely agree … I’ll most likely never sign up with WebAfrica after I was spammed by them and all my friends over an iPad.

    Compared to the creative ‘free the web’ campaign by Mweb… I signed up for adsl almost immediately, referred a lot of people and the brands sits having a much higher value with me.

  • http://twitter.com/_____C Roger Kirchwood

    “It fundamentally does not work on digital channels, especially social platforms” is an assertion. If you have some proof for that assertion, I’d like to hear it. It’s disingenuous to compare CTRs to social-networking messages; the two have almost nothing in common (one is passive, the other is active; one shotguns to everyone, the other goes to followers only; one is static, the other lets the tweeter insert his content alongside; etc, etc, etc).

    FWIW, the evidence does seem to be against you. There’s an increase in @Afrihost followers, and (as you point out in the article) the number of indignant followers is greatly outnumbered by the number of people who are willing to tweet away. There are social graphs that are almost competing against each other to see who can get the most entries in! That seems to indicate advertising success. I’d bet that for each of the upset tweeters, there are now tens of other tweeters who will immediately associate “Afrihost” with the idea of a ‘net connection.

    (Also, could we stop with the “#Afrispam” and similar tags? If you choose to follow people who like to enter competitions like this, that’s not *their* fault. It’s yours.)

  • Anonymous

    I tried to comment earlier, but it seems to have disappeared, so I will attempt to paraphrase it again:

    Basically, I think no-one has done more to promote this “competition” than you Andy, and you definitely deserve a prize. :)

    I was completely unaware of the deluge of spam infiltrating the South African Twittersphere until I came across your criticism of it. While I agree completely that the concept is rubbish – it certainly doesn’t foster proper engagement or quality leads for Afrihost – it certainly has got people going.

    I also don’t think that Afrihost is entirely to blame for this spam, it’s individuals that have been polluting their outputs with this rubbish. Can the brand be held to blame if people are, for lack of a better word, twits?

  • Jacobus van Eeden

    Remember, to Win and iPad from Memeburn.com by tweeting, clink the link here http://memeburn.com/2010/09/win-an-ipad-with-memeburn-and-wantitall/ or simply click on the banner ad above the comment section.

  • http://www.famebook.com famebook

    If you want to stand out from the crowd then you can’t afford to be part of it! The current digital status quo is the eye of the storm imho and all the main business models are ‘long tail’ operations. The ‘head’ hasn’t arrived online yet but it is coming soon… The latter can’t be fitted retrospectively to Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc. because they are founded on inelegant mass monetization principles which can’t work for sophisticated brands, however the hype tries to imply otherwise. Media is going to be distributed in a seismically different way and in my view the aforementioned will always just be the journey, but never the destination!

  • Anonymous

    Fair enough, but did you honestly make that decision based only on Mweb’s online marketing campaign? Or did it also have something to do with the fact that they were the first to market with an acceptable price-point, and these were the benefits that were succinctly brought to your attention through their more subtle approach?

    Disclaimer: I am not defending Afrihost here, I agree it has not been a well-executed campaign. What this approach lacks is direction – I don’t understand what Afrihost are actually trying to do or achieve.

  • Anonymous

    pardon?

  • http://twitter.com/d0dja Roger Hislop

    >I also don’t think that Afrihost is entirely to blame for this spam, it’s
    >individuals that have been polluting their outputs with this rubbish.
    >Can the brand be held to blame if people are, for lack of a better word, twits?

    In a word, yes. I can and do blame Afrihost, because they have created a clear incentive for people to act like twits.

    By rewarding people to be anti-social, Afrihost has reaped the rewards … some buzz (much of which is probably directionless and wont result in more business), and lots of irritation. I think less of them now… not the reaction you want from a campaign.

  • GuestWho

    Shameless..

  • Anonymous

    For sure, I think the campaign lacks a clear direction. And so I agree that it’s probably been pretty useless in terms of building sustainable value exchanges which is what you’d want to try and do through a social media channel.

    But fundamentally, people make their own decisions. And if they are willing to alienate their “friends” and “followers” with a pointless competition for the sake of an iPad, then I think that’s their own bad decision.

  • http://deems.co.za Deems

    I understand Andy – the “your” was aimed at Memeburn as a whole – not you personally :)

    And yes, most of the articles I’ve seen published on Memeburn have been that, balanced.

  • http://twitter.com/mike_met Mike Metelerkamp

    I agree, but they weren’t the first to market a much needed product, the campaign got results because it also lived up to all the fuss.

    There were other offerings before Mweb for uncapped adsl, such as screamer and others which marketed aggressively, got a lot of buzz, but couldn’t produce a decent product.

    My point is that for me results/brand value comes from a campaign with a clear message and direction around a product that delivers, not a prize.

  • http://walterpike.com Walter Pike

    In the height of the interruption marketing era Lord Lever famously remarked that 50% of your adverting spend was wasted. Now with less than 14% of consumers trusting advertising and the abundance of different ways for ideas to spread advertisers would be ecstatic if that was still true and that the number was not closer to the 76% wasted some research indicates.

    Statistics from around the world including South Africa concur.

    Marketing 101 will teach you that brands are built by positive associations about the brands in the minds of consumers.

    Any brand manager going out on purpose to generate negative sentiment and negative associations does not deserve to be fed.

    The idea is poor. Everyone wants a ticket and will enter, and irritate everyone with their retweet and spam their followers. That’s negative, twitter is about engagement not interruption.

    Pity – because Afrihost is a good brand – they host my websites and I buy my bandwidth from them – their service is also great.

  • http://walterpike.com Walter Pike

    There is not the slightest, smallest doubt that Afrihost is a brand – You, Alan Alston are also a brand.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeTaberner Mike Taberner

    Hi Andy,

    As I indicated when I commented on your tweet earlier in the week, this competition certainly gave rise to #AFRISpam. I think that your solutions to this issue are really positive. I like the idea of using the Twitter space, along with any other media space to create some hype around a brand. I after all chose to follow certain people, whether they tweet stuff I agree with or not.

    What I like about your suggestions is that they probably give the brand more credibility. The factor of “hey guys we want you in on this competition, but one entry only please”. There are certainly sufficient tools to monitor competitions intended to run like this. Creating a massive billboard does not engage a community it hacks them off.

    I in fact did take part, rather hypocritically, finishing other people’s tweets, until I realised that in a period o 10 minutes (quite a long time on twitter) I received no fewer than 100 tweets from my stream alone. That hacked me off.

    So the question I asked remains the same: brands who offer “sweets” how do you intend to hold onto your followers when the sweets are gone?

  • http://stii.co.za stii

    The first sensible comment in this entire stream!

  • http://www.famebook.com famebook

    Thanks Stii… much appreciated

  • http://stii.co.za stii

    I was being serious famebook. I mean read this article. It’s like “find a trendy buzz-phrase not used and win an iPad.”

  • http://www.matthewbuckland.com/ Matthew Buckland

    tsk tsk Jakes :-)

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    Correct, especially if the sweets are directly linked to some kind of positioning. Noise campaigns won’t work for much longer (I’ll bet Afrihost will argue this met their objectives – I wish they would share those objectives, because it certainly couldn’t have been getting customers – competitions encourage whoring – a retweet is easy, doesn’t mean I’m closer to making a purchase decision on that brand) because there’s just too much other noise. You’ve got to be so far ahead of the pack in terms of evident value, meaning, humour, shock value to stand out. Old Spice guy probably got noisy for the Americans – but he was hilarious and original. Stands out.

  • http://www.andyhadfield.com Andy Hadfield

    If I’ve given the campaign extra legs, so be it… I was also “trending” in Cape Town apparently, with the keyword SPAM directly attached to AFRIHOST. That can’t be good!

    In all seriousness – there are a couple of campaigns that leap out of the pack, either because they’re really good, or really bad. We need to learn from them. And educate, empower, help, guide and foster our clients to have more trust and see more results from this platform. We can only do that if we talk about it. Have thoroughly enjoyed the debate this has caused – even more so in that it completely polarised “industry influencers” (whatever the hell those are).

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.alston Alan Alston

    “A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business” – no, that is the identity. A brand is something that by definition rises above the product, service or business it represents. Anyway; I’m not going to get into an argument about it: but I find one of the telling signs of something not being a brand is when they go on a bit too much about being a brand in the 1st place. Almost like stating you are a social media expert on your own website.

    Afrihost remains – in my eyes – is a reseller of bandwidth, very little more than that: and bandwidth is a bit of commodity nowadays, isn’t it. I was one of the first to switch to from WebAfrica to Afrihost when this whole war started; and I fiercely pushed their idea of disrupting the marketplace with their pricing – telling many of my friends to switch to them and give them a try. Then I switched to Mweb when they launched the uncapped deal, and I’ve switched back again since. And I will continue to do so as and when the pricing adjusts – unless of course they switch me to IS themselves, haha.

    I have little to no brand loyalty as there is little to no branding happening, in an admittedly price-driven, heavily commodotised marketplace. And that’s why I think they are not a brand, not yet in the mind of this one consumer at least.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.alston Alan Alston

    “A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business” – no, that is the identity. A brand is something that by definition rises above the product, service or business it represents. Anyway; I'm not going to get into an argument about it: but I find one of the telling signs of something not being a brand is when they go on a bit too much about being a brand in the 1st place. Almost like stating you are a xyz expert on your own website, when, if you were brand you wouldn't need to state the obvious…

    Afrihost remains – in my eyes – is a reseller of bandwidth, very little more than that: and bandwidth is a bit of commodity nowadays, isn't it. I was one of the first to switch to from WebAfrica to Afrihost when this whole war started; and I fiercely pushed their idea of disrupting the marketplace with their pricing – telling many friends, family & fools to switch to them and give them a try. I switched to Mweb when they launched the uncapped deal, and I've switched back again since. And I will continue to do so as and when the pricing adjusts – unless of course they switch me to IS themselves, haha.

    I have little to no brand loyalty as there is little to no branding happening, in an admittedly price-driven, heavily commodotised marketplace. And that's why I think they are not a brand, not yet in the mind of this one consumer at least.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.alston Alan Alston

    “A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business” – no, that is the identity. A brand is something that by definition rises above the product, service or business it represents. Anyway; I'm not going to get into an argument about it: but I find one of the telling signs of something not being a brand is when they go on a bit too much about being a brand in the 1st place. Almost like stating you are a xyz expert on your own website, when, if you were brand you wouldn't need to state the obvious…

    Afrihost remains – in my eyes – is a reseller of bandwidth, very little more than that: and bandwidth is a bit of commodity nowadays, isn't it. I was one of the first to switch to from WebAfrica to Afrihost when this whole war started; and I fiercely pushed their idea of disrupting the marketplace with their pricing – telling many friends, family & fools to switch to them and give them a try. I switched to Mweb when they launched the uncapped deal, and I've switched back again since. And I will continue to do so as and when the pricing adjusts – unless of course they switch me to IS themselves, haha.

    I have little to no brand loyalty as there is little to no branding happening, in an admittedly price-driven, heavily commodotised marketplace. And that's why I think they are not a brand, not yet in the mind of this one consumer at least.

  • Pingback: Looking back at social media in September | memeburn

  • http://magento-themes.jextn.com/ magento themes

    There are a couple of campaigns that leap out of the pack, either because they’re really good, or really bad. We need to learn from them. And educate, empower, help, guide and foster our clients to have more trust and see more results from this platform.

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