Sharing our social media strategy for the Western Co. and a final concluding remark on the course.
The Western Co. (TWC) was launched at Foch Road in July 2016 and was touted as a rising star among food lovers in Singapore for their innovative Swiss raclette cheese dishes priced affordably. Being one of the first few establishments to introduce such a unique offering in Singapore, their gooey melted raclette cheese videos have gone viral on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and had most certainly caught a fair share of Singapore’s dining population.
Allowing customers to indulge in its unique dishes, TWC generated substantial awareness and chatter surrounding its brand. However, the slew of social media notoriety had led to the resignation of the previous management, leaving a new management to grapple with re-establishing TWC’s brand reputation.
A few months into their opening, TWC had their first brush with bad publicity where the original founder, Ms Larissa Yang had refused to pay for the advertorial services of well-known food blogger Seth Lui who’s team promoted the café through a blog post. Ms Yang discredited Seth Lui’s work on the grounds that much of the sales and publicity rendered had been a result of the previous blogger hired. Livid, Seth Lui took to social media to discredit TWC which had an immediate crippling effect on TWC’s reputation, especially among his followers.
TWC further aggravated social netizens with their repugnant statements made on social media in response to displeased customers who had expressed their frustrations with TWC’s customer service etiquette. One post recounts a customer’s experience at TWC where he was chased out of the café due to a heated argument with Ms Yang over the payment mode. The customer had believed that NETS payment was available as it was reflected on TWC’s Facebook page. However instead of accepting the mistake and apologizing, Ms Yang adamantly insisted that only cash was accepted and chased the customer out. Disgruntled, the customer took to social media to vent his frustrations. The situation was worsened by Ms Yang’s aggressive replies to the customer’s posts on Facebook.
Given the high traffic and consumer-facing nature of the F&B industry, restaurants are especially susceptible to a PR disaster. With no proper crisis management in place, the entire fiasco spiraled out of control with stakeholders taking to social media to share their frustrations. The combined effect of the two crises together with Ms. Yang’s audacious PR responses instigated severe backlash on social media, resulting in a detrimental impact on the brand’s reputation and TWC’s potential to dominate the market. Being a new restaurant and not having earned enough reputational capital to bolster them during the crisis, the entire fiasco blew up, with Ms. Yang posting a public apology before closing her business.
In December 2016, TWC was sold to Ms Elise Sim who believed she had the capacity to turn the business around. With time, negativity around the TWC brand had seemed to diffuse, with Seth Lui posting on his own social media to end the issue.
Nonetheless some customers continued to be skeptical about the new management and questioned the integrity of the buy-over. Nonetheless, Ms Sim and her husband, foodies with a love for cheese, felt that TWC offers dishes that are truly unique and potential to re-emerge. An in-depth interview with Ms Sim revealed some goals she had for the restaurant both in the short and long run.
From the SWOT analysis, and considering the client’s efforts to boost sales, our group feels that there is significant opportunity for TWC to improve its brand reputation amongst consumers and drown the negative publicity under the previous management leading us to construct our research question as elaborated in the next section.
Due to its negative reputation among several consumers and its haphazard positioning, TWC has found itself lost in a myriad of restaurants popping up in the ever-growing F&B industry in Singapore. As such, our group aims to investigate the following:
“How can TWC better leverage on its existing social media platforms to bridge the perception gap consumers have on them and engage a larger number of their target audience?”
Based on our preliminary findings, we scheduled an interview with Ms. Sim, where she further described the situation of TWC, potential areas to consider and some expectations for the course of the project. From there, our team proceeded on to a full observational study on 17/02/2017.
This was followed by surveys administered online and a focus group discussion with the main objective of understanding: (1) Consumer’s dinning patterns in the F&B sector based on key attributes, (2) Consumer’s perception and brand awareness of TWC based on its current crisis recovery efforts, and (3) Consumer’s perception of TWC’s current engagement level with them. Insights collected from our preliminary research were valuable in re-constructing our perspective and providing us with a holistic view to tailor our solutions accordingly.
To offer Ms. Sim recommendations that would go beyond a short-lived impact, we conducted another survey to test the receptivity of customers to the proposed strategies thereby validating the feasibility of the proposed strategies, highlighting potential areas for improvement and offering some limitations to consider. The research also serves to assist Ms. Sim in understanding the F&B environment and how an increased brand reputation can translate to an increase in sales.
TWC’s Facebook has garnered 7,238 likes in total, growing in followers count by 7.46% over the last 3 months. TWC’s Facebook page is not updated regularly and has approximately a total of 21 posts over the last 3 months, with higher post-frequency in December. TWC’s video posts had 20% more engagement compared to photo posts (all posts were not promoted).
Content-wise, TWC is focusing on messages that highlight the change in management. However, reactions from the public are mixed, with some excited and others calling it a PR trick. Interestingly, posts about the introduction of NETS payment (an issue that triggered the 2nd crisis); garnered the most engagement.
A WordCloud Sentiment Analysis revealed a fair number of negative-connoted words like “threatened”, “wrong”, “bad”, “chase”, attributable to the bad PR that TWC faced in the third quarter last year, highlighting the pressing issue TWC has to address.
Being attentive to the quality of all published content shows TWC’s efforts in maintaining the brand image and their penchant for excellence on all touchpoints. However, TWC’s Facebook current cover photo (wall mural) and profile image is of low resolution and their page does not communicate what the brand is known for. This shows TWC’s indifference in managing their brand image on social media. Despite being a purveyor of quality dishes, the association with quality is not reflected in every aspect of the brand, thereby weakening the reputation of TWC.
TWC’s Instagram has a total of 819 followers. Most of their posts on Instagram are reposts from consumers who patronized TWC and have tagged either their location or TWC on their picture. As TWC reposts every picture that they have been tagged in, there is an unappealing combination of aesthetically and non-aesthetically pleasing posts. Furthermore, the frequency of posts is erratic with no proper management, leading to low engagement shown by an average of 15-30 likes on each post, with not much comments.
While TWC’s repost strategy may allow for self-affirmation and validation (Cohern & Sherman, 2007) of their customers, it is not very appropriate for TWC; considering Instagram being an owned media, should comprise of more original content than customer reposts.
2.1.2 Paid Media
TWC has engaged Groupon and sold 902 vouchers thus far. Majority who purchased are from the central part of Singapore, giving us a sensing on the provenance of their current patrons. Proximity may be a factor in determining customers’ decision to visit TWC.
Following TWC’s encounter with Seth Lui in their first crisis, they have a bad reputation among influencers in Singapore. TWC has not engaged any influencers since then and it may be challenging for TWC to engage influencers in the future.
A quick Google search will review that the top hits are plagued with negative publicity. This creates an additional barrier that may deter potential customers from patronizing the restaurant because of the poor reviews it has garnered.
Food Review Sites
According to a Consumer Review Survey by BrightLocal, 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business. This highlights the importance of food review sites in reflecting on TWC. Currently, TWC reviews on prominent food review sites like Hungrygowhere are largely mediocre. Such earned media is invaluable because consumers tend to trust word of mouth recommendations from others.
Twitter and Online Forums
TWC has a sizeable amount of negative earned media (offensive and boycotting remarks) on platforms like Twitter and Hardwarezone Forum after the PR crisis. This negative word of mouth that spreads on social networks tarnishes TWC’s brand image and may detract potential customers from visiting TWC.
2.2 Competitor’s Social Media Analysis
Muugu Fork and Fish & Chicks are TWC’s close competitors, as they have similar value proposition and food offerings; namely selling western dishes and marketing their food with cheese as the drawing-point. It is worthy to note that Muugu Fork’s target segment is skewed towards the Muslim consumers given that its halal-certification.
2.2.1 Owned Media
TWC has the lowest share of fans at 25 % compared to Fish & Chicks TWC (43%) and Muugu Fork (32%). Muugu Fork has the highest relative fan growth in the last 3 months at 27.8%, much higher than that of TWC (7.46%) and Fish & Chicks (2.35%). This indicates that TWC should relook into their content and promotional strategy on social media to increase their fan growth rate and their share of fans.
The sum of interactions is highest for Fish & Chicks at 336.7, followed by TWC at 129.4 and Muugu Fork at a low 8.03. Especially for Fish & Chicks and TWC, it is observed that food reposts garnered the most interactions. Perhaps superior performance in this aspect can be attributed to Fish & Chicks posting higher quality photos than that of TWC.
Only Fish & Chicks promoted their posts, achieving a 20-times promoted efficiency. Analyzing sentiments of user posts among the 3 restaurants, TWC performed the worst, garnering the most negative sentiments.
TWC has the lowest share of fans among its competitors at 819 followers, it also performs the worst in the number of likes per post. TWC fares moderately in the aspect of frequency of posts, bettering Muggu Fork (1 post every 3 weeks) but performing worse than Fish & Chicks (1 post every week). This shows that TWC should intensify its efforts in gaining a higher share of fans and increase its audience engagement by posting more captivating organic content.
2.2.2 Paid Media
Fish & Chicks have engaged more influencers to market their business than TWC. It can be inferred that Fish & Chicks likely garnered higher brand awareness than TWC through the greater impressions they garnered from their hired food bloggers who have a large following in Singapore. Fish & Chicks have also sold about 456 more Groupon vouchers than TWC, through 2 separate deals on Groupon.
2.2.3 Earned Media
Aggregating the quantity and quality of earned media, our group believes that Fish & Chicks performs the best, having the largest number of positive reviews and mentions on social media. Although TWC has a decent amount of positive earned media from Food review websites, it has a largest number of negative earned media from Twitter and Hardwarezone Forum as compared to its competitors. This shows that TWC has to improve its service offering both at the store and on social media, to improve their brand image. This translates into more positive earned media that eventually drowns the negativity online.
TWC’s marketing efforts are presently executed mainly through their Facebook and Instagram accounts with no proper order and conscientiousness with regards to its upkeep. Given the potential for social media to elevate a brand’s reputation and project brand values and personality, our group feels that TWC is not fully utilizing their social media presence to reap their benefits in its entirety. We hope to help TWC create a successful social media strategy to excel in majority of the listed measures, which will undoubtedly translate to an advantageous market position for TWC.
3.0 Proposed Social Media Strategies
To achieve Ms. Sim’s goal to increase sales by 20% from the original sales pre-TWC crisis by the end of 2017, our group feels that TWC should focus on the following 3 objectives that come together to bolster TWC’s reputation building efforts.
From our survey results, 62% of our respondents have only heard about TWC through the PR fiasco and 53% do not see themselves patronizing TWC. With 48% of respondents identifying as “Unsure” of their current feelings towards TWC, we saw a need to change the current customers’ negative perception of TWC by distancing themselves from the PR fiasco in consumers’ minds and get them to associate the brand with more positive experiences instead.
Of our respondents, only 16% have ever visited TWC, with only 4% of them being repeat customers. Furthermore, as the cost of acquiring a new customer is approximately six to seven times more than retaining an existing customer (Morris, 2016), and a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25-100% increase in profit (Reichheld, 2012), TWC should engage sufficiently with its customers and build a loyal customer base, which serves to achieve the overarching goal set by Ms Sim to increase sales revenue by 20% from the pre-crisis sales amount.
3.1.3 Objective 3: To establish a well-maintained position in the industry among a community of cheese enthusiasts.
Our survey revealed that 38% of respondents indicated that they are more likely to travel to a location to dine if it offers a unique dining experience. Furthermore, according to the theory of attraction, similarities in ideologies and attitudes bring people together. Given the findings revealed in our primary and secondary research, we feel there is great opportunity to connect with customers to curate a unique dining experience for them, building a community that increases the emotional connection patrons have towards TWC as they find an identity amongst like-minded individuals.
3.2 Target Audience
We have chosen millennials, aged 18-35 as the target market for TWC. Millennials constitute nearly 27% of Singapore’s current population (Varma, 2015). They are more tech-savvy than their counterparts and majority of Singaporean millennials agreed that gathering experience, and not material possessions, is the most important form of wealth (HRM Asia, 2016).
88% of Singaporeans own smartphones and 90% of millennials go online daily. Hence, Singaporean millennials rely on social media for purchasing, advice on food and travel and like to share both good and bad experiences online. Millennials in Singapore turn to influencers and follow them to find out what is trending in the food scene, spending an average of 3.4 hours daily on their phones. Thus, TWC should increase their social media efforts and engage the right influencers to connect with millennials.
Traditional no more
Singaporeans are turning away from overtly stressful lifestyles to spend more time to travel and explore. They are willing to spend on entertainment and dining out, with Singapore millennials spending 13% more on eating out in 2013. Thus, TWC should leverage on this characteristic to create an environment that enhances the overall dining experience for patrons.
Millennials in Singapore are the world’s gloomiest with 50% of millennials feeling pessimistic. Since Singapore millennials come in second when it comes to working the longest hours in a week (average of 48 hours), it presents TWC with an opportunity to capitalize on this by offering a venue young millennials can find respite in.
3.3 Message Strategy
TWC’s current reputation revolves around the PR fiasco. However, we believe that there is significant room to build the brand and remove TWC from this negative perception by targeting millennials and getting them to believe in the brand first. In doing so, we hope to create a community of individuals who front TWC’s social media realm with their support, drowning the noise from TWC’s past. We also see a compelling need to provide more meaningful user engagement, to increase customer interactions and TWC’s retention rate.
The main message that these strategies will deliver is the fact that TWC’s new management is all out to listen to their customers and put their customers first, while retaining the central theme of sharing a passion and love for cheese.
3.4 Social Media Strategies
3.4.1 Rebranding The Western Co. to TWC
Our group proposes they rebrand as the abbreviated version of its name, TWC, which would enable it to start afresh in building its reputation, highlight the new management and most importantly, preserve its identity in its cheese whilst drowning the negativity online.
While this may not initially seem like a social media strategy, it has implications on TWC’s online presence and subsequent social media strategies. As mentioned, from TWC’s online audit, the name “The Western Co” results in an overwhelming amount of negative posts, immediately raising red flags for potential patrons. However, Ms. Sim noted that the name “The Western Co.” carried with it the identity as being the “cheese” company. Thus, the name TWC serves to balance the need to retain the identity of the company whilst simultaneously dissociating themselves from the past
Creating a community of cheese enthusiasts
We also propose that they set the stage to foster a community of cheese enthusiasts. Hence, we recommend that the graffiti on the walls of the restaurant (Figure 14) be painted over with the words #TWCSAYSCHEESE (Figure 15). Drawing from the success of Island Creamery, this would act as a photo wall so patrons can put up pictures of their visit to TWC, leaving their mark behind. TWC should work with instantly.sg, a photo printing company, to allow patrons to instantly print photos when they upload it to Instagram with the hashtag #TWCSAYSCHEESE, which they can choose to keep or put on the wall.
Through this, we aim to increase the density in the Social Network Theory, to evoke a sense of familiarity when patrons spot familiar faces on the photo wall. This will generate earned media for TWC via location tags and hashtags, and increase betweenness among consumers.
3.4.2 Improving content strategy on social media
Curating published content is a key aspect of a brand’s marketing efforts as it reflects brand personality. Content posts are often the first touch points through which an impression is formed by offering the public a glimpse into what the brand advocates. Neglecting this autonomy that TWC has on its own social media to shape the public’s perception of themselves through carefully curated content is a lost opportunity for TWC.
Emphasis on quality
With a plethora of unique product offerings, TWC should strive to actively feature dishes with carefully curated content images. Done right, the aesthetic appeal of the content alone is effective in generating three times as many leads as traditional marketing (Hurst, 2015). With businesses facing an aesthetic imperative, the element of aesthetics in marketing has become a critical source of product identity and consumer value. In fact, the desire for interesting, memorable and meaningful sensory experiences has become increasingly necessary for many consumers (Postrel, 2003).
We also propose that TWC capitalize on 3 types of video technology to promote its renowned raclette cheese namely:
- Live stream technology on Facebook and Instagram that creates a behind-the-scenes look into kitchen preparation. Notably, this would be ideal for big events that TWC might want to host, to engage viewers and create excitement
- Current viral social media food trend, Tasty, in recreating TWC’s dishes step by step to increase engagement with viewers
- Boomerang videos which replays the raclette cheese being melted onto dishes
Knowing that TWC’s video content generates 20% more engagement than its photo content and that cheese videos have been the most popular out of all food videos (Moses, 2017) in engaging viewers, we believe that this strategy bodes well in terms of being low costs with high rewards.
Based on the idea that cheese goes well with everything and TWC’s identity in cheese, TWC can create a campaign revolving around cheese. Entitled #howcheesyareyou, viewers can share the most unconventional food item that they have paired with cheese and surprisingly, turned out delicious! They would then tag 3 friends to challenge them to do the same.
This would encourage greater participation and engagement from the audience. With the Monitor aspect of social media implemented, individuals can communicate and engage with others through creative uses of cheese. TWC would also be able to receive different ideas on the use of cheese and commercialize them by incorporating them in their menu if the food idea resonates with their overall theme as part of the Magnet aspect of social media. TWC could also give them rewards like discounts, for the most creative/unconventional response to spark participation. Also, the tagging system enables them to leverage on the concept of betweenness in the Social Network Theory, reaching out to potential patrons that have no direct network with TWC via the network of their current patrons.
3.4.3 Improving their online presence
Launching an online website
According to the Psychological Ownership Theory, when an organization is facing negative feedback from the public, it should push out more organizational communications to curb the negative publicity. Therefore, it is imperative for TWC to launch an official website as it would serve as a dedicated online space for TWC to present their brand story to the public and share what the brand and the new management synergistically believe in. Through curated visuals, the website serves to align the core positioning of the brand while highlighting their differentiated and unique product offerings. By explicitly presenting such information, TWC would be able to strengthen their brand identity and increase awareness surrounding their entire business.
Furthermore, the website would greatly elevate TWC’s online presence as according to our survey, 40% of our respondents utilize web search to obtain information regarding where to eat. Also, given web search ranks highly as the platform for millennials to source for information, being easily accessible on the digital realm would greatly boost TWC’s brand recognition among the public and gain the traction from millennials. The website would also serve to drown the noise surrounding TWC’s reputation online as paid SEO allows the official site to emerge first, serving as the key contact point with new customers.
According to the Framing Theory, an official website explicitly frames consumer’s understanding of TWC. Instead of allowing the media to tell their story, TWC should take ownership by having a platform to tell their own story. Currently, with no official platform to share their brand story, beliefs and values, TWC neglects an opportunity to build a strong reputation capital and cultivate a holistic identity.
3.4.4 Improve communications about the new management
We recommend Ms. Sim to have an introductory video done, capturing the day-to-day operations in TWC featuring Ms. Sim herself in a casual lighthearted format. This video serves to elaborate on her motivations and rationale for taking over the company and her vision for TWC enabling current and potential patrons to know who she is. To increase the legitimacy of the strategy, the video must be professionally done and filmed in a sincere manner. This video should be uploaded onto Facebook and their official website adding weight to TWC’s efforts to communicate their brand story. This increases the authenticity of her business, as people are now able to put a face to the TWC brand, humanizing the image of TWC.
Keeping in mind the objective to change the negative perception of TWC, we want to increase the authenticity of the claims, completely dissociating the old management with TWC. Furthermore, coupled with the evidence that videos were 20% more engaging than pictures on TWC’s Facebook page, through the Megaphone aspect of social media we are able to emphasize the change in management.
3.4.5 Influencer marketing
Since The Western Co. will be rebranded to TWC with all social media handles reflecting this change and an official website, we propose that TWC engage food bloggers to create hype around its product as well as highlight the dining experience under the new management. It is advisable not to engage Sethlui.com due to the poor experience in the past. Given the tight budget, we recommend that TWC choose one influencer from the ranked list. Based on reach and relevance, we recommend that TWC approach Danielfooddiary.com as their first choice.
TWC’s marketing efforts has done little to bring attention to the restaurant and gain traction amongst their target audiences via the use of influencer marketing. In fact, the absence of influencers advocating their reprise impedes TWC’s efforts to recover from their crisis. Therefore, our group feels that engaging in influencer marketing would greatly elevate their brand recognition amongst current and potential customers, whilst drowning out the negativity.
The proposed strategies are easy to implement, cost efficient and sustainable (Figure 22). Financially, several of the potential cost components can easily be offset and some of the proposed strategies have already been budgeted for by TWC. Operationally, our group estimates that only 2 TWC employees are required to maintain and execute the campaigns, Facebook and Instagram initiatives. Therefore, the strategies pass the test of feasibility at both the financial and operational level, and the potential benefits of the initiatives to TWC far outweigh the cost.
Our group conducted a 2nd survey to analyze the receptivity of our target group to our proposed social media strategies which included the 1) tasty concept videos, 2) website 3) corporate video and 4) campaign synopsis. Respondents stated that they were likely follow and ‘like’ TWC on social media, while 78% respondents expressed their willingness to share TWC’s Tasty-inspired videos on their own social media accounts. Moreover, respondents reacted positively to the #HOWCHEESYAREYOU campaign and indicated their interest to participate in the challenge. Furthermore, our objectives were met as respondents stated that they would patronize TWC after being exposed to our simulated strategies. Overall, respondents had greater brand knowledge about TWC and predominant sentiments towards TWC changed from “unsure” to “promising”. Therefore, we feel that our strategies will be well received by the target audience, meeting our desired objectives.
One obstacle would be that the openness of social media creates management challenges, which centres around the inability to control what consumers say about the company. As noted from the Starbucks case, although the discussions tab on their Facebook contains enthusiast’s comments and thoughtful dialog, it also includes several hostile threads to the firm. Thus, the principle advocated to TWC here would be to bear some dissent and have respect for customer’s opinions online. Facilitating any firm’s social media presence is challenging and in the case of TWC, increasing their responsiveness and engagement on social media exposes them to a risk of further aggravating negative consumer sentiments.
Nonetheless, we believe this is part of crisis recovery and TWC should continue to walk in this direction despite the uncertainty. This would elevate their brand perception among consumers eventually as customers will feel their sincerity and passion in serving quality food.
As Ms. Elise Sim was very keen on having some core deliverables that she would be able to implement, our group was very careful in structuring the recommendations for this project. Of utmost importance to her, was the longevity of the recommendations. Through our proposed recommendations, we hope to help TWC re-establish themselves and achieve their advantageous position they once had. Despite the possible risks, our group believes that proper management of the initiatives will overcome these obstacles. Furthermore, the initiatives are practical, easy to implement and sustainable. Given that our survey results show that the target market will be receptive to the initiatives, we feel that TWC can employ these strategies to achieve its goals in the most efficient manner.
Thank you for reading thus far. I omitted the pictures as it will lag the page because we have many visuals in the report.
I will like to take this opportunity to thank Prof KyuJin for the past 13 weeks of insightful sharing and wisdom imparted to us! Also thank you to our TA Pui Fang for helping with the necessary administrative matters! I think my greatest take away from the course is understanding the underlying consumer motivations and theories that make our strategies much more effective on the social media space.
Take care everybody! 🙂
Foo Yong Ming, on behalf of my group- Erina Tan, Anita, Ernest