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Who's Winning Now? Social Media Levels the Playing Field

Posted by: James Bickford on March 16, 2010

When it comes to social media it is not the ‘big bucks’ that matter, but the understanding and engagement within the channel.

Just look at Ford, P&G, and Coca Cola.  All three are huge global brands that have embraced social media. They understand its capability and cultural significance. As long-time masters of embracing cultural changes (who have made this an integral part of their brand DNA), their shift in favor of social media sites, makes good sense.  However, Coca Cola’s mandate to its agencies to move away from “Campaign” websites associated with big buck spend, in favor of social media sites where the people they want to talk to already hang out, signals an effort to spend time—not money—where it really matters.

While the less cash a social media campaign requires may seem like a blessing, it is also a headache for big brands. To some extent, the playing field has been leveled. Next generation social media monitoring tools are allowing smaller brands to react to big brands quickly and effectively. 


Brands with less cash to spend enjoy the fact that the big brands spend weeks in legal, whilst they are able use the environment in a more ‘risk and reward’ way.  Small brands have all the same tools at their disposal and the added advantage of not having anything to lose—no internal barriers. If they embark in the wrong direction, they can just depart from those tactics and try something new quickly.

Meanwhile, although leading global brands like Cokes and Ford are astute enough to get to the front of the social media revolution, many local market big brands, at least in my territory of New Zealand, are less skilled at adapting quickly. As a result, many are still struggling with how to use social media. Most have trouble grasping the word ‘social’ and are only just embracing the term ‘customer voice’.

With the exception of a few, New Zealand’s biggest brands are having trouble competing with their smaller competitors in the social media space due to a fundamental lack of understanding. Rather than using the social media space to engage an already interested audience, they treat it like yet another ad space.  So even with all the big bucks at their disposal, they are still along way behind the eight ball. This, in turn, is feeding smaller, up-and-coming brands’ enthusiasm. Small and savvy brands are currently enjoying the benefits of social media without much big brand competition.

There are exceptions to the rule. Air New Zealand and Cadbury New Zealand are good examples of local big brands that are engaging effectively with social media.  Cadbury uses Facebook to share customers’ stories and spearhead contests.  Meanwhile Air New Zealand has built on the buzz its Skycouch has generated and developed a cheeky, social media campaign around “spooning.” But for all of these big brands, there are also smaller brands like Kiwi Experience, which are able to use social media for relatively little cost to seriously leverage their brand and grab the kind of attention that would have been far more difficult to garner in the past.

So, while there are certainly examples of leading, innovative global brands delivering results, it isn’t because of the money they are spending – it’s the level of understanding and engagement that they are putting forth.

This post is the third in a series called That’s Debatable: Social Media Edition – posts designed around oft-debated topics in our community, meant to spark conversation and gather different perspectives. Learn more about That’s Debatable, and take our social media survey.




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