12/05/2011

By Fernando Rizo, UK & EMEA Head of Digital at Cohn & Wolfe

In the summer of 2010, Betfair Poker, an online gambling site that calls itself “the world’s biggest betting community” stopped talking about poker on its Twitter feed (see @betfairpoker). If it had stopped talking entirely, it wouldn’t have been worth writing about - Twitter is littered with the shells of abandoned brand Twitter accounts that failed to live up to their creators’ intentions.

But @betfairpoker wasn’t being abandoned. It just wasn’t talking about poker anymore.

@betfairpoker became a comedy feed: gonzo stories stretching out over an afternoon of tweets, featuring a cast of unlikely characters like office director Reg Trumpets and long-suffering office drone Big Carlos. When not telling stories about his co-workers, the unnamed narrator would share unusual emoticons of his own design and engage in spontaneous banter with other Twitter users.

The switch from poker promotion to gonzo story-telling caused Betfair’s account to initially shed followers like it was radioactive. For months afterward, Betfair’s Twitter feed continued in this vein largely unnoticed.

Then suddenly in January, a few of the right people stumbled upon @betfairpoker. Amused outlets (read: What's the thinking behind the betfair poker twitter feed and The insane ramblings on Betfair Poker on Twitter) wrote it up, including TechCrunch (read: Is @Betfairpoker the new @ShitMyDadSays? No, really?), a hit that any PR pro would lust after. The network effect did its thing, and Betfair went from 5,000 Twitter followers to 8,000 practically overnight.

To the social media sceptic, Betfair is a great example of the inscrutability of the digital universe.

But even for an online evangelist, Betfair’s strategy should seem wildly adventurous. It doesn’t have anything at all to do poker, and the comedy often ranges into controversial territory. The Independent’s Business Diary has called it “bizarre” (read more: Business Diary: The Betfair Twitter mystery solved). But Betfair’s strategy is as old as advertising and PR itself.

As heterodox as @betfairpoker appears next to other branded Twitter feeds, its handlers have simply found a different way to play the same game. One of the partners at my first ad agency - a one-man Madison Avenue institution who had created legendary campaigns for everything from magazines to liquor - was fond of reminded me of the single mark of an effective advertising campaign: expose the audience to the brand three times a day.

By that yardstick, @betfairpoker is an extraordinary success. As of this writing it is approaching 10,000 followers, all of whom have assented to be exposed to the brand an average of 20 times per day. These followers are also the feed’s best evangelists, with hundreds of them proselytising the account to their friends every week in the form of Follow Friday recommendations and retweets. This might not be a campaign my old boss would have immediately recognized, but it’s one he would have understood, and have been proud to achieve himself.

@betfairpoker is very weird - but it’s a very old strategy using a modern platform. Things change, but good creative is still good creative, and story-telling is still story-telling. Don’t expect Betfair to start talking about poker again anytime soon.

Fernando Rizo is the UK & EMEA Head of Digital at Cohn & Wolfe. Find Fernando on Twitter: @fernandorizo.


Watch the video below featuring Jemima Gibbons, of AAB Engage discussing how social media can positively impact your business

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