The Social Club

The Social Club: Charmin Community Manager Beth Harker

The Social Club is Contently’s new Q&A series with the people behind the most creative, notable, and successful social media accounts. If you missed last month’s interview with Merriam-Webster, check it out here

Toilet paper gets a bad rap. It’s the least fun of the toiletries—certainly not as exciting as scented hair care or as refreshing as face wash and toothpaste. People don’t talk about their favorite brand of toilet paper because, well, we all know what it’s used for and we’d rather not go there. But there is one noteworthy exception: Charmin, which has made a mission of taking back the taboo of bathroom talk, all with the help of a well-known bear mascot. I spoke with Beth Harker, Charmin’s community manager, to get a better sense of what it’s like being the person behind the paper.

How would you describe the Charmin social voice?

Ultimately, we want to provide a better bathroom experience.

And how do you plan to go about doing that?

There’s obviously the product itself, right? The quality of it. That’s the baseline. And from a social perspective, it’s really getting people to engage with you in a way that is playful and where I can be a bit of an instigator, and just get people talking about the brand.

It’s toilet paper. It’s not necessarily the sexiest or exciting of brands. But when you talk about it the way we do with a sense of humor, and you’ve got cool bears that you can play around with and speak in their sort of bear voice, that’s what makes it fun and sets us apart.

Was that always the vision for Charmin’s social presence or did that arise organically?

Even when we had different mascots like Mr. Whipple, there was always that kind of sense of humor about the brand. I think it’s become more pronounced now.

What do you think you do differently from your competitors when it comes to social branding?

Honestly I think just having a sense of humor about toilet humor, about bathroom experiences, and not being afraid to have that conversation. I just don’t see a lot of our competitors doing that necessarily. And I think people really responded because it’s real. We all do it. So let’s talk about it.

Going off of that I’m very curious about what prompted the idea for #TweetFromTheSeat and your other social posts that tackle this taboo of talking about bathroom activities.

For us, the big thinking is that 99.9 percent of people are doing something in the bathroom, probably on their phone. The other 0.1 percent are lying.

Personally, if my phone is not attached to my hand 24/7, I feel very anxious. While people are there in the moment and hopefully experiencing our product, let’s have them talk about it. We try to put guardrails on it. We don’t want to get into the really gross area. There is a line for sure, but there are definitely ways to talk about it that make it fun.

Were you ever worried that scatological humor would alienate anybody or reflect poorly on the brand in any way?

There’s always going to be a fight when people who find anything you say—even the tamest of comments—offensive. There are just some people who apparently would never go to the bathroom if you asked them. But we do have lines we don’t cross. We don’t necessarily talk about bathroom humor in a gross, disgusting way.

We all do it. So let’s talk about it.

I think having our bear mascot helped too. That just makes it very family friendly. It really conveys that it’s a fun brand. It’s a soft brand. Charmin is soft. All these things are how we approach it and keep it light.

Do people think of your Twitter as the bear’s voice?

Yes. At the end of the day, they know it’s not actually a bear, but people will @ Charmin as if they are talking to the bear, with kind of a wink wink, and that’s how I reply as well. And it’s fun. I made a comment to somebody who had clumsily knocked over their roll of Charmin into the toilet, and I said something like, “Oh you think you’re clumsy? Try being a bear with no opposable thumbs.” If it’s done the right way, I think people love that.

In 2014, you were voted the sassiest brand on Twitter. Have you actively tried to retain that title or have you just kept doing what you’re doing?

Yeah, we’re just doing what we’re doing. Keep on trucking, so to speak. Although I am up for a challenge, maybe this year we’ll see. We’ll be back on the sassy list.

Is your social strategy tied to actually selling toilet paper or just increasing brand awareness and engagement? What metrics do you use to track your social success?

It’s definitely a combination of all three. At the end of the day, we’re a business. We want to sell toilet paper, and within social, the way that we are trying to do that is to increase brand awareness and get people engaged and talking about it. From the metric side, we use all of the kinds of the standard metrics that are provided across platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

What was the most unexpected part about curating Charmin’s social presence? What about most challenging?

It’s really surprising how open people will be with you about their “go.” Definitely some interesting stories and comments, but I love that. On a personal level, I’m here for it. Let’s talk about it. And I think it’s great that people feel comfortable enough to be that open with us and put it out there. I’m all for that.

From a challenging perspective, it’s really just figuring out how to keep that right tone, that kind of playful nature, and not cross over into that gross potty humor territory, which can be very easy to do.

How do you see Charmin’s social voice evolving?

I’m really happy with where it’s at right now. I think people understand that Charmin is a fun brand, and hopefully we’re known for our witty responses and puns and jokes with bear’s kind of language. So I would hope to keep that going and ultimately keep the conversation around driving a better bathroom experience for everyone.

What is the strangest DM or mention Charmin has gotten on Twitter?

It’s really hard to pick one. We just got this one recently, the handle is @thetoilet, so they tagged us, and it’s like a spoken-word song-slash-poem of names and euphemisms for taking a poo. That was definitely one of the most interesting and different ones I’ve seen.

Something very cool on the flip side is that we sometimes get things a little more serious. I had a woman comment and it was World IBD Day, and she said, “Charmin matters to our family.” And then I comment that we’re very glad we can help, and she responds back with pictures of her son who was two years post-op. He had his colon removed, but she was talking about how important quality toilet paper was. Her hashtag game was so strong. It was like #NoColonStillRollin. When you get comments like that, it’s awesome. It’s not just like, pun intended, shits and giggles.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Image by iStockPhoto
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