Guest Post by: Simon Phillips

Adam Leyland’s description of new Tesco boss Philip Clarke’s use of Twitter in The Grocer this week made for an interesting read.

On 18th March Philip Clarke tweeted:  “in a social media and social commerce meeting”.

Good to hear that social media is on the radar of Britain’s top grocery boss.

However, the article then goes on to suggest that Philips Clarke’s Twitter silence last week was due to him grappling with a PR disaster at Tesco as their buy one get it free plus cash (BOGIFPC) “Double the Difference” campaign went into meltdown.

Using social media, consumers found they could exploit a huge loophole in the campaign by buying certain products at Tesco that were priced cheaper elsewhere and could actually make a cash profit. Pre-social media times, the effort to price check thousands of product lines simply wouldn’t have been worth the effort and this campaign would probably have been fine.

But social media is part of our daily lives. So when a simple site was created – allowing consumers to easily check which products they could buy and make a profit on, they used it in their thousands. As word spread on consumer forums and sites like Moneysavingexpert, Tesco were forced to pull the offer and face an inevitable furore on their Facebook page and elsewhere.

Tesco aren’t the first big brand to get caught like this and there are now lots of well documented case studies about how customers leveraging social media can force brands into taking action they would rather not have to.

While this was quite an unfortunate thing to happen to Tesco, what it would be interesting to know is if during the meeting about social media that Philip Clarke attended,  did  someone (like Tesco’s social media agency) not point out this could happen? Were they not briefed properly about future offline campaigns and how they could be impacted by the online world? We will never know for sure.

One thing’s for certain – unless agencies stop advising their clients that social media is just a channel, without looking at the wider business or brand strategy and  how social media can impact this strategy, situations like what happened at Tesco will happen again and again.

Social media has to inform and be informed by all other business initiatives; it does not happen in a vacuum and will ultimately fail if it does.

Image 1: andwar

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