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You may think that January would be a bit of a gloomy month for a high-street bakery chain.
After an extensive period of over indulgence, many people are promising to eat healthier, perhaps lose a little weight and generally be more active.
And additionally there is the ‘Veganuary’ initiative which encourages people to try a vegan diet during the first month of the year.
For a purveyor of sausage rolls and steak bakes it could all look a little bleak.
But Greggs ensured it was very much on everyone’s minds at the start of this year by launching a vegan sausage roll and promoting it in a way which got everybody talking (and provided a nice case study for our social media training).
The chain officially launched its new meat substitute product with a tweet on January 2. That post included a video which has been viewed more than 5.1m times. The tweet itself has gained more than 8,200 retweets and 50,000 likes.
The response to that tweet was mixed with some meat eaters expressing some surprisingly strong views about the new type of sausage roll, which is being sold at 950 selected stores across the country.
But it was arguably the way its social media team handled those responses that really boosted the launch and captured attention.
When tabloid journalists turned TV host Piers Morgan waded into the debate by calling Greggs ‘PC ravaged clowns’ and saying ‘nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage’, the bakery responded by simply saying ‘Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you’.
Oh hello Piers, we've been expecting you— Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) January 2, 2019
That clever response was retweeted 20,000 times, liked by more than 149,000 Twitter users and attracted 2,000 comments.
And that, in turn, boosted the mainstream media coverage of its new product.
Greggs’ vegan sausage roll has arrived - and Piers Morgan is absolutely furious Indy 100
Greggs hits back after Piers Morgan brands bakery ‘PC ravaged clowns’ in row over vegan sausage rolls Evening Standard
Sausage Wars Piers Morgan clashed with Greggs over ‘PC ravaged’ vegan sausage rolls The Sun
Piers Morgan just got owned by Greggs over vegan sausage rolls Huff Post
This type of coverage would cost a lot in advertising, but it also had the added benefit of deflecting attention away from the price rise stories that had been reported just a few days earlier.
Now, no one likes to be played and it is important to point out that there has been plenty of talk on Twitter that this ‘spat’ was a manufactured stunt as both Greggs and Piers have worked with the same PR company in the past. But it is also important to say that the PR company concerned, Taylor Herring, have publically distanced themselves from this campaign.
Ha! Nice detective work Dan. Yes we do regular work for the good folk Greggs and a while back promoted Piers book - but yesterday's launch was handled by the in house team.— Taylor Herring (@TaylorHerringUK) January 3, 2019
Nonetheless, there is plenty of other evidence of the expert way @GreggsOfficial responded to people left strangely annoyed by this development in the sausage roll market.
When Danny Baker suggested the new product should be called a ‘vegetable extract Mush roll’ the Greggs team responded by saying ‘doesn’t really have the same ring to it’. It told another user ‘we really don’t think that is going to happen’ after he tweeted that he was happy with the new offering ‘just as long as a vegan doesn’t try to shove it down my throat’.
And when Jon Parkinson tweeted ‘I’d rather eat my own ear wax’, the baker responded ‘you do you John’.
Doesn't really have the same ring to it— Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) January 2, 2019
We really don't think that's going to happen Scott— Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) January 2, 2019
You do you John 🙃— Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) January 2, 2019
Short, simple, sassy and effective responses which won the chain a lot of admirers.
2019 has got off to a great start by doing a small amount of actual work and a large amount of reading the @GreggsOfficial responses to people who seem to be deeply offended by the vegan sausage roll. I highly recommend perusing if you too are looking for ways to procrastinate.— Grace Emmett (@grace_emmett) January 2, 2019
This is not the first social media success Greggs has enjoyed. It has previously triggered a huge response by replacing the baby Jesus with a sausage roll in its advent calendar. It may have apologised for that stunt, but it enjoyed two days of trending on Twitter and a huge amount of media coverage.
Well-known cheeky British high-street bakery and artery-hardener Greggs has been forced to apologize for a nativity scene featuring a sausage roll, even though said sausage roll looks delicious and oh god I really want a sausage roll now. pic.twitter.com/pPYl1pJHIm— Tom Coates (@tomcoates) November 17, 2017
And when an offensive logo appeared on its Google profile describing its customers as ‘scum’ and suggesting it supplied them with ‘sh*t’, it responded brilliantly, embarking in some banter with the search engine to diffuse a potentially damaging scenario.
So what can other organisations learn from the way Greggs has handled social media around its vegan sausage rolls?
It is important that the people managing social media accounts understand the brand and its personality and are able to reflect this in posts. This will enable them to get the tone of voice right.
Humour works well on social media when it is used carefully and is right for the situation and audience. Trying to be edgy or funny can be risky so it is worth asking yourself a few questions first. Has anyone else seen the content – how did they react? Could people be offended by the post? Is this right for our audience? Will the audience think what you think? Will people understand the humour?
Greggs clearly shows there are humans behind its social media accounts. That might sound easy, but all too often organisations stick to dry, lifeless corporate responses when replying to customers on social media, even if the complaint appears light-hearted. These seem robotic, particularly when the same response is used to multiple users.
It feels like the Greggs social media team have been given the freedom to be the voice of the brand. The company has allowed the team to be bold and brave and because of that it has managed to turn negative tweets into positive PR.
Whether or not the spat with Piers Morgan was staged, you can't help but feel the Greggs social media team had planned for negative responses, and what might be said, and had prepared how it would respond. It's crucial brands work on their messaging before any campaign launch and know how they will respond if there is any negative reaction.
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