Online product hype tests limit of social media campaigns

A Facebook page. Technology is changing the way firms hype their products.  REUTERS
A Facebook page. Technology is changing the way firms hype their products. REUTERS 

Technology is changing the way companies hype their products and how they connect with customers, but does this new brand proselytizing have limits?

A newly launched social media campaign by popular frozen dessert chain Tasti D-Lite is testing those very boundaries. The company has introduced a customer loyalty program that simultaneously rewards its patrons, while helping them spread the word online, in the form of automated updates via Twitter and Foursquare.

Loyalty programme

Here’s how it works: participants who register their loyalty programme “TreatCards” online are given the option of allowing Tasti D-Lite to send an alert on their behalf, whenever points are earned or redeemed. For example, a New York customer buys five dollars worth of frozen treats.

When he swipes his card at the store’s point-of-sale system, his Twitter or Foursquare followers immediately get an update that reads: “I just scored 5 TastiRewards points at Tasti D-Lite Columbus, Circle, NYC!” The customer is then awarded points for the message, which he can later redeem for treats.


The accompanying press release said the goal was to “develop an innovative loyalty program that broke new ground and took their communication and relationships with their customer to a new level.”

BJ Emerson, Tasti D-Lite’s resident social media director, expected the application to boost an already avid customer base. “When we turn this on, that just puts it on steroids,” said Emerson, who added the company was an early adopter of social media, engaging with Twitter two years ago.

Of Tasti’s 47 locations, the Scottsdale, Arizona and Nashville, Tennessee stores were the first to offer the new promotion. Eight others are slated to be up and running by week’s end, with the full rollout to be completed by the spring.

Robust as this viral strategy appears, social media experts said it’s not without risk. The message could be perceived as unwelcome noise from individual users whose followers don’t expect corporate chatter alongside the usual updates of daily doings and social gossip, said Josh Hallett, director of consulting firm Voce Communications.

“It definitely is a novel idea,” said Hallett. “But there’s a downside. Do the people who follow me find that fun and interesting? Maybe (they) wouldn’t be interested and I’d have to turn that functionality off.”

Social media audiences also span large geographies, he said, making it likely that localized promotions, such as the one sent on behalf of the Manhattan store, would have limited appeal among an individual’s followers.

“The global nature of Facebook and Twitter can cut both ways,” he said.

Tasti D-Lite’s move, which comes in an economy where traditional marketing budgets are stretched thin, follows other novel corporate efforts to monetise social media.
Consider the L.A.-based food outfit Kogi BBQ, which uses Twitter to alert its followers when and where the delivery truck will be making its next stop.

Reaching pre-mined audiences of those with similar interests to existing customers certainly sounds like a game-changer, but whether or not mechanised messages are perceived as genuine endorsements remains to be seen. “Loyalty and referrals are dependent upon someone consciously saying this really mattered to me,” said Jonathan Salem Baskin, a marketing consultant who has worked on campaigns for Blockbuster and Nissan. -Reuters