What brands can learn from the Very British Problems Twitter account

Have you ever felt the need to let a crisp slowly dissolve in your mouth rather than deafen the office with your frightful crunching? Yes? Then you, my friend, suffer from some very British problems indeed. Luckily, you can find solace in following the Twitter account.

Very British Problems is the brainchild of writer Rob Temple, who began the account in 2012 at a friend’s request.

“After a month, the feed had 100,000 followers.” said Temple over email. “No followers bought, no big retweets requested, so very much a natural snowball effect and completely unplanned for.”

It has gained a fan base of 1.15 million followers globally, those keen to cringe at the social ineptitude of British people. According to data from Twitonomy, 95 percent of its tweets get retweeted and favorited, some around 15,000 times. Having now launched a range of T-Shirts, a TV series and two books (the first selling 80,000 copies), Temple has created a brand that resonates.

Here’s what other brands can learn.

Human conversations without the hard sell
Trying to sound like a human may seem obvious, but it’s still worth repeating.

“The fear with brands and Twitter is that they still are not getting what the platform is for,” said Jon Burkhart, content marketing consultant. “They either show up weeks too late or they put their foot in it.”

True human authenticity is never going to come from a brand on Twitter because we know it still has to sell stuff, but if it is willing to surprise and entertain us first, then we are more likely to forgive them. “They need to earn the right before having the conversation,” said Burkhart. “Any Twitter feed with conversation laced in it will do well.”

Temple is still a one-man operation, for the time being. “I don’t work with advertising networks, and I don’t run a cartel of feeds that boost each other, and there isn’t a team of people scheduling posts and monitoring analytics.”

Very British Problems taps right into and exposes the social awkwardness, the self-deprecation, and the mumbling buffoonery that Hugh Grant has led the world to believe characterize the quintessential Brit.

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Know the power and limits of your format
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Brands looking to tell their story need to look to different ways, whether through content of format, to get people to listen. Temple would be the first to admit that he is not saying anything that people don’t already know about Brits’ appreciation of an orderly queue or preference for tea.

“The lesson here is not to reinvent the wheel but to convert what you have into a sellable format,” confirmed Burkhart. Very British Problems is powerful in its restricted, bitesize 140 characters, and the book was a natural progression to capitalize on its success. The TV series was more of a gamble.

Previous Twitter-feed-cum-TV-shows haven’t seen much success, notably Justin Halpern’s Shit My Dad Says which was turned into a sitcom a year after the account launched in 2010, having just shy of 3 million followers. Ratings weren’t terrible, but the reviews were, and the CBS show was canceled after just 18 episodes.

Temple resisted the lure of a sitcom, recognizing his brand wasn’t meant for that and seeing Halpern’s efforts as a premature death, suggests Burkhart. Instead, Temple opted for a three-part talking-head series, mainly from British comedians and broadcasters. Around 2 million tuned in in August for its airing, nearly double his Twitter following.

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Slow and steady commitment to craft
“Let’s not forget that Temple is a writer,” said Burkhart. “A huge amount of his success has been extended because of his craftsmanship.”

Here the lesson to brands is, of course, to maintain that commitment to quality but, more important, not jump on the next new trend.

Temple said he learned not to spread himself “too thin by saying yes to every opportunity” but to “pick the ones that feel right and offer quality rather than always looking to make a quick buck.”

The growth of Very British Problems could have easily been accelerated by Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope or other platforms more suited to audio/visual Internet users. Bad execution would have compromised its authenticity. According to Temple and his agent, a more comprehensive social content strategy is not on Temple’s roadmap for now.

The Very British Problems Twitter feed is typically very British, and in ways, its growth encompasses traits of the stereotypical characteristics that Temple is sending up, in particular a sense of reservation, a key lesson for brands talking to people on Twitter.


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