Heineken ‘Social Networking Since 1873’ #RIMC14

Heineken ‘Social Networking Since 1873’ #RIMC14

28th March 2014

PaulTholen2RIMC is currently taking place in  Reykjavík, Iceland. Geoff Kennedy is there for us, covering some of the sessions. 

Heineken Netherlands has gone from strength to strength in the social networking environment. With a flourishing presence on Facebook a multi-pronged approach can be seen encapsulating both real-time conversation and ‘social by design’ campaigns.

Paul Daniel Tholen is tasked with heading up social media at Heineken Netherlands, planning, creating and maintaining an effective social (and wider digital) presence. His mission is to take social media and use the learnings to improve marketing communications across NHL’s beer and cider brands.

Paul talked about what Heineken Netherlands do, and why they do it.

In a nutshell; they do content. The lines between content types is blurred. This was clearly illustrated by Paul’s of example of a successful print ad going viral online.

The brand is social by design, and as the strapline says; have been ‘Social networking since 1873’.

This doesn’t make things easy though, with a legacy like this Heineken needs to remain ahead of the game. Replicating competitors just doesn’t cut it.

Creating content is easy, it’s fairly easy to make it viral (although I’m sure many would dispute this), but what is difficult and most important is to produce a campaign that actually helps your business.

What do we do?

Paul explains that they primarily do 3 things:

1. Real-time Marketing

  • Daily, sometimes a couple times a day
  • These primarily take the form of image based content
  • Topics vary – Launches, fun stuff, etc (they’re a publisher in this sense)

2. Campaigns

  • Immersive campaigns
  • Never just social – always integrated campaigns
  • Examples:
    • Rugnummers
    • Pick your travel

3. Event based content

  • The biggest example of this is the Holland Heineken House. Everyone knows about the Heineken house in the Netherlands.
  • Get involved with existing events such as the recent Sochi activity

Why do we do it?

Content is never ‘about’ the Heineken brand, but always adds equity to the brand.

People use (link to, share, promote) our content around these activities and events because we make it the best. This content also happens to have our product in it, this is where we benefit.

How do we do  it?

  • There’s a need to think beyond what everyone else is doing and stand out, this requires creative thinking.
  • The example below demonstrates how we took looked at the upcoming date that everyone was talking about (11/11/2011) and put our own spin on it.
  • The creative translates as “And better yet…. It’s Friday”.


This idea was created internally.

Content and creative always collaborative between in-house and agency. Who’s idea it is should never be an issue.

Some campaigns have seen other brands such as KLM get involved in the conversation, Heineken don’t see this as a negative, it often accentuates the reach.
It’s inevitable that not all content will be positive.

The infamous dog fighting scandal in which Heineken was (incorrectly) reported to be advertising at questionable events became one of the most viral pieces of content. It’s essential that such issues are also responded to appropriately too, not just the positive ones.

What’s the goal?

To become a ‘power brand’ joining the likes of Red Bull and Coca cola – High market share, high margin.

To do this we need to…

  • Stop disrupting, start enriching
  • Add value and engage consumers

How to enrich content?

“Stop using the phrase ‘brand values’”

  • Define brand promise – Relevant, distinctive, creditive

“Content needs to travel”

  • Triggers emotion
  • Creates value
  • Timely
  • Authentic

What else?

“Don’t try to measure everything” – Measuring some things is important, but trying to quantify and measure everything can be counterproductive.

How do you qualify what content to use?

Heineken Netherlands pre-tested a lot of fb posts. Test as you would any other content (Heineken use panel testing). Ask yourself “Does it help prove the brand promise?”.

Learn the pattern of what works, then stick to it. When you change your strategy, repeat the process.

How do you manage and justify budgets for facebook promotion?

FB is an advertising platform. If you want reach, you have to pay for it. Good content is much cheaper (and cost effective).

What social media platforms should you have a presence on?

When considering a platform, ask yourself the question; “If our brand was a person, would they be on it?”.


The talk from Paul gave a great insight into how Heineken Netherlands works and how they’re driving their social marketing success.

One of the key themes throughout is the need to integrate activities and not get too caught up in our perceptions of what ‘social networking’ is. As they say, they’ve been doing it since 1873.



Author Bio

Geoff Kennedy is Search Team Leader at Yard Digital a digital marketing agency based in Edinburgh, London & Cardiff specialising in SEO, Design & Build, Social Media, and Analytics Solutions.

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