Social media lessons from a Russian meerkat

Social media this and that still seems to bombard us everyday, and South African marketers are quickly coming to grips with it – we have to, we have no choice. According to a recent survey, we now know that about 74% of the SA Internet population use social networks of which Facebook enjoys about 82% of that usage – it is the top social network in South Africa. In fact, Facebook have recently set up an office in South Africa, seeing the opportunity to work with this audience.

A typical social media campaign sees a Facebook fan page created and updated furiously for the first week and then by week two of the campaign, updates are less frequent or the administrator of the page is off sick from work and no one else is available to post items. Sound familiar? By then the Twitter page has been created and these hip icons appear on the website, (Join our network showing Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube logos) pronouncing to the world that the company is social media ready.

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By week three both profiles are in sore need of updating and by week four the “social media” person has been pulled onto a new project and the external profiles and subsequent community that was formed have died from neglect. Ag shame.

Social media campaigns cannot afford to be knee-jerk reactions or brought in at the last minute of a planning session to give the campaign “cool” credentials. They need a solid strategy behind them with the business fully committed to getting involved with this phenomenon and supplying the relevant and trained resources.

Get the company heads involved

In my humble opinion, top company brass should all have Facebook and Twitter profiles that they update, as well as having the stomach for hearing exactly what their audience/customers are saying about them. The campaign also needs a fully formed content strategy in place – what are you going to say and keep saying to this audience?

I believe if you don’t have the components (strategy, resource, senior buy in, content and openness to user generated content), you are wasting your time and money.

Social media is so alluring to many businesses because of the (mis)perception that it’s free. It’s not, at all. Good strategy costs money, as does the time of an internal resource (to manage the community and constantly create the content). Sometimes this is farmed out to an agency at an even higher cost, but with that comes the dedication, commitment and creativity sometimes needed to sustain the profile.

Microsites that users link to also cost money, as does any moderation you plan to do, unless you plan to let the community self moderate (sometimes advisable and totally feasible). You also need a resource to collate all the stats and measure the effectiveness of the campaign, because why else would you be embarking on this course if not to derive some value from it?

The waters get muddy here too, especially around what gets measured for social media. It’s fine to measure referred traffic from your Twitter profile or number of fans from your Facebook page, but so what? How much of that has translated into solid business?

I think you need to look broader than referral traffic and start to see if you can measure the impact on sales and more importantly, retention of customers. How has having a relationship with your customers in the spaces they occupy online actually benefitted your company? A good analytics person is worth their weight in gold for an exercise like this .

There are some wonderful examples of campaign-born personalities evolving through the social networks they’re on and outgrowing the campaigns they came from.

A perfect example is Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian aristocratic meerkat (really, they have meerkats in Russia?) who runs a meerkat dating agency called He hates to be confused with the car insurance comparison website called (the site that spawned the successful and most talked about campaign in the UK).

Aleks, as he likes to be called, has over 724 000 Facebook likes and over 35 000 Twitter followers, showing that he’s well-liked and worth following. His updates are zany and in his usual Russian accent – e.g. “This (volcano) cloud is nightmare. Every time I leave mansion fur is cover in ash. I am think about purchase of hazmat suit”.

The campaign started a year ago and still the social media profiles continue to grow and followers remain loyal. Aleks has also been interviewed by The Sun newspaper, has various videos on his own YouTube Channel, and interviewed Piers Morgan (celeb ex journalist/editor now famously known for judging Britain’s Got Talent). I just wonder who updates these profiles daily with the hilarious content.

You see it can be done successfully and I’m sure have seen countless leads generated and a deluge of new business thanks to Aleks. Word of warning though – planning and investment is essential and a creative, viral concept is key to creating longevity. If you have these three elements, you’ll see a positive return on investment.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon immediately though. Approach social media cautiously and spend the necessary money and time on the thinking and planning. If not, you’ll be left with a mess, a confused audience and a headache from a very large hangover.

Survey Source: MWEB/TNS Surveys Friendship 2.0 Report 2009

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