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Subway ranks #1 for gaining currency on social media

Study highlights best performers but finds social media success doesn’t always correlate to better business results

Social Media Currency Index

An interesting study that puts Subway, Google, Heineken, Target and Verizon in the top five spots for “social currency” found that even brands that sustain buzz through social media struggle to translate that success into a better bottom line.

A Social Currency Impact Study, conducted by consulting firm Vivaldi Partners, attempted to measure how effectively brands engage their followers according to six criteria – utility, information, conversation, advocacy, affiliation and identity – to arrive at a ‘social currency’ score. Using these criteria, the study assessed the level of engagement for each brand and evaluated whether these brands are successful at converting social media behaviour into buying behaviour.

social currency graphic

Source: Report on Social media Currency Index, 2013

Marketing Daily posted a good report on the study that came to my attention through SmartBrief on Social Media.

According to its report, Vivaldi conducted 5,000 surveys in the U.S., U.K. and Germany drawing from a panel of “millions of consumers”, asking their perceptions about more than 60 brands with established social media programs.

The full report offers concise insights on what the top 25 brands do well on social media and concludes that “what works well for one brand does not work for another brand.”

(As a side note, I find it interesting that 10 of the top 25 brands highlighted in the survey are food and beverage companies, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Corona, Coors Light, McDonald’s and Pepsi in addition to those mentioned above. Perhaps this indicates more people feel confident interacting with things they know well – food and drink – than with high tech and telecom products that are more difficult to understand.)

Quick Takeaways

Marketing Daily’s full article is well worth reading. Here are three things that struck me in the reported conclusions.

1. Cost: A key conclusion in Vivaldi’s report is that “achieving top scores in social currency and driving brand performance is expensive and requires continuous commitment and continuity…” Social media is not free. Publishing valuable content several times a day and monitoring it 24/7 is costly.

2. RIO: Marketing Daily’s article notes that “converting social media performance into business or brand results is not guaranteed,” even among the best social media performers. Vivaldi’s report concludes that “social media investments do not impact all categories equally, and some brands simply don’t benefit from social.” Given the cost of doing social well, this is not a finding social media directors for major brands will relish.

3. Serve, don’t sell: Why did Subway come out on top? The survey found that Subway is successful because it “continuously manages to sell promoted deals without pushing the advertising theme too far.” In the introduction to its report, Vivaldi states that “it is clear that using new technologies merely for the purpose of amplifying advertising campaigns, creating conversations on social channels, or building communities of influencers to connect with consumers or customers more often underwhelms and disappoints.” The message: Don’t think of it as advertising.

Creating content that people want to interact with is the key to keeping Subway’s audience highly engaged – and when was the last time you wanted to interact with an ad other than to change the channel? Despite the general conclusion that executing a social media strategy well won’t necessarily drive better business results, Vivaldi noted that Subway took the top spot because its social media presence does “impact on consumers in terms of consideration, purchase and loyalty”.

The “serve, don’t sell” mantra is equally important to Google’s social currency rating, which landed the tech company in second place. (Keep in mind that two of the six criteria Vivaldi uses are utility and information.) Marketing Daily says that “[Google’s] social currency success is based on its large portfolio or ecosystem of branded products that consumers access daily, including Google search, Gmail,  Google Maps, Youtube and Google Plus.” In other words, Google is prevalent. It is everywhere and indispensable. Similarly, Vivaldi’s report notes that Amazon (ranked #8) “drives social currency through its own website that is socially enabled rather than broad social network presence.”

Social media builds visibility and reputation

The findings offer mixed views on whether money spent on social media directly helps companies reach their marketing and business goals. Should we worry? I would argue the same can be said about traditional media relations that companies have viewed as essential for decades. It has always been hard to make a direct link between a positive media image, for example, and business success. But that has not stopped companies from believing that a good reputation in mainstream media is good for business, nor from spending the money to aggressively pursue it.

The need for companies to be highly visible and have a good reputation has not changed. The study suggests that Google has earned a high social currency ranking because its products are everywhere and indispensable. If that is true, then it stands to reason that creating valuable content every day that people want, or that allows them to do something they need to do, can’t hurt your business.

So why not use social media to amplify your efforts across the media spectrum  – paid, owned and earned – in order to have a shot at becoming a bigger player in your market over the long term?

That, my friends, may be as good as the argument for social media gets today. Being clear with clients or other groups within your company that social media can build visibility and strengthen reputation will help the right goals to be set for your social media programs.

In the future, we may find that the ROI of social media is the business intelligence it offers companies to hit the sweet spot with consumers. My sense is that few companies are there yet and most are not integrating social media feedback and data into how they conduct business. This debate is not over.

Read more:


Shel Holtz says stop whining about Facebook algorithm changes that reduce the visibility of brand page posts, and figure out how to use it to your advantage.

“Rather than grousing about what no longer works (organic posts in news feeds has dropped about 35%, according to most reports) and take advantage of what does work. For example, people who do see your posts tend to interact with them more—engagement with organic posts from brand pages is actually rising, from from .76% before Facebook tweaked the algorithm to 1.49% in the weeks since. That means (according to AdAge) that “those who do (see your posts) are more likely to have a real affinity for the brand, as opposed to users who may have clicked on the ‘like’ button to enter a contest.”

Read his post:

Promoted tweets are powerful, but keep the powder dry

Paid tweets can supercharge PR campaigns but could backfire with overuse

Course: CDPR 108, Week 3
September 30, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Our assignment this week was to consider whether Twitter’s advertising products – promoted tweets, promoted accounts and promoted trends – are valuable for public relations programs. Twitter’s promoted products were designed for marketers but I consider them powerful aids for surpercharging PR campaigns if used sparingly.

I say “sparingly” because there is a considerable risk that promoted tweets and the like will be viewed as spam or junk mail by the people you hope to influence. When was the last time you heard someone say she wanted more junk mail? Never. Save your use of promoted tweets for large campaigns and big issues so that there is less chance you’ll annoy the very people with whom you want to connect.

First, what are these products and how do they work? Essentially, what Twitter calls “targeted tweets” are actually advertisements camoflaged as news and messages. Twitter now makes it possible to pay in order to do these three things:

1. Promote your tweets: direct tweets to your followers plus like-minded people who don’t follow your organization to extend the reach of your company’s message

2. Promote your trends: place your trend at the top of the Trends side bar to kickstart engagement on an issue that matters to your industry

3. Promoted your account: place your name or account at the top of the “Who to Follow” side bar to increase the number of followers your organization has

Promoted tweet from British Airways

A yellow arrow signifies a promoted account, trend or tweet such as this one from British Airways. This image was taken from the story linked above.

The pricing structure varies depending on the service. Similar to Google Adwords, promoted tweets and accounts use a CPE (cost-per-engagement) model whereby the more people interact with your tweet and the more traction it gets, the more you pay. Promoted trends are different. Twitter charges a flat fee to place your trend at the top of the Trends sidebar for the day, based on a bid price. (Quora offers more information on pricing.)

While we may not like to see more advertising in social spaces, it’s important for PR professionals to judge these services on how well they might increase awareness, build relationships and promote a good reputation for the organization.

The upside of promoted tweets et al is obvious – increasing your reach and raising your profile among Twitter’s vast community of users with targetted messages and news. They offer the benefits of traditional advertising but with lower costs (in many cases), increased agility to react as opportunities arise, and the ability to target messages to those who are likely to find them interesting and relevant.

The downside of promoted tweets is the potential to tick off your followers and people like them if these tools are overused. The same goes for promoted accounts and trends: Use them too often and you’ll be ignored. But as long as promoted tweets, accounts and trends are used in moderation and deliver good content, they can be effective in helping reach public relations objectives.

Case studies: Deciding when the time is right

In an example of how these services could be used outside product marketing, Fast Company recently ran an article on how Mitt Romney’s campaign team used a promoted trend on the first day of the Republican National Convention last August to get his message out – the first documented use of a promoted trend for a political campaign. The article reported the bought trend produced 538,000 tweets before Romney’s address on Day 1 of the convention, and concluded that “this kind of precision messaging is the marketing holy grail.” (The story was written by Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes who disclosed in the article that his company provides promoted tweet services.)

Twitter has posted several interesting case studies (yes, to market their promoted products but they are good examples nonetheless) that are worth reading to see how non-profit organizations have used promoted tweets to increase understanding and reach their goals. Here are three examples:

British Heart Foundation used promoted tweets to educate the public on how to perform CPR to save lives (to the throbbing beat of the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive”, no less). Good use of humour to make CPR cool.

American Foundation for Equal Rights used promoted tweets in search and timelines to communicate breaking news about a legal challenge to a California law denying marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. This was a well-orchestrated, all-out campaign. The case study reports that the three-pronged campaign drove a 1400% increase in mentions over the previous month (although this was big news their stakeholders and would have received some degree of attention without bought tweets).

American Red Cross uses Twitter generally to engage its volunteers and donors and in crisis situations to get urgent information and updates to people who need it. They teamed up with Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, on a promoted tweet donor compaign that quickly reached its $10,000 goal.

These are great examples of how PR objectives can be reached using promoted tweets, trends and accounts. But they are not for every promo-task. In the above cases, a paid tweet was used for major news, events and campaigns. They were part of much larger communication plans.  Don’t even consider using them if you find yourself in these situations:

1. If you are new to Twitter and haven’t already established a community there. A 2012 post by i360 points out that “it’s only for those [already] taking part in Twitter” and further that “no one should get on Twitter solely to take advantage of ad options.”

2. If you are tasked with daily marketing of promotions (last minute deals, limited time offers, etc). No one likes junk mail and telemarketing so what are the chances they will tolerate a mountain of promoted tweets? Zero. Remember what Twitter is and why people use it – to connect with other people and share information. Don’t overuse promoted tweets.

3. If you don’t have a larger plan or engaging content to support it. In the case studies I have highlighted, promoted tweets were used (sometime multiple times) as part of multi-facted communication plans that included video and other online content, and even events. Keep in mind that using this tactic in isolation may not yield the results you’re hoping for.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment. What do you think?

Last week’s poll: What do you find most useful about Foursquare?  

Only two people responded saying they find listings of nearby businesses and tips are the most useful.

Take this week’s poll in the side bar.

How to make the first impression count with Foursquare and QR codes

Give users information they can use in the next five minutes to avoid “dis-APP-ointment”

Course: CDPR 108, Week 2
Sept, 23, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Our assignment this week was to explore QR codes and Foursquare or a mobile visual service. Our task was to use them and write about an “ah-ha moment”, as well as to provide original examples of how these tools could be applied in the world of public relations.

I found that the first click was disappointing when I used both Foursquare and QR codes this week. No deals or messages popped up as I had expected when I checked-in with Foursquare. Tips were in meagre supply. No directly related information was delivered when I scanned the code. Talk about poor first impressions.

I learned that using these tools effectively means giving people something they want or need immediately while they are on the go. Place yourself in their environment and think about what they could do in the next five minutes with the information you give them. Be specific and useful in your content selection instead of going for the general “like”. Ask, how does this check-in or link help the person using it?

Here are two examples of what not to do.

1. When I checked in using Foursquare at a Body Shop store, I had the chance to “like” the location (or not). Big deal. When I accessed their Twitter feed through Foursquare, I found a new tweet announcing 40% off everything storewide for the next two days. Great! Hold on, make that “sitewide” – I had to shop online to get the deal. “But I’m right here,” my inside voice screamed, “in your store.” I didn’t bother asking if the promotion applied in-store.

2. On Saturday, I couldn’t resist scanning a QR code on a card I picked up at a display booth at a country fair (right). The display demonstrated how methane-driven turbines can produce electricity from manure for farming operations.  As my intrepid children stirred a sealed vat of poop to power an iPod, I scanned the code.

The card had no, er, fragrance but got my kids’ attention.

The code took me to a general Facebook page with scattered jibberish. Nothing on the page was relevant to where I was and what I was doing. This, despite the fact that the website on the back of the card featured fun, interactive content that would have been more fun to explore.

In both cases, the information I received was irrelevant at that moment and there was a disconnect between my expectation and what I received.

Here are some ideas on how to use these tools more effectively for good public relations:

1. QR codes on food packaging

Consumers are demanding more information about where their food is coming from. Imagine scanning a code to get the facts on how the beef or chicken you’re looking at in the store was raised and where it came from. Using this approach to launch a new brand of organic meats, for example, would help to educate consumers and build a positive image of transparency and responsible production standards for your company.

2. QR codes on hiking trails

People who enjoy hiking tend also to be interested in birds, plants and animals. Adding QR codes to park signage could help hikers experience nature more fully and build a connection to the park or trail. Envision this: Hikers find a trail sign featuring an endangered bird that inhabits the region. The QR code on the sign takes the hikers to a webpage with an audio file of the bird’s call and stats about population decline, habitat preservation and the effects of urbanization. This information helps our hikers listen for and potentially spot a live bird, and enriches their experience of nature along the way. You’ve given them a new reason to return to the trail another day, potentially building their connection with the park.

3. Foursquare check-in at LEED-certified buildings

A new office tower is having its grand opening. The building owners want tenants and visitors to know the building has received LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Not many people know that LEED standards signify high-performance green buildings.

On welcome signage at the grand opening, showcase key facts about LEED certification and the building’s energy-saving features, and encourage people to check-in using Foursquare. Ask them to enter one of the facts listed ont he signage in the tip field (i.e., “Awarded LEED-certification in 2012”) to get a free set of compact fluorescent lights bulbs. When visitors check-in in the future, they will see a list of the building’s green features under Tips, educating the public and prospective tenants about the buidling and promoting a positive image of environmental stewardship for the owner.

Let me know if sharing my experience with QR codes and Foursquare was helpful. Leave a comment.

Last week’s poll: Do you use QR codes?

Six votes were cast with 50% of people saying they never use them. The results:

Often: 0% Sometimes: 33% Never: 50% Other 16%

Like them or not, QR codes have their place

Foreword: This is my first blog post for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog for the next nine weeks as we move from A – Z in social media.

Course: CDPR108 Week 1

Predicting whether social media tools will be darlings or duds has practically become a sport. This week’s course readings offer contrasting opinions on whether QR, or “quick response”, codes are awkward or effective for moving consumers and audiences from print advertising to websites and affecting sales. (Read “Why QR Codes Won’t Last” and “QR codes are Not Dead”.)

Critics complain that QR codes are technical, unattractive and usually don’t offer more or better information than the print ads provide. Worse, too often they link to websites that are not optimized for mobile devices. Trying to read a website on a hand-held device is hard on the eyes, not to mention annoying.

“Not dead” isn’t much of an affirmation, but not everyone is down on QR codes. Proponents like scannable codes when they are used creatively. And who wouldn’t? If you can come up with a great product demo or compelling story about an issue that matters in your industry, why not help people find it by placing a QR code on a print ad or package, for example? Isn’t that better than not helping them find it?

QR codes “on the rise”

In a June blog post (Will Augmented Reality Spell the End of the QR Code?), communications and technology expert Shel Holtz argues that “despite the amount of contempt in which a lot of people hold QR codes, they’re on the rise, not the decline.”

He counters a ReadWriteWeb report that suggests augmented reality, or AR, will cause the demise of QR codes. The report claims AR has “huge advantages over current print-to-Web promotional tools”, such as:

  • it doesn’t require print space; and
  • it can be applied to existing movies, advertisements, vending machines, buildings and many other things.

Shel admits to AR’s growing appeal but doesn’t buy the argument that QR codes are fading fast. Instead, he cites research findings from Scanbuy (a company that offers QR codes) and Scanlist showing the use of QR codes is increasing. (He found both reports on Digiday.)

  • Scanbuy’s study claims the number of QR codes it processed has risen 157% over the same period last year.
  • Scanlife’s report says it found that 86% of marketers surveyed were planning to use QR codes this year.

Moreover, Shel reported that he is seeing QR codes used more often and in new ways recently, such as floor-to-ceiling interactive advertising installations in his local mall. He goes on to list several other reports and anecdotal evidence that the use of QR codes is expanding.

QR codes are useful

While I agree QR codes could look more appealing, I believe the idea behind them – a barcode for a specific web link – is a good one. I primarily use QR codes in magazines. I like those that give me more information on the items I see in an ad, such as customer reviews or information on where and how a product is made. If I were building a campaign with print and online components, I would not miss the opportunity to include a QR code as long as I had the time and budget to develop interesting and useful content. A note alongside the code explaining what type of content is available is also a must for me before I will scan.

For now, I will side with supporters who believe QR codes have their place and will continue to exist. But remember that tools are just tools: Content is king.