Coke Clarifies: Social Buzz Complements Long-Term Sales

You’ve probably heard that everyone’s talking about Coca-Cola‘s social media reveal this week. According to the soft drink giant, the fact that more people are discussing its brand on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube doesn’t necessarily mean that more of them are buying Coke products. But maybe “How many people bought a Coke after retweeting a call to action?” is the wrong question to ask.

In an effort to clarify its points and counter the media’s collective freakout, Coke’s SVP of integrated marketing Wendy Clark wrote a blog post arguing that social does, in fact, play a large role in boosting brand perception and audience engagement–which leads to more sales.

Her point, of course, is that the fact that data can’t directly link the number of comments on a Facebook post to the number of people buying Coke does not diminish the value of said content. This kind of “buzz” is only one part of Coke’s extensive branding/PR puzzle, which uses earned, shared, paid and owned media to encourage the brand’s ultimate goal: driving consumers to buy more soda in the long run.

In fact, she says that the company has worked with Facebook to “track closed-loop sales from site exposure to in-store purchase with very promising initial results”. So while joining the “conversation” on a Coke Facebook post may not inspire someone to get off the couch and go pick up a 16 oz. bottle of the stuff, data suggests that exposure to the page does indeed make him or her more likely to do so at a later date.

Unsurprisingly, Clark writes that Coke’s most successful campaigns are those that begin with an ad spot and then utilize all types of media in order to encourage audience engagement. Facebook posts, YouTube clips and Twitter calls to action can’t do the job on their own, but social is at the core of these integrated campaigns. Sparking a conversation online won’t lead to an immediate sales bump–but without it the larger promotional push will be far less effective.

Remember when General Motors said they’d stopped making paid Facebook ads after determining that the spots weren’t really so effective? Around the same time, marketing reps from both Ford and Coke told The Wall Street Journal that the conversations generated by the site ultimately benefit their brands, because duh.

Our conclusion remains the same: the industry doesn’t really have data directly linking a customer’s contribution to social “buzz” and his or her likelihood to spend money on a brand. And the act of looking for that needle in the Big Data haystack is not the best use of your time. But that certainly doesn’t mean that social media isn’t effective in driving business gains. And at the end of the day these goals are all about sales.