STOP PRESS : This post was published on 24th Jan 2011 based on an interview with Richard Bloch, Head of Global PR at Betfair. I have since interviewed Richard again and the update, published a year later on 15th Jan 2012 can be read here – The @Betfairpoker Twitter story – part 2.
One could be excused one’s WTF? reaction to a Betfair Poker tweet taken in isolation.
That at least one of these awkward conversations was with his CEO, and that the zany adventure continued thereafter, speaks volumes about a corporate culture that allows someone like Richard to experiment with an “off the wall project that I’ve been allowed to run with.”
It was the unusually off the wall tone for a branded/corporate Twitter account that piqued my interest in @Betfairpoker. (My interest, and that of several hundred other media/digital/advertising/social media junkie/groupies). And I was lucky enough to know someone who knows Richard and thus give that piqued interest an outlet.
Richard very kindly gave of his time for a telephone interview in which he gave me chapter and verse, the straight dope, on the method behind the apparent madness.
This, by the way, is the method (and the madness) that made @Betfairpoker the UK’s second most Follow Friday recommended Twitter profile the week before Richard and I spoke. Rio Ferdinand was number one, and there wasn’t another corporate or branded profile in the top fifty.
The Madness In Front Of The Method
It was only when Betfair decided to get serious about Twitter that they decided to get daft with @Betfairpoker.
They observed that the the most followed and the most highly engaged Twitter profiles were personality led. So their role models were people like MC Hammer and brands like Compare The Market (Aleksandr Orlov).
They also observed that writing for personality in 140 character bursts (and doing it well) is a skill, a skill that they didn’t feel they had in house. So, in much the same way that they bring in outsourced expertise to provide betting opinion, insight and analysis on their betting.betfair.com website, they took the decision to use outsourced expertise to create their Twitter persona.
So they have retained four “expert” Twitter writers – a combination of authors and comedians, all of whom have significant Twitter followings in their own right.
One of the interesting aspects of this project is that none of these people was previously monetising their Twitter activities. Betfair has given them a opportunity to do so. Richard gave me a ballpark figure for what each of these writers is being paid but I don’t think it’s fair to reveal that here. Suffice to say that, given the buzz being generated at the moment, this is a cost-effective profile building exercise.
Betfair has refused to reveal the identities of its writing team, but occasionally teases its followers with statements like not being able to confirm or deny that Audley Harrison is behind the tweets.
The result of all this is beautifully bonkers.
The @Betfairpoker Twitter stream is a barmy cocktail of cod-motivational philosophy, and what appear to be the random tweetings of a rogue Betfair employee. Richard chuckles at the idea of a zany character who has taken over the Twitter account, dishing the office dirt. Indeed in the early days of the new approach there were some at Betfair who genuinely believed the account had been hacked.
Such early disbelief/disdain has mostly (the odd CEO excepted) given way to a warm embrace. These days Richard is the regular recipient of email suggestions for tweet content. The Twitter profile is proving to be not just a pretty social media face. It is also a catalyst for internal communication, an effect which is amplified by the fact that all the alleged (twalleged) shenanigans of daily life at Betfair – as fabricated by @Betfairpoker – do actually feature real Betfair characters. There is a queue of people waiting to be lampooned.
The Method Behind The Madness
@Betfairpoker is but one of a wide portfolio of Betfair Twitter profiles.
Richard talks about some things that were done well in the early days, such as the brand protection exercise that registered all these profiles before Betfair had given any thought to what it was actually going to do with them.
(Unfortunately, despite these early moves, they still missed out on the @Betfair profile which is currently being squatted by some geezer called Martin.)
He also talks about the mistakes and the lessons learned when various Betfair toes were being dipped in the Twitter water – doing too little with not enough resource and with little internal encouragement attaching to a channel that wasn’t generating any revenue.
“You have to have an opinion and talk like a real person. Ask questions. There’s no point just posting. You have to comment and engage with people, particularly influential people in your sphere.”
@Betfairpoker had between 2,000 and 3,000 followers when the decision was taken to step things up and adopt the current personality led approach. This decision was based on a confident, positive assessment of Twitter as a channel frequented by poker enthusiasts and professionals.
“Poker players travel the world. They have mascots. They spend lots of time with headphones plugged into iPhones and Blackberries. They’re tech-ed up. We knew it [Twitter] was a good market. The pros are on it all the time.”
In addition Betfair ran various quizzes through @Betfairpoker last summer, when it had around 4,000 followers, and the insight gleaned from this exercise confirmed that there was a real poker following – not necessarily high-stakes players but a significant number of beginners and enthusiasts. And a softly softly, high personality approach to engaging with these people on Twitter was felt to be the best approach to building relationships, at the same time as affording the best way to boost the brand’s profile.
Now I have to say that it was my impression that the personality-powered @Betfairpoker was an overnight success.
Within the space of a few days its tweets were peppering my Tweetdeck columns as several friends retweeted its random and rousing posts.
But the truth, as is often the case with Twitter, is that this apparently sudden arrival on the scene was actually the result of a serendipitous event, or rather several related serendipitous events in quick succession.
And, in fact, these serendipitous events happened several months after the team of writers behind @Betfairpoker began doing their thing.
And the rest, according to the Twittercounter chart below, is history.
And there’s a similar pattern relating to Follow Friday mentions.
This palpable buzz around the account has raised interest levels even further within “Betfair Towers“, and has hopefully reduced the number of awkward conversations.
Meanwhile, Richard and his team are planning the next phases of their Twitter strategy.
They are slowly but surely introducing more poker and betting content into the Twitter stream…
… but in their own inimitable style.
One of the writers is posting introductory poker tips aimed at the beginner audience that makes up the lion’s share of the Twitter audience, linking to the betting.betfair website. Again in the style of.
And, in the not too distant future, there are plans to buy one of the writers into a major poker tournament. Cue random live tweeting and poker face twitpics.
The moral of this story
It’s one thing to talk about the potential of social media for marketing communication and brand engagement.
It’s another thing entirely to be prepared, both personally and corporately, to take the calculated risks necessary to realise that potential.
And @Betfairpoker is a calculated risk that appears to be paying off.
How apt is that for a poker brand?
And long may it continue.