Coca Cola: Don’t Blame The Internet, You Just Suck At Social Networking.

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Over the course of the past few weeks, a lot has been said about the direct link (or the lack thereof) between online buzz and sales, with Coca-Cola right in the center of the conversation. But if you ask me, if Coke isn’t seeing a return on their social networking investment, that might have something to do with the fact that they kinda suck at the Internet.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, on March 18th Coca-Cola released a study which concluded that online buzz has no impact on their short-term sales. That’s a pretty shocking admission when you consider that they have 62 million Facebook fans, many of whom they presumably paid a lot of money to acquire via Facebook ads.

Coke soon after back pedaled clarifying that their social network channels and the resulting buzz are “crucial” to their marketing efforts. Which is a funny thing to say after just releasing a study that said the exact opposite. But that study was presented at something called the “Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:think 2013 conference” where Coke probably didn’t think their findings were going to be twisted and contorted into a mainstream “social networking doesn’t work” narrative.

All this talk got me interested to see what Coke was doing to drive the online conversation about their brand. I found a lot to be desired.

While Coke’s 62 million Facebook fans are impressive, it’s worth noting that none of their other social platforms are even close to that number. The official Coke Twitter page has just 700,000 followers and the engagement isn’t great either; even seemingly share-able tweets like:

“Opening a Coca-Cola is pretty much the complete opposite of opening Pandora’s box.”

Receive only a couple dozen retweets. To put that in perspective, Rob Delaney has just 100,000 more followers than Coke and he got retweeted almost 1000 times in the past 3 hours by asking Justin Bieber to stop smoking weed.

Does comparing a popular Internet comedian and a global beverage brand make any sense? Kind of. Twitter is a medium in which comedians thrive, in which being able to think up a 140 character long joke that people relate to and want to share can instantly expand your audience. If Coke were a comedian, they’d be the kind of comedian nobody would go see, or at least that’s what their Twitter would lead you to believe.

It’s not just that their engagement stinks, their content sucks too. Coke’s Twitter feed is updated just once every day or two (keep in mind that on Twitter there is no real penalty for posting too much aside from the risk that people will unfollow you) and it’s usually with lame jokes, awful attempts at being topical and blatant product placement. Every tweet includes a hashtag and most are completely irrelevant.

Coke’s Youtube channel isn’t much better. They sport a mere 6000 subscribers (Monster Energy have 160k, Pepsi have 200k and Red Bull have 2 million) and just 3.5 million total views (Red Bull have over half a billion). Stepping outside the beverage category, DC have done a great job manufacturing online buzz by creating branded videos that people actually want to see. I would never pay for a pair of DC’s (it’s personal) but I liked their Robbie Maddison video so much I posted it on my blog where it got 600+ Facebook likes. If you make stuff so good that people can’t ignore it, that online buzz will soon follow.

Meanwhile Coke’s Youtube channel features stuff like this old lady talking about the health risks associated with energy drinks. It currently has 135 views.

As you delve further into Coke’s online presence you’re confronted with some scary truths. For all the work they’ve put into building their Facebook following, their Instagram has less than 10,000 followers. That’s less than me! Even my cat has a quarter of that.

Oh and that incredibly popular Facebook page? Meh. Of their 62 million fans, they currently have just 750,000 of them “talking about this”. And again they only update every couple of days. In fact in March Coke went 3 weeks without posting a single thing. Can you imagine having a potential audience of 62 million and neglecting it for 20+ days? That’s insane!

I know that Coke has to appeal to a huge market and can’t risk saying anything edgy or controversial but I’d love to have access to the hallucinogens that were being passed around the Coke office the day that this status update was penned:

“Quick. Name the tastiest penalty for jinx you can think of!”

PLEASE. STOP. That status got over 1000 comments and 2000+ likes, so I guess it appealed to somebody but those numbers are still pretty low when you consider the scale that we’re dealing with here.

If you really want to get to the heart of why Coke sucks at the Internet, watch this video of Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola’s Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities utilize the most douche-chill inducing phrase in the history of marketing: Flawesome.

Seriously? Adults who work at Coca fucking Cola are sitting around in the office making up words like that and getting paid 6 figure salaries to do so?  If I worked at Coca-Cola the first thing I’d do would be to outlaw that word and any other pointless social media buzzword. The collective Coke staff has time to sit around inventing imaginary words but can’t find the hours in the day to tweet more than once every 24 hours? One positive thing about this video is that every time she said it, it reminded me of Michael Scott ordering the Awesome Blossom at Chilis.

Wendy is in the right when she says that Coke’s number one goal online is to be “share-worthy” even though they aren’t currently doing much to live up to that ethos. The problem seems to be that Coke don’t know what people want to share. Professionally shot photos of your product should be a part of your Facebook strategy but you can’t possibly expect to generate any kind of serious good will online when that’s the only thing your page has to offer.

What’s worse is that Coke routinely screw up the most basic tenants of social networking. Consistency is key, but Coke only tweets every couple days and routinely let their Facebook sit dormant for extended periods of time. It’s important that your content be commercial in nature only a small percentage of the time, yet essentially everything posted on Coke’s Facebook is a blatant ad.

If I was in control of the Coca Cola Facebook (which I am more than willing to do, for the record. Wouldn’t Coke hiring a guy who shit talked them on a blog be a great social networking success story?) I’d do a few things different:

First, I’d make the Coca Cola Facebook less about the product and more about what Coke is supposed to mean to people. When I think about Coke’s marketing I think about young people having fun. So I’d hire a photographer to take photos of good looking people hanging out and having fun in cities like New York and LA. I’d also have that person interview them, then I’d post those photos on the Coke Facebook with a funny or inspiring quote from the interview. Sometimes the person in the photo would be drinking Coke but for the most part there wouldn’t be any branding involved. People share photos of pretty girls. Pretty girls sometimes drink Coca Cola. This seems like an obvious thing to take advantage of to me.

Second, I’d hire some social media ambassadors. Taylor Swift being the Diet Coke spokesperson (she’s barely present on the Coke Facebook, which seems like a waste) makes sense to me but Taylor Swift doesn’t have time to tweet. I’d hire a dozen semi-high profile entrepreneurs, bloggers and tastemakers (ugh, yeah I used that word) and I’d have them update the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram whenever they felt like it. Imagine if every post on Coke’s Facebook page was authored and signed as such by a hip young person acting as a Coke representative. I’d give Coke a fresh, youthful voice.

Third, I’d show the same kind of attention to the Coke Instagram that has been shown to the Facebook. I’d create unique content for the Instagram and I’d tell the ad agency that we need to acquire Instagram followers en masse ASAP. The medium is just so perfect for the kind of visual ad campaigns that the Coke brand lends itself to, far better than Twitter where Coke has 70x the followers.

Fourth, I’d get serious about Youtube. Look at what Red Bull is doing with Youtube. If I were a Coke employee I’d look at that and I’d be outraged that we aren’t trying to keep up with them! The soft drink industry is already losing market share to energy drinks, neglecting online video is a risk that Coke simply can’t afford.

Fifth, I’d collaborate. McDonalds have 28 million followers of their own and they get much more engagement than Coke does. McDonalds also sells more Coke than pretty much anyone. So why not work together? Instead of dumping money into buying poorly targeted Facebook fans, I’d plan a whole year’s worth of promotions with other popular pages. The Internet loves collaborating.

Sixth, I’d hire George Takei as a consultant/spokesperson because clearly that motherfucker understands Facebook better than me or anyone else reading this.

I’d do a lot of other stuff differently too but that would be a good start and I’m confident that it would produce results.

People love Coke. It’s sweet, it tastes good, it’s kinda addictive. So you’d think that promoting it through social networking would be easy, especially given that there are so many brands doing brilliant viral online campaigns these days. Before Coke finds fault with social networking, they might want to take a look in the mirror first.

My name is Adam Grandmaison, better known as Adam22. This is my blog and you should bookmark it plus follow me on Twitter and Facebook.