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Babble, Blather And Boredom: How Brands On Twitter Fumbled The Super Bowl

Neil James, Contributing Writer

While our universe is defined by the majesty of heavenly bodies such as the sun, 95 percent of it is made up of dark matter. Similarly, the oft-heralded Twitter successes enjoyed by Oreo and Arby’s obscure the fact that the majority of brand efforts in the real-time space are swallowed into the ether.

Just over one-third of the 100 brands comprising Interbrand’s Best Global Brands published at least one Super Bowl-related tweet during this year’s contest, with 11 accounts publishing at least 10 tweets over the course of the game.

Despite the fact that many of these organizations have millions of Twitter followers, more than 30 percent of branded Super Bowl tweets were retweeted (or shared) less than ten times. Three-quarters were retweeted less than 100 times.



That’s staggering. From another angle, the average tweet only motivated approximately 0.01 percent of a brand’s followers to share its big-game message.

To put that in perspective, GQ columnist and Deadspin blogger Drew Magary received more retweets per tweet during the Super Bowl than 11 of Interbrand’s top brands. And unlike the corporate colossuses who fiercely vied for the Twitter-sphere’s attention, Magary boasts a relatively paltry 80,000 followers. (Magary's tweet referenced a hypothetical evil NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ordering a Super Bowl blackout due to the competitiveness of the game slipping away).

Why the lack of traction? For starters, brands that took to Twitter during the Super Bowl chose to compete in one of the noisiest environments imaginable.

According to Twitter, nearly 25 million tweets were published during the game -- a figure that doesn’t include the countless retweets, favorites and replies that add to the cacophony. To stand out positively against that backdrop, brands have to be more interesting than a consumer’s friends, celebrities, comedians, athletes, media entities and parody accounts -- no small feat.

Does that mean brands should throw their hands up in defeat and forego real-time marketing? In some cases, yes. While the promise of authoring the next “Dunk in the Dark” tweet is alluring, the pursuit of this chalice requires a commitment of resources that, for many brands, is likely better spent elsewhere. Worse, as countless instances have shown, every click of the “send now” button represents an opportunity for a brand to achieve virality through putting its foot in its mouth.

But as many examples have shown, adroit navigation of the real-time landscape represents legitimate opportunity for brands to make a sizable impact for relatively few dollars. Brands looking to maximize the likelihood that their real-time social efforts will cut through the noise and leave an impression should pursue the following:

Listen first

Few would argue that listening is the key to effective communication. Listening, however, is more than scanning through Twitter streams and mining for conversations you can interrupt. It’s paying attention to cues, elements of the story as they unfold, and perceiving how they contribute to the greater narrative.

Effective listening can be found at the heart of all real-time success stories, whether it’s Arby’s recognizing the similarity of Pharrell Williams’ hat at the Grammy's to its logo (which got 83,600 retweets) or Oreo understanding the significance of last year’s blackout to Super Bowl mythos ("You can still dunk in the dark," which got 15,900 retweets).

The Arby's tweet was clever, as its marketing team was quick to tie Pharrell's eccentric choice in headgear to its iconic brand imagery. Oreo was similarly entertaining in how it was able to recognize the significance of the Super Bowl blackout and create a playful, amusing message on the fly.

If your brand is spending more time on Twitter talking than listening, chances are you’re doing it wrong.

Make sure you’re relevant

The brands that enjoyed the greatest success during this year’s Super Bowl were relevant to the game. Not only did Budweiser have a TV spot, for example -- its beverages had a presence at parties across America.

Among the Interbrand Top 100, Budweiser captured far and away the most Super Bowl shares, receiving just under 40,000 retweets of its content. MTV also achieved significant virality, accruing approximately 10,000 retweets over the course of the evening.

Budweiser received a lot of attention due to the inclusion of the puppy from their Super Bowl ads (9,237 retweets). In addition, it placed a heavy focus on saluting veterans (9,258 retweets). Budweiser's success was particularly noteworthy given that its follower-base falls just shy of 50,000.

In contrast, MTV's success is attributable to its heavy investment in building a sizable Twitter following -- at 10 million, the brand has twice as many followers as Pepsi and Coke's parent accounts combined.

Consumers have a harder time, however, understanding the tangential link between men’s razors and professional football. As a result, they’re less inclined to pay attention to what Gillette has to say about the Super Bowl. Just as in real life, your brand’s ability to deliver a relevant perspective determines the value it can contribute to a conversation.

Before undertaking any planning, make an honest assessment as to whether your brand’s presence at an event makes sense.

Quality trumps quantity

Ever been to a party and been trapped by someone who never shuts up? It doesn’t matter if one of his stories has a high point. On a per-word basis, he’s a bore. Similarly, a message that’s truly enlightening is easy to miss if it’s surrounded by 50 throwaway tweets.

While there’s something to be said for creating at-bats, most brands could stand to tighten their filter. If what your brand has to say isn’t interesting, don’t force it. And simply using graphics or video in and of itself doesn’t constitute interesting. Spend the time you allotted for spewing on listening instead.

It’s increasingly evident that setting up a war room, tossing out some Vines, and interacting with social media managers at other brands is not a recipe for success. Brands that want to leverage the opportunities presented by real-time online conversations must first internalize the principles that make human conversations rewarding: listen, have a relevant perspective, and be interesting.

Neil James is digital strategist at Solve, an independent Minneapolis-based branding and advertising agency. James leads the agency's efforts across the digital marketing landscape. His thought leadership in the areas of information architecture, content management, and social strategy have contributed significantly to the success of clients that include Bentley Motors, Organic Valley, and True Value. James is also a critically acclaimed guitarist, having released two albums with his heavy metal band.

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