Whenever I go on Twitter, I’m drawn for some unexplainable reason to the Trending Topics. Oftentimes, the trends are something cringe-worthy like or “Demi Lovato Is My Idol,” but sometimes the topics are actually newsworthy and interesting. While on Twitter a few weeks ago, I noticed an intriguing trending topic.

The one that stood out to me was “7-11 Now Serves Mashed Potatoes Like a Slurpee.” Many of the trending topics that crop up are jokes and can’t be taken seriously (more than a few celebrities have been victims of Twitter death hoaxes), but it turns out that 7-11 really is serving mashed potatoes like a Slurpee. I wasn’t alone in my initial doubts regarding 7-11’s Slurpee-mashed potato machine; The Huffington Post wrote on Monday that they had to look at the mashed potato vending machine a few times to be sure it was real.

It is. The photographic proof:

Image Courtesy of Gizmodo

Yes, you do have the option of filling a Big Gulp with instant mashed potatoes. I personally don’t think the words “Gulp” and “potatoes” belong in the same sentence, but maybe some people do. According to Tecca, these machines are a fixture in Singapore, but 7-11 reps couldn’t give any detailed information as to whether they will push this product in the U.S.

Mashed Potato Marketing

I read through the 60 comments on The Huffington Post article and the three on the Gizmodo post and most comments consisted of people mourning the depths of unhealthiness to which the nation has sunk. (Although there was one person who felt the need to comment six times within seven minutes and praise the machine as “like, the greatest invention ever.”) I also looked at tweets sent out on the topic of 7-11’s instant-potato machine; choice commentary included “No, I refuse to accept this” and “hella gross.”

7-11’s mashed potato dispenser got me thinking about the connection between brands and consumers. Apparently, these machines have taken off in Singapore, but for 7-11 to assume that their target demographic in Singapore is the same as in the U.S. is unwise. Judging from the comments I read, it doesn’t seem that these potatoes are palatable to U.S. consumers (though I’m surprised by the fact that even the people in Singapore find them palatable. Maybe I’m underestimating the power of Slurpee-esque potatoes?) Marketing, advertising, and selling is all about targeting an audience and connecting to consumers. Maybe the 7-11 brand can connect to Singapore consumers via watery, runny instant taters, but can they connect to U.S. consumers through this same, seemingly utterly inedible medium? If commentary online and on Twitter is an accurate representation of consumer opinion, then it looks like selling the mashed-potato machine will be a challenging task for 7-11.

Brand Disconnect, Social Media, and Shiny Object Syndrome

To be fair, if these machines come to the U.S., maybe they will become popular. Maybe some people would love to eat mashed potatoes and gravy from a Big Gulp cup. But at first glance, the thought of installing these in U.S. stores seems like a classic case of brand disconnect.

I think that many product flops can be attributed to brand disconnect. Consider the Volt, an electric car that was deemed one of the worst product flops of 2011 by 24/7 Wall Street. Clearly, GM overestimated consumer’s interest in electric vehicles. Larry Nitz, GM’s Executive Director for Vehicle Electrification told Reuters, “It’s naive to think that the world is going to switch tomorrow to EVs [electric vehicles].” Consumer interest and need didn’t align with GM’s expectations.

I was curious: is brand disconnect common? If 7-11 really is removed from the opinions and thoughts of everyday consumers, are they an exception to the rule, or are most brands detached from consumers as well? I think this question is especially relevant in our social-media-savvy society. It seems like every business, athlete, actor, and singer has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I saw this taped up on the mirror in the locker room of my gym a few weeks ago:

It seems like social media would be a panacea for any case of brand disconnect: the sheer number of people who use social networking sites alone gives brands a direct connection to consumers. Plus, brands can monitor conversations and gauge consumer sentiments through channels like Facebook and Twitter (If 7-11 read a few tweets, then they would realize that public sentiment to the mashed potato dispenser is lukewarm at best.) But, sometimes it seems that establishing a Facebook page or Twitter account is merely the latest symptom of shiny object syndrome. Businesses create these accounts because they feel they are the newest, latest thing, but then they move on to the next newest and latest thing rather than really developing their social media sites.

So, do brands take advantage of the benefits of social media? Do they use social media to connect to and engage consumers? Do they use social media to ameliorate brand disconnect?

The Point at Which Brands and Consumers Diverge

Last week, I listened in on a webinar by Dan Zarrella. He talked about a disconnect between brands and consumers when it comes to social media. There’s a difference in the ways brands are claiming social media and the way consumers use it. According to Zarrella, because social media is expanding at an incredible rate and speed, brands are attempting to figure out how to use social media effectively. Consumers, on the other hand, have already built strong social networks. They already have a handle on Facebook and Twitter.

Zarrella also discussed the fact that the way in which brands use social media is different than the way in which consumers use social media. I found other research that affirms this discrepancy between the social media habits of brands and those of consumers. I’ve actually written about why consumers like brands on Facebook before, but in a different context, so it’s worth repeating here.

Why Brands Use Social Media

  • To build brand awareness
  • To engage existing customers
  • To drive traffic
  • To increase the size of their community
  • To launch/announce products (Research from Dan Zarrella)

Why Consumers Like Brands on Facebook

  • 58% of people like a brand because they are a customer.
  • 57% of people like because they want to receive discounts and promotions.
  • 41% of people like to show others that they like/support said brand.
  • 31% like because they want to gain access to exclusive content. (Research from Social Media Quickstarter and Chadwick Martin Bailey)
  • People also want to connect to similar people.
  • People want customer support. (Research from Dan Zarrella)

It looks like there is a definite gap between brand use of social media and consumer use. Over half of people like a brand because they want deals, yet offering promotions doesn’t even figure into brands’ social marketing objectives. Another thing lacking on brands’ agendas is customer support; people want this, but companies aren’t offering it.

Where Them Brands At?

Here are some other interesting statistics that reveal that brands are failing when it comes to connecting with consumers via social media.

  • 25% of consumers expect to hear back from a company when they tweet about a brand or product, only 9% actually receive a response.
  • 35% say that after “liking” a brand on Facebook, they expect to hear from the company, yet 58% say they have never received a response from a company after liking it.
  • 2.8% of companies report that when fans like their brand it results in better quality interactions. (Survey conducted by Lithium Technologies)
  • Companies ignore 95% of all wall posts! (Study by Socialbakers)

I think the most surprising statistics are the last two. Brands say that they want to engage customers, and what better opportunity to do that than when people have taken the time and initiative to like a website/business/celebrity on Facebook or follow them on Twitter? Clearly these people have some level of interest in said product or person. Yet, most companies don’t build quality interactions with fans, and they ignore the overwhelming majority of wall posts! Brands are not only disconnected from consumers, their words are disconnected from their actions.

The Silver Lining

These statistics paint a bleak picture of brands’ social media strategies. But, there are some brands that have winning strategies. They engage fans, respond to questions, offer customer service, and express gratitude for loyal customers.

Pepsi: A Pop Can with a Positive Attitude

I think the fact that Pepsi responded to this comment is pretty remarkable, not only because most companies don’t respond to wall posts (some companies even close their walls to comments). Pepsi has close to 8.5 million fans, so the fact that they took the time to reply back to and show appreciation for a single fan shows how attentive and dedicated they are. The Pepsi wall is actually filled with replies from Pepsi to fans.

Starbucks: Coffee and Customer Service

This interaction reveals the high-quality customer service Starbucks offers. One of the interesting things about this is the fact that the customer didn’t address her tweet directly to Starbucks; she simply mentioned Starbucks, and yet, they responded, apologized, and offered to help.

Peanut Butter & Co: Peanut Butter and Props

This tweet is just one of many examples of Peanut Butter & Co.’s customer engagement. Retweeting followers lets them know they’re being listened to, gives them props, and shows appreciation.

Silk: More than Milk

Silk shows some fan love with a simple thank you: a gesture that’s small in characters but speaks volume as to the relationship Silk has with their followers.

Neutrogena: Tackling Criticism One Angsty Teen at a Time

Neutrogena could very easily disregard the extremely vague criticism by the above Facebook user and dismiss the comment as trivial and insignificant. However, Neutrogena addressed it the following day by giving the Facebook commenter an outlet through which to voice her frustration.

Seven Eleven and a Summary

Unfortunately, most brands don’t address wall posts and tweets in the way the above companies do. Because research shows that the social media strategy of brands is seriously lacking, sites like Facebook and Twitter won’t help bridge the disconnect between brands and consumers. The potential to remedy any company-customer divide through social media exists, but companies have to take advantage of this potential. Perhaps the problem with 7-11 is the fact that the convenience store lacks a social media presence. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts look like digital wastelands.

Zero tweets, zero following, and no verification don’t exactly spell social media success. And neither does the one post that they have put on what looks to be the 7-11 Facebook wall:

Hopefully customers will gobble up those mashed potatoes as fast as the taters come out of the dispenser! Lolz!

(view original post via Mainstreethost Search Marketing)