Picture this: It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Your company just spent millions of dollars to run an ad during the big game. The spot was great, the feedback was great, you’re breathing a sigh of relief that it’s over, and you silently hope the sales will be great.

But then, the unexpected happens — the power goes out at the Superdome.

Suddenly, everyone on every couch in America has an extra 34 minutes to fill. Nobody’s ads are running, none of the players are huddling and viewers across the country start turning their eyes away from their TV screens, toward all their other devices.

If only you had a crystal ball, you could have known there would be a blackout, designed an ad around it and put it out into the universe during those precious 34 minutes. Alas, you did not have a crystal ball.

But if your company is Mondelez International, manufacturers of Oreo cookies, you didn’t need one — in less than half an hour, the cookie company put up a relevant ad on Twitter.

“You can still dunk in the dark.” read the tagline referencing the blackout. It was printed underneath a picture of a single Oreo with a shadow across the right side of the picture.

Kris Hall, one of the company’s Twitter followers, summed it up well with the first reply to the post: “Wow already? Well done! /hat tip.”

“This is about agile marketing,” says Lisa Joy Rosner, cmo of Netbase, a social media analysis company. “The lights went out, they have a group of people in a command center. They said ‘Dunkable in the dark’... and people who had them in their cupboard pulled them out.”

The fun didn’t end there for Oreo though. Because after the ad, they had access to immediate feedback online.

“[They] can then go back and say, ‘OK, I’m Oreo. I did dunkable in the dark. My buzz went up this much. Between this time and this time, did my sales go up because the kids finished the Oreos?’”

Welcome to the new world of social media marketing.

Data from NetBase shows that about 58 million Americans check social networking sites several times per day, up dramatically from the approximately 12 million people who did the same in 2008.

And, consumers are also more open to following brands in general. In 2012, 33 million said they followed a company or brand on a social media site, compared to the 16 million who did so in 2010.

All those eyeballs means companies just cannot ignore social media marketing anymore.

It also means that’s more competition out there and that brands are raising the bar for what can be done with the platform. Gone are the days when all a candy maker had to do was sign up for Facebook, create a Twitter account and then link both of them on the company home page.

“It’s not the race to numbers of fans [anymore],” Rosner says. “It’s creating campaigns and promotions that then get connected back to increasing the lifetime value of that customer. It’s about creating a dialogue that then leads consumers to buying more... At the end of the day, it’s all about revenue.”

It’s a whole new world, where the expectation is that companies will listen to their customers’ chatter online, respond immediately, and throw up newly created ads in less than 15 minutes during a Super Bowl black out.

The good news is that most companies have finally figured out that social media isn’t some passing fad. In fact, 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a Facebook account, while 66 percent have a Twitter account. And Rosner says that among consumer companies on the list, more than 90 percent have a presence on the two mediums.

Campaigns that get fans involved seem to be the most successful.

But setting up a Facebook fan page and waiting for the likes to add up is no longer the end game.

“The business has changed radically in the last five years,” explains Scott Rex, a business professor at Marquette University who specializes in social media advertising and promotion. “The game right now is not to push one-way conversation. The game is I want to get you talking about my brands.”

He points to a recent Chevrolet Aveo campaign as a success story for that type of marketing. The company was looking to target young adults with the smaller car, so they put them on college campuses and had students live in them for a period of time.

“Over the course of all this, these people living in these cars, they did a lot of Tweeting, and posting and blogging to share what a cool, weird thing it was they were doing,” Rex says. “And that got a lot of people talking about the Chevy Aveo.”

Rosner says that one sector in particular has really nailed it when it comes to social media marketing — the casino industry.

They have figured out that most of their Facebook fans are local, while most of the Twitter audience is tourists. They know how to target a certain holiday, or a certain demographic, or a certain reward to their specific audiences and then measure the results in real time.

“It’s the same kind of campaigns that you might launch through e-mail, but with e-mail, you just know whether they opened and clicked through. You can’t find out what people are liking and disliking,” Rosner says.

As for the confectionery industry, NetBase recently looked at the most popular brands to see how they fared online.  

They collected data about Hershey’s, Neuhaus, Godiva, Cadbury, M&M’s, Ghirardelli, Dove, Snicker’s, Lindt and Ferrero Rocher and found that Hershey’s dominates the online chocolate conversation with 30% of the overall buzz and 84% positive chatter.

However, generating the most conversation isn’t the end all. Hershey’s is also the least loved out of the ten brands analyzed, with the second lowest Net Sentiment score (68) and one of the lower Passion Intensity scores (45) and 16% negative chatter.

Meanwhile, Ferrero Rocher is the most loved candy brand, with 100% positive mentions online and 94% positive chatter.

Of course, not every candy company can be Ferrero Rocher, but those worried about the potential for negative comments online shouldn’t, says Rex.

“That’s what’s freaking out a lot of companies. It’s a huge loss of control,” he says. “[But] research shows that a couple negative comments is a good thing. It adds some reality.”

Negative comments also allow companies to respond in real time to customer complaints.
For example, Rosner recalls a clothing company that was having trouble with an ad campaign a few years ago, and couldn’t figure out why.

“People loved the product, loved the price, but hated the jingle,” Rosner says. “[They didn’t] have to wait to get a focus group. This is in the moment. It’s instant. The line of communication is right there.”

And, in fact, many consumers now expect a response from brands after posting negative comments online.

“If you complain, they might send you a free coupon,” Rosner says. “We’re at this intersection where brands and consumers are shifting their dialogue to a new channel and it’s a real-time channel to say, ‘Help me please’ or ‘Thank you so much.’”

And for companies to respond to those types of things effectively, they have to know who their consumers are. Late last year Unmetric, another company that studies social media, analyzed the social media efforts of popular candy brands during August and September of 2012.

They found that:

► Women make up the majority of candy brand fans online. (i.e. Nestlé Crunch has three female fans for every male).

Kit Kat is the preferred candy among young people, with 67 percent of fans younger than 21.

Hershey’s is the most talkative candy on Facebook, posting almost twice as often as the next closest brand.

M&M’s does the best to engage users.


In terms of raw number of fans, Hershey’s Reese’s tops all candies, nearing ten million total fans.

However, Kit Kat, also part of Hershey’s stable of brands in the United States, is catching up, growing its fan base by a remarkable 20 percent over the last four months. In a large part, Kit Kat’s “Fan of the Month” contest during the month of September contributed to this growth.

Other candy companies have found success with some notable online campaigns this past year. For example M&M’S asked its 2.5 million Facebook fans to choose new colors for the candy and they then created 8-oz. packages featuring purple, aqua and dark pink M&M’S in addition to the traditional colors. Meanwhile, Godiva gave away chocolates to a lucky winner and up to 500 of her Facebook friends, and Lindt gave one million people a free bag of its Lindor Truffles via a coupon on its Facebook page.

Coming up with a successful campaign means looking to both the old way of doing things and the new. Companies looking to capitalize on social media marketing should create a team of marketing experts paired with digital natives, Rosner says.

“Hire people who know how to master the craft of marketing with people who know how to master the channel,” she explains. “It’s really about building a highbred team.”

Moreover, all the hype about social media doesn’t mean that other forms of advertising are going to die. Rosner points to a long string of Chicken Littles claiming the sky was falling every time a new way to communicate took shape. First radio was going to kill newspapers. Then TV was going to kill radio.Then e-mail was going to kill direct mail. None of that actually happened though.

“Look at Geico. You hear that gecko on the radio, you see him on TV, and in your pile of direct mail and you see him on Facebook,” Rosner says. “[And] I’m sure there’s going to be another channel after these.”