A lot of our work is trying to help businesses understand how social media can help them grow their business. There is a bit of a tendency, particularly in smaller businesses, to immediately ask “how can social media increase my sales?”. In most cases this is exactly the wrong question to be asking, but it’s not always easy to persuade people that they have to invest time and expertise, and sometimes money, in creating a community, growing a network, or providing value before they can think about a return.

The Orchard at Tesco

With that in mind, I was interested to get an invitation some time ago to take part in Tesco’s new social engagement programme, called ‘the Orchard’ – http://orchard.tesco.com/ – I must admit, I wasn’t really not sold on the name! The programme, on the other hand, looks promising. Basically, once you’re signed up Tesco send you free or discounted products, and ask you to share and review those discounts and products. Your social activity is then graded and if you share enough then you’re invited to take part in more studies.

Will people really bother?

So Tesco are obviously taking social media very seriously, and are willing to invest significantly in trying to create a buzz. I’ve got two problems with it though:

  1. It’s pretty time consuming. I used the vouchers they sent me, shared some with my friends and family, and enjoyed the food. But I didn’t review it, partly because the guidelines about what make a good post are so specific that it felt difficult to write naturally, but mainly because I don’t believe that my audience on any channel are in the least bit interested in what I think about a Tesco healthy living chicken dish! It just wasn’t worth the time and effort in order to get invited to take part in another programme that might yield another voucher worth maybe £2.50. Maybe I’m a bit mercenary, but for me the rewards weren’t sufficient to keep me involved.
  2. It feels very forced. My approach is that people should want to share your content or talk about what you’re doing, rather than feeling that they have to. I can see why the concept of ‘gamifying’ social activity might work for companies where the product is fairly dull, but I think that consumers are wise enough to take these effectively ‘bought’ shares with a large pinch of salt. Personally if I’d been designing this programme and investing obviously significant sums of money, I would have been looking for how to reward people who were doing this naturally – a ‘thanks for sharing’ rather than an ‘incentive to share’.

Any Lessons for Smaller Businesses?

It must be great to be a major corporation with money to chuck at these sorts of things, but most of us don’t have the luxury to create our own sharing platform! My suggestion would be to take the idea of giving people your product for free or discounts to share, but I would be looking to select those people, choosing those who already have an audience or already use the product (or preferably both). I also wouldn’t make further participation so explicitly conditional on social activity – to a degree, the scale at which Tesco has launched actually works against them, and there’s an opportunity for smaller companies to do this smarter and better.

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