I’ve been thinking about THE TWITTER and the power of social media a lot this past week. Mostly because (a) I’ve had two meetings with two different agencies about working with social media influencers and (b) I attended an affair called The Secret Supper, which REALLY got me thinking about the intersection of social media and marketing, and how it’s increasingly taking centre stage for a new campaign.
Back in January I received an email from Blackbook Lifestyle – a local PR agency – asking for my mailing address. As soon as I sent it to them I wondered what I was getting myself into, as most people probably wouldn’t share their mailing address with any stranger who asks for it. Sigh.
The invite arrived in the mail in a sleek black envelope. It contained an invitation to a “secret supper” hosted by “one of Canada’s top food brands.” There was not much else, and the location of this event could be only be figured out by going to a website on a certain date and typing in an personalize access code.
The secret location turned out to be the Elmdale Oyster House, which I was happy about because it’s a close drive and I’ve never actually been before. So on the appointed night, Mark and I set out together. When we arrived we gave our names which were checked against the list, and were asked to sign a release form (although I was assured my image won’t show up on a billboard anywhere). We made our way in.
I thought the idea of creating and promoting this event as a secret was pretty smart. It was an easy way to create some buzz, and people were definitely buzzing, long before the event started. (“Who’s going?” “Are you going?” “Oh, I wasn’t invited, were you?”) It all taps into the same kind of primitive feelings that tend to be part of elementary school birthday parties and high school proms, doesn’t it?
The invitation list was a relatively small one. Media people, and bloggers, love exclusivity of any kind, for starters, and the talk of the night was WHO. Who was hosting this event? I was worried it was going to be a company I could not publicly support, such as Walmart or McDonalds. In fact, I could not stop thinking about this food blogger related fiasco. Planning this kind of event was a risk, no matter how you sliced it. The very “live” nature of it can be a huge success or an abysmal failure, and to be honest, I was prepared to walk out at any time.
The emcee was a fellow by the name of Derek Fage. I do like Derek. He’s the host of a Daytime Ottawa on Rogers and is very amiable and outgoing, and great at connecting with people. He is perfect for this kind of gig. During the evening he walked around and asked us all what we thought about each course. He dropped hints about the host (“note the colour of the decor”) and kept us guessing. I had no idea what I’d say if he came over to me.
People speculated that the host might be Whole Foods or Sobey’s as both have green in their logo. Someone guessed Roots, because of the decor. I wasn’t sure what to think. But as he wandered around the crowded room, I wondered, what are my responsibilities here? I wrestled with what I should be saying publicly, especially knowing I had signed that media release. And what should I be tweeting, if anything? Tweeting all night while sitting at a table for six is anti-social, but it’s the unspoken deal here. This is ultimately why I was invited, right? How many tweets are too many from a social standpoint? From a social media standpoint? And what’s my responsibility to Twitter followers if something bad happens? What if it the food wasn’t good? Some bloggers have stated publicly that they never publish negative reviews. I decided long ago that I had to deliver the straight goods in a fair and balanced way, but is it my DUTY to tweet it all?
The way this event was set up, I was essentially tweeting out endorsements BEFORE I actually knew what the brand was. As someone who’s built her business around authentic and honest storytelling, this didn’t exactly sit well with me, I admit. What if I commented, on camera, about how good the cheese croquettes were (fried cheese will always get a thumbs up in my books) and then it was revealed it was a new menu item at McDonald’s? And then what if my tweet and image was used to sell them to other parents? Gah.
This is something I think about, because all I’m bringing to the table is my reputation, and it’s one that I’ve spend 15 years building in this community. So the optics of these kinds of highly public events are important to me.
In the end, the food was good and the host turned out to be Giant Tiger. This was a company I felt ok about tweeting about. GT, if you didn’t know, is a home-grown success story. In fact, Mark works right across the street from the first GT in the Byward Market.
The premise of the evening was to show that GT groceries can make a very economical “fancy” dinner. I should point out that The Secret Supper menu was prepared by Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern chef Michael Radford, and included those “croquettes au fromage,” baby scallop ceviche, herb roasted lamb poutine, grilled pork tenderloin and a deconstructed key lime and coconut pie. Every item on the menu, right down to the seasonings, was sourced entirely from GT. Even the table decor was provided by GT.
I believe now that Target is pulling out, GT is working hard to remind people that they’re a contender in this particular category. And so far they’re doing a good job. So was the evening a success from a social media point of view? I would say yes. With about 40 media types in the room, many of whom were online before, during, and after, the word got out. #Thesecretsupper was a trending topic on Twitter. These conversations, whether they happen between neighbours at the bus stop or are amplified online, are what drive sales. Did you know that GT sells amazing sweet potato fries? Well now you do.
The other day I received a copy of a press release which was titled: GIANT TIGER IMPRESSES UNSUSPECTING FOODIES WITH THE SECRET SUPPER. (And yes, it was in all caps.) I wasn’t included or mentioned (which is a-ok by me) but I think they’re walking a fine line between impressing and fooling. You know what I mean?
So, in each of those two conversations I had with agency folks this week, they each asked me: what kinds of things can brands offer, that will appeal to an influencer? I told them that this is different for everyone. Some bloggers will welcome a case of hot dogs or a box of cereal, and others will balk. Ultimately, I think, many influencers are looking for a unique opportunity or experience that they can’t find elsewhere. Exclusivity helps, as does fried cheese and bottomless glasses of wine. :)
So in effect, I guess I got what I wanted eh?
Edited to add:
I thought it might be interesting to see what other attendees wrote about the event so I’m listing them below as I become aware of them. If there are any Ottawa Secret Supper posts missing from this list, let me know!
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