Molson gets social

[ Molson gets social ]

June 17, 2009 | By Matt Semansky | Comments

Molson has been one of Canada’s more aggressive brands when it comes to using social media to reach out to consumers. In this web-exclusive, created as part of Marketing’s special “Brave New World” special issue on new media, Ferg Devins, Molson’s vice-president of government and public affairs, talked to Marketing’s Matt Semansky about the brewer’s recipe for social media authenticity, how it learned from a Facebook promotion that backfired and why Devins is a fan of “Liam.” To see the entire “Brave New World” issue, click here.

MATT SEMANSKY: Can you talk about Molson’s general approach to social media?

FERG DEVINS: Social media is where we’re having conversations, and that’s how we clearly distinguish it from a marketing channel approach here at Molson. What we said to the marketers is that this is more than just pushing a marketing message through a new media channel. We’re encouraging our marketers to engage in the conversation. Through 2008, we were really in a listening and monitoring mode. If we would intervene it was when we saw something that was off-base in a story, if the facts weren’t true and the information wasn’t correct. It was what David Jones at Hill & Knowlton used to call M.A.I.L.—monitor, assess, interrupt and then lead the conversation. Now what we do is put M.A.I.L. up to a mirror, where it becomes L.I.A.M [lead the conversation, interrupt, assess, monitor]. Our approach now is more about leveraging what we see in conversations, initiating discussion and dialogue, acquiring people for our community and managing our communities.

MATT SEMANSKY: How do you work within different social media channels?

FERG DEVINS: There’s the Molson community blog, and our first shot at that was in 2007. The blog was transformed and relaunched in 2008, and it is really more of a Molson-in-the-community corporate communication tool, but we have also been weaving in some brand content there as well. Certainly everything we do with the Olympics will be driven significantly by the blog, and of course a lot of that Olympic content will be branded Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Export, etc. That takes us to tools like Twitter. We have several active Twitterers for Molson right now, and strategically, we’ve got a purpose for each of them. There’s me for corporate communications, media relations and blogger relations. Tonia Hammer does a lot of our community donations stuff. Adam Moffat is our brand marketing and PR guy who’s keeping his eye on anything that’s brand-relevant. Adam’s also doing some work with Coors Light and Canadian Facebook sites. Graeme Switzer, his purpose on Twitter is all about [Molson’s loyalty program] Molson Insiders. Then we’ve got Bryan Cox, who’s the PR and GR lead in Western Canada. So we’ve got people on Twitter with a purpose.

MATT SEMANSKY: How do you lead and initiate conversation without coming across like a self-serving corporate party crasher?

FERG DEVINS: In Facebook, Adam is the communicator for Molson Canadian. An icon might come up that says “Molson Canadian,” but people understand that it’s Adam. On Twitter, I’m MolsonFerg. The authenticity is that we’re all humans, and we’re careful not to just message. In fact, we say, “spin is sin.” For example, one thing that came up was a guy from Thunder Bay who tweeted, “Am I less of a Canadian because I don’t drink Molson Canadian?” I went on Twitter and tweeted him and said, I don’t think you’re less of a Canadian, but I’d sure like you to be drinking our brand. Then he comes back and says, “Holy shucks, I’ve been caught. There’s a VP at Molson who sees I’ve been commenting about them.” I go back again and say, your comments are welcome and I’m respectful of different perspectives. He comes back to me and says, “Ferg, I can’t believe you guys are on here. I’ve checked out your blog and your Facebook site, I see what you’re doing on Twitter, and I’m going to be drinking Molson Canadian.” This is back and forth on Twitter, and everyone who’s following me and following him is following this conversation.

MATT SEMANSKY: Has there ever been resistance at the corporate level to opening up the company to these conversations?

FERG DEVINS: The cool situation at Molson is that I report to the chief legal and public affairs officer, so when I went to him, he was very supportive from the get-go. We in the communications team know the guidelines, we know the protocols, we know what risks we’re facing as far as how we position ourselves and what should and shouldn’t be said. We apply all of our guidelines the same way we would in advertising or communications.

MATT SEMANSKY: Open conversations mean people can say negative things, though, and I’m curious whether Molson executives were concerned about making the company vulnerable to those kinds of comments.

FERG DEVINS: People can say negative things, and there have been situations on Twitter where tweets will pop up and we’ve engaged. In a couple of situations where people have made a negative comment about Molson, I’ve personally intervened and said, hey, sorry you don’t like our brand, but we have a broad portfolio [of brands]. I would say nine times out of 10, that conversation turns positive. People are throwing a dart or taking a shot, but when we actually engage—and not just, “This is Molson and this is our message,” but “hey, it’s Ferg”—we talk through what this person’s concern or complaint is. That one-to-one is very powerful with social media, because it becomes one-to-many.

In November 2007, Molson was criticized for its Molson Campus Challenge, a contest that invited students to post pictures to Facebook with the goal of proving that their school was “The No. 1 Party School in Canada.” The promotion outraged universities and student groups, who accused Molson of promoting excessive drinking. The negative publicity forced Molson to call an early end to the contest.

MATT SEMANSKY: What did you learn from the Molson Campus Challenge experience?

FERG DEVINS: The critical thing is that you’re listening. I look back to that Facebook Molson Campus promotion, and I was listening. I was up early that morning and got a Google alert that there was something in the Globe and Mail. I got on the phone to every student dean that was quoted in that article by Marina Strauss, and then I put a call in to Marina, who hadn’t spoken to us prior to the article. She did a subsequent piece on it and we managed to at least turn the conversation and get Molson’s perspective… into what was being written. We also did a follow-up meeting with the student deans at their national conference to discuss some of the concerns and issues. The key learning there, which actually effected a policy change, was about first-year students in residences. That would be a natural place, residences, to do marketing promotions for beer and beverage alcohol. But we now have put a policy in place where we will not go onto campus residences, understanding that there are lot of underage students there. There’s this opportunity to listen and you pick up these sensitivities really quickly. We’ve got a number of people on our team that are designated monitors, with strategic focus on who’s following up on what comment for what brand. If it’s a general comment about the brand, we’re coaching the monitors on how to handle that, but if it’s a comment that needs to go up to marketing or it’s a complaint, we have escalation procedures to deal with that.

MATT SEMANSKY: How do you think social media will continue to change the way you do marketing and communications?

FERG DEVINS: What we’ve done is we’ve brought the communications team, along with CRM and marketing folks, and created a social media influence team inside Molson. We’re also members of the Blog Council of North America, and that is a place to take a look at what’s happening in social media in terms of trends and new applications and communication opportunities. Given where we’ve come since we launched our blog in 2008, I can’t even imagine where we’re going to be in years to come. But conversations are happening, and for Molson, we want to be at the heart of those conversations.

Source: Marketing Magazine