Differentiation.

Grizzly is a smokeless tobacco produced by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which is currently the second largest tobacco company in the United States, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Skoal is also a smokeless tobacco product produced by Altria, which is a Fortune 200 company, based in Richmond, Virginia. Both companies boast user friendly websites once you bypass all of the login information required to determine your age. However, their social media presence is largely controlled by their consumers who use hashtags on all platforms from Instagram to Twitter to Facebook. What both brands have done in order to compensate for their lack of social media presence is to create their own tiny social media platforms on their brand websites. They both require personal information to access the website and draw on their products to push consumers to them, once they are signed up they can inundate them with promotional mailers but also hook them with instant win games and impressively extravagant giveaways. Skoal is currently pushing their latest interactive promotion called “Skoalisms” where consumers can submit quotes that may actual end up being printed onto a can. “Hark… Who Skoals there?” is a submission from Gregg D. in Lenexa, KS that is being touted proudly on the homepage. Grizzly is currently promoting their “Grizzly Tracker” which allows consumers to submit photos and places that they are traveling to or places that they have experienced the product in. Robert S. from Lafayette, GA has the featured shot on their website entitled “Outdoor Expeditions”. Of course, neither brand has the followers they might if they had their own Twitter page or Facebook account, but one of the more personal touches to this micro brand of social media is all of the personal information it collects from its consumers. By collecting this information, personalized mailers go out to consumers with coupons that have unique bar codes that tell the manufacture when and where they were purchased. They are also forming a closer bond with their consumers and benefiting from a extremely close brand loyalty that only the moist snuff industry has been able to benefit from throughout most of the tobacco categories.

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Lack of Evidence

Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li the authors of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Media; Mark Schaefer, author of The Toa of Twitter; and Chris Brogan, author of Google+ for Business have all written books that break down an aspect or the practice of social media and business. In their books they each identify best practices for both blogging and Twitter or specifically Twitter in Schaefer’s case.

After my journey through my recent studies and readings, I would like to condense and review some of the key points that I have taken away for what are best practices for blogging or tweeting.

First and foremost, it is most important to create your own voice and identity. In order to connect with any audience, especially your target audience, a brand must have a clear understanding of their identity.

Keep it short and sweet. Although it is very important to have meaning when interacting with consumers, it does not have to involve paragraphs of ongoing nonsense. In order to keep the attention of any audience in today’s world, it is key to keep the message on point and efficient.

That’s not to suggest, however, that ones voice become robotic or stale. Keeping a good sense of humor and a personal sense of style when communicating through social media not only attracts more followers and brand loyalist but it can also come in handy in the wake of a PR nightmare or blunder.

Don’t just let your social media presence because a public relations tool for crisis control, remember to communicate about the positive and relevant but most of all current and do it with consistency and timeliness.

A huge advantage, but often over looked by some industries, is using social media to socialize. Reply to your followers, even if it’s negative, use it as an opportunity to turn a situation around. Offer advice and help as well as knowledge and information.

Unfortunately, the industry for which I have chosen to devote this blog to, not only does not use best practices but they barely use any at all. While I have asked to follow certain tobacco companies on Twitter, eight weeks later and I have yet to be added by a single one. I am also at a loss for finding the actual Twitter page of some brands. For some tobacco brands there are several pages that are clearly created by fans and only generate a few followers at best with infrequent updates.

The message here is that this is an under utilized resource for the tobacco industry to use in order to advertise. As I have stated from the start of this blog, the restrictions on advertising tobacco products are impossible difficult to get around. As an unregulated medium, the internet should be approach as a do now and ask for forgiveness later approach.

Ethical arguments aside because then I would have to pretend that argument interests me at all, there are million of gambling and porn websites on the internet, however, tobacco still seems to be taboo.

In order to evaluate the best practices of the tobacco industry there must be something to evaluate, however, there is not. This is a perfect opportunity for tobacco industry to heed the words of the aforementioned authors and create a social media presence.

Shame of the Tobacco User

As I have discussed on this blog before, the advertising of tobacco brands is banned in most forms. However, the Internet is where those rules really start to hit a gray area. While considering whether or not to bring a tobacco brand social, the challenges arise when considering the opposition that a company may face by making that decision. When advertising tobacco you are essentially promoting a product that people are adamantly against and vehemently oppose. A tobacco company promotes their brand on social media and then millions of outraged bloggers take to their platforms to preach about how outrageous it is. In 2010, a YouTube video emerged that showed a Marlboro Light pack being morphed into a Transformer like action figure in a blockbuster Hollywood style.

Marlboro Transformer

Marlboro Transformer

The video attracted the attention of anti smoking groups who were outraged by the creative clip and argued that it promoted tobacco use. YouTube also provides original or “vintage” cigarette commercials for viewing online while the same content would be banned if available for viewing on television.

 

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In fact, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed 168 YouTube tobacco brand-related videos to find that 71% featured content that was deemed pro-tobacco. YouTube has a feature for viewers to flag a video as inappropriate but YouTube does not find a video inappropriate simply because it is pro tobacco. It is interesting to note that individual users and not tobacco companies upload these videos to the site. Even if a company was to upload a video, picture or tweet that could be deemed as pro tobacco, they are essentially free from responsibility, as the FCC does not regulate the Internet. Although the laws are not currently in place, and may never come about, the word of mouth negativity is enough to curb the enthusiasm of a tobacco company to use the Internet to market their brands.

This can be seen when considering the budgets that tobacco companies have created for their Internet marketing. Tobacco companies have slowly warmed up to the idea of utilizing social media as a way of marketing their brands. In 1998 tobacco companies only spent $125,000 on websites and Internet marketing while by 2008 that budget had exploded to $17.8 million. The biggest jump was seen between 2005 and 2006 when the budget doubled from $3.3 million to $8.3 million. While most tobacco companies are representing their brands on their own dedicated websites, their presence on social media formats is scattered and under developed. Very few brands have consistency on social media and even the ones that appear to be using social media the best are still finding that “likes” and followers on various platforms are still relatively low. However, the hash tagging of brands on sites such as Twitter and Instagram continue to grow. The hash tagging of their brands is not a medium that the company can control and therefore puts the brand message in the hands of the consumer.

Although a tobacco company currently employs me, I do use a product (cigarettes) that my company does not produce. While I am not oppose to lighting up while at the bar or in front of my apartment, I would never “like” the Facebook page of the brand that I use as that information is then available to all my friends. While I applaud the anti tobacco campaigns efforts at scarring me into quitting, it has not yet worked. With that said, the campaigns have effectively made me ashamed of my labeled “bad habit” and even as a grown woman I know that if my father found out I smoke cigarettes he would kick my butt. The “bad habit” label prevents some people from actively interacting with a particular brand on a social platform because I would then be exposing myself as a user. I believe that this is a challenge that tobacco companies face when trying to gain “likes” and followers on their social media pages. This is evident by the fact that some brands are still not represented on any social media platforms.

quit-smoking

 

From the protesters to the shamed users, the tobacco industry has a lot of challenges facing them when it comes to marketing on social media.

 

Smoke Spots: Smoking Friendly Places Near You

While doing my research I discovered that not only was there no dedicated mobile social media application for the tobacco industry, but it is not common practice for the any particular brand to have a dedicate app either. In order to avoid being repetitive in my blog’s mentions of the importance of both Twitter and Instagram for promotion of the tobacco industry, I’d like to tackle this particular blog entry from a slightly different angle.

What’s going to make it different is that I am going to be discussing the possibility of a social media application based on a United Kingdom based website called Smoke Spots. The website was provided by the multinational British tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco Ltd, the fourth largest producer of cigarettes in the world.

itg_logo

The concept of Smoke Spots is fairly simple, it is a tool for cigarette users in Britain to locate smoking friendly venues near them. Although alone that idea could already be made into an app as location finders are not a groundbreaking feature, it is the content that makes the website successful. This content could easily be translated into a successful mobile social media application platform.

Smoke Spots does not just offer a location finder, it encourages communication among it’s audience to share experiences and photos about smoking venues in order to facility conversation and promote exploration of new businesses that the city has to offer from bars, pubs and restaurants that offer smoking facilities. The community not only lists different locations, it offers peer reviews and submissions. It also promotes upcoming events for Smoke Spots venues that encourage social mingling amongst the blogs subscribers such as an upcoming Ping-Pong tournament at 93 Feet East in London, which is highlighted in their frequently updated “Featured Event” section.

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It includes a clickable link to another page that provides details about the events from pictures of the venue to descriptions about their delicious BBQ and DJ booth. You can then access the venues site directly or contact them via email or phone or check out their social media pages. It then offers links for users to save the event, send it to their calendar or share the event through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Word Press. Users can also upload their own photos from the event or from past experiences at the venue. As well as, obviously, a map with location of the venue and directions that link over to Google maps on their mobile device that give walking directions, public transport or by car.

The layout is clean and concise for their sections that also offer frequently updated “Featured Spots” which offer information about a new smoke spot such as Lamb & Flag on James St in London. It highlights the bars features, shows directions, contact information, website link as well as other smoke spots nearby. Users can create events for the location, write reviews, upload pictures and share the page with their friends to arrange a night on the town.

The blog is one of the key interests that the website has to offer, it not only solely focuses on locations where smokers can lit up but it also offers other related content and funny articles. Featured in this week’s blog spotlight are posts titled “Top 5 Boats to Drink in London”, “London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names” and of course “The FA Cup Final & Smoker Friendly Places Nearby”.

 

London's 5 Most Humorous Pub Names - #1

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names – #1

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names - #2

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names – #2

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names - #3

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names – #3

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names - #4

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names – #4

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names - #5

London’s 5 Most Humorous Pub Names – #5

 

The content as well as the promotion of community and social networking that the site has to offer makes a mobile application a serious option for Smoke Spots. The website was announced in July 2013, less than a year ago, via Imperial Tobacco’s Twitter. In the span of ten months the website has managed to capture 7,121 likes on their Facebook page, 184 followers on Twitter, numerous subscribers to their blog and a countless amount of shares of their content across numerous social media platforms.

The website even managed to stirrup concern before it even launched due to an article written by three graduate students at the School of Business at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. The article titled, “Smoke Spots: Promoting Smoking with Social Media” by Suzan Burton, Alena Soboleva and Aila Khan discusses Smoke Spots integrated communications campaign and their launch of event marketing which promotes interactive costumer experiences with smoking in order to encourage positive brand promotion and build an emotional connection with the consumer. The article goes on to point out many of the features of the website that I have already explained and condemn the site purely out of the authors opposition to smoking rather than focusing on the social aspect that the website puts its primary focus on.

Smoke Spots website is integrated to be completely mobile friendly and while there is no mention of an app in the works, it has all the makings of an inactive social media application that could build the brand even further as the site moves into its second year.

“Smoke Spots – You choose where you drink, why not where you smoke?”

Good question.

Cheers.

Snus

The tobacco industry encapsulates many companies that have a large array of products and brands. For this post I will focus on three different companies, RJ Reynolds, Altria and Swedish Match; specially their social media standing on their snus brands. RJ Reynolds produces Camel Snus, Altria produces Skoal Snus and Swedish Match produces General Snus.

Camel Snus Frost

Camel Snus Frost

Skoal Snus Smooth Mint

Skoal Snus Smooth Mint

General

General Snus

Starting with the company operated brand websites; all of the websites require a user to register and then go through an age verification process in order to access the full site. However, RJ Reynolds is the only website that does not have a designated website promoting their Camel Snus. Their website is a filled with information about all of their products including cigarettes and snus. The only brand that is not on their website are their moist snuff products. I can assume the logic behind this is that their moist snuff products carry brand names that do not have the Camel in them, an example being Grizzly. The website is not very snus friendly and requires users to take extra steps in order to find the brand’s product. There is a coupon area allowing users to print coupons for their snus, but there is no promotion of interacting with the brand. Altria’s website for their products include both Skoal Snus and their line of moist snuff products. Similar to RJ Reynolds, the snus line is not heavily promoted or interactive on the website. In stark contrast to the approach of the first two companies, Swedish Match has a dedicated website for their General Snus. The website is impressively designed and immediately provides clear links for the consumer to discover what snus is and its benefits, what makes General snus stand out against their competitors (including scientific evidence and success stories) as well as a store locator, rewards program and printable coupons. The website also easily guides General Snus users to General’s Twitter and Facebook pages unlike RJ Reynolds and Altria which do not offer this interaction. From design to incentive and consumer interaction; General snus is the clear winner with their Internet presence.

When you click over to the General Snus Twitter page it is protected in order to prevent those under the age of 18 to access their feed. However, they have successful carried over their beautiful brand logo and maintained consistency on their Facebook page as well. General snus is very interactive with their consumers, posting links to snus blogs, promoting consumer stories and featuring pictures that consumers have shared with them.

In order to improve their social media RJ Reynolds and Altria could benefit from taking a lesson from their competitor, Swedish Match, who offers a superior experience for their consumers. From dedicating a page to the brand to offering incentives in a gorgeous and easy layout as well as providing further education for the consumer. Snus is still a product that although widely used in Europe, is still a lesser-known alternative to both cigarettes and e-cigs while still providing nicotine satisfaction.

It is interesting to note that snus is marketed as an alternative to cigarettes and the only brand out of the three that does not have a parent company that manufactures cigarettes is General Snus’ manufacture, Swedish Match.

General, although vastly superior to its competitors as far as a social media presence, can still use some improvement. As of today, General Snus only has 96 Twitter followers in contrast they have almost 7,000 likes on Facebook. While the amount of likes the brand has generated are impressive considering Swedish Match only launched the brand national in January of 2014, the lack of Twitter followers seems to be directly related to a lack of time spent on the social media platform.

#BigTobacco #FreePromotion

The tobacco industry once dominated radio, television, newspaper, magazine, billboards, public transportation, and sporting event advertising.

Joe Cool

Narrowing the focus solely on bans in the United States tobacco industry, these marketing outlets started facing restrictions as early as the 1960’s.

The products affected by advertising bans include cigarettes, pipe tobacco, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars and snus. Most recently the FDA has started to decide what regulations to place on electronic cigarettes, which have spiked in popularity over the past few years.

Even though tobacco companies have utilized the Internet to have websites to promote their brands there are still restrictions to accessing these sites, although an argument can be made that those restrictions can be easily bypassed.

Social media platforms have opened up interesting marketing tools for tobacco brands and products; however, instead of the control being placed in the hands of the industry itself the marketing is driven by the consumers of the products.

While age verification is required in order to access the direct websites of tobacco companies, there is no age verification required for consumers to promote products by use of #hashtags.

For this particular blog, I will focus on mass-market cigar products. White Owl is a homogenized tobacco leaf cigar brand produced by Swedish Match. A homogenized tobacco leaf, HTL for short, is the cigar wrapper that has been made by through the process of combining water with ground tobacco.

An example of how a White Owl brand cigar can be promoted by consumers through the use of social media tools is a White Owl consumer discovering that the White Owl Brand has introduced a new flavor, such as mango, the excitement of this discover can be expressed through Twitter or Instagram using #whiteowl and #mango. The consumer can then include pictures of the product and illustrate just how the consumer interacts with the brand. They can even brag about how the brand helped their #decor.

White Owl Mango Instagram

White Owl Mango

 

The message of the brand is promoted by the consumers and pushed out to their followers taking the word of mouth advertising strategy to an entirely new level, especially in an industry that cannot use traditional marketing routes to promote their products. The advertising and marketing through the social medial channels are not only free for the company but for the follower of the consumer promoting the brand, the advertising is not considered to be SPAM for those casually browsing through their friend’s posts or feeds. The #whiteowl being a clickable link than can connect consumers through their loyalty, experiences and knowledge.

While comparing Twitter and Instragram as two separate social media tools, the two have their own strengths and weakness. From a mobile standpoint, Instragram is able to promote the brand through direct illustration more easily considering that the platform is photo based, it does not require an extra step to click a link in order to view all photos that a consumer has included in a post. While Twitter is better able to get a direct message across through a textual standpoint. Considering that the platforms can also be directly linked to one another makes an even more powerful tool that companies do even have to have a social presence on themselves. While researching the brand, I found no certified Twitter or Instagram account for the White Owl brand, however, if you search the #whiteowl on either platform, they are an extremely visible brand as the consumer has seemingly done the work for them.