Whittaker’s: Best Use of Social Media – June 2012


Whittaker’s, the chocolate makers, gets our vote as SMNZ’s social media exponents of the month. Chocolate lover and Guest judge Nicole Williams tells us why. 


A wise person once told me that social media is about “sharing and caring”, not “telling and selling”.  Too often we lose sight of the true value of social media and try in vain to use it as an advertising tool. We become fixated on sales and ROI rather than actually being social.  One brand that serves as a shining light for sharing over selling is Whittaker’s. Well known as the “honest” chocolate brand, its brand values are authenticity, integrity and its passion for chocolate guides every aspect of its marketing, including its social media approach.

In the past 12 months, Whittaker’s has used social media to successfully launch products, almost doubled its Twitter followers to over 7,900, increased its Facebook fans from 12K to a whooping 129K, and been selected by Facebook as a best practice case study. But refreshingly, even though the numbers have changed, Whittaker’s strategy hasn’t.  The same honest approach is led by a passionate in-house team with a continuing goal to convert brand spectators into supporters.

I sat down with Whittaker’s brand manager, Jasmine Griffin, to see what was behind this success and how social media has allowed customers to become an integral part of  Whittaker’s honest approach.

Creating new products

Whittaker’s social media presence allows fans the opportunity to converse directly with fans. It’s pretty common to see new flavours being suggested on its Facebook wall and Twitter feed. Each and every suggestion is accepted and added to a very long ideas list. In the past 12 months, this feedback, along with an in-house development program, has led to the launch of new flavours such as Berry and Biscuit, Peanut Butter and Hokey Pokey, as well as new products like the popular mini-slab range.

Whittaker’s has also started launching new flavours exclusively on social media. Loyal fans are the first to hear the news and excitement is built before the product arrives on the shelves. A new flavour is released with a Facebook giveaway of  100 blocks. While this is a small sample size in the overall scheme, Whittaker’s has learned that the 50 people selected will tell others about the new product – on and offline – leading to massive actual reach for a small cost.


How peanut butter became like  Marmite  

Whittaker’s Facebook Cover Image

Even with the experience of launching products through social media, the team at Whittaker’s was shocked by the response to their latest launch, “Peanut Butter”. Within a few days. posts about the new flavour had a reached 1.2 million New Zealanders as fans shared their excitement.  Peanut butter blocks flew off the shelves as quickly as they were ready with Whittaker’s air freighting in raw materials in an effort to meet the demand.  It quickly became a top selling product and its Facebook page turned into a help forum with fans sharing the latest peanut butter block sighting for others keen to grab a bar.  Tracking down the new flavour was quickly compared to finding Marmite, also a hot topic at the time.  For three consecutive weeks, my local supermarket was sold out of the blocks – the empty shelf only driving me to want to try it even more!

Despite massive success launching new flavours through social media channels, Jasmine says this is only one approach. While demand meant that additional advertising for peanut butter would have been a wasted investment – integrating traditional advertising and social media is still core to their marketing strategy. She says it would be foolish to assume that Whittaker’s entire target market is on Facebook so traditional marketing such as TV remains a key part of its marketing – and assists social media activities when done in a coordinated way.


Whittaker’s chocolate recipe book

Fans often share their favourite chocolate recipes on the Whittaker’s Facebook page and requested that a recipe section was added to its website. This feedback led to the creation of a Whittaker’s chocolate recipe book, created in partnership with some of New Zealand’s top chefs.

But that is not an unusual concept; any brand could embark on a similar project. As Jasmine says, it just wouldn’t have been Whittaker’s style to release a book using only celebrity chefs because the fans needed to be a part of the story too. Through Facebook and Twitter, people were encouraged to share their favourite Whittaker’s chocolate recipes and a number of these were selected to appear alongside the celebrity chefs in the book.

This reflects the Whittaker’s approach, showing that it holds its customers in the same esteem as New Zealand’s top chefs. I am sure that this faith will equally be rewarded by the online community when the recipe book is launched later this year.


7 social media golden rules

There are some key lessons to be learnt from Whittaker’s social media success and its marketing in general.

1.  Honesty is the best policy (be true to your brand): Honesty is the centre of Whittaker’s corporate policy; it’s also at the heart of its social media. Whittaker’s social media voice is perfectly aligned with its brand personality and values. Its social media is run in-house ensuring that it’s always in sync with the other marketing. The team at Whittaker’s honestly love their chocolate and believe in the brand. This passion shines through in social media. You’d better know and love your brand inside and out because there’s no room for pretenders in social media.

2. Clear social media goal:  Whittaker’s have a clear goal for its social media activities – turning brand spectators into supporters. Its success can be seen in the flow on effect on sales.

3. Integration with other advertising: Whittaker’s social media is integrated with all online and offline activities. For example, Facebook cover images are also used as in-store point of sale signage, ensuring consistency across digital and real world touch points.

4. Add value for your audience: Brands should remember they are invited into someone’s online life; it is a privilege, so reward your fans by adding value, not by cluttering their walls and feeds. Whittaker’s considers every post in terms of the value it provides its fans. It focuses on sharing news and keeping fans in the loop. It resisted the urge to post about reaching 100K Facebook fans. As Jasmine says, that’s good news for Whittaker’s but why should anyone else care?

5. Social media is a long haul: Hitting “Like” is the start of the relationship, not the end – there’s no point buying fans with competitions and giveaways if you don’t intend to continue the relationship. Jasmine tries to respond to every single Facebook comment. While she admits that this is harder with 10 times the fans in a year, she points out that getting bigger is no excuse!

6.  Quality over quantity: If you “like” Whittaker’s on Facebook, you won’t find it cluttering your feed. It only posts when it has news worth sharing, no more than 2-3 times a week. The same philosophy applies to social media channels. With social media just part of Jasmine’s role, she is selective about what mediums to use, preferring to doing a great job on Facebook and Twitter than be spread too thinly across the multitude of platforms.

7. Know your medium: When Facebook announced that brand pages were to get the timeline format, Whittaker’s made it its business to learn all about the change. It quickly moved to the format well before the change over date. Unlike other brands skating on the edge of Facebook’s many rules, Whittaker’s has instead become expert, allowing it to use it effectively and correctly. For example, Whittaker’s uses a Facebook application to run all its competitions. Rather than seeing Facebook’s many rules as a hindrance, Whittaker’s has embraced the application format and uses giveaways as an opportunity to teach fans more about the Whittaker’s story. Entry questions are never easy – they require the audience to seek out the answer, driving traffic towards the Whittaker’s website.

Congratulations Whittaker’s! Social media is about relationships – the long haul, not the short term. Whittaker’s deserves the Best Use of Social Media Award for reminding us what can be achieved when you stay true to your brand personality and for showing us what happens when you are genuinely social.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...


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