Everyone loves something sweet from someone they love – and chocolates are the UK’s most popular Valentine’s gift. So how are chocolatiers using social media to ensure that out of the whopping £1.9 billion UK Valentine’s spend, they get a decent slice of the action?

I looked at eight of the best independent chocolatiers on Twitter to see how they’ve performed in the last month. Here’s what I found (thanks Brandwatch for the data and analytics):

1. In terms of audience, Rococo Chocolates are most loved of business executives, Hotel Chocolat of politicians and Green & Black’s of fitness gurus – so now you know! (See fig.1 for breakdown and more details). Women love Chococo and Hotel Chocolat while men tend to go for Paul A Young or Mast Brothers (both brands with something inherently manly about them).

Fig.1: Professional breakdown per chocolate brand: Jan-Feb 2016

2. Since 13 January, Hotel Chocolat has had the greatest share of voice on Twitter with 73 per cent of mentions (7,481 in total). The conversation around the Hotel Chocolat has intensified in the lead up to Valentines Day – on today alone (12th February), Hotel Chocolat has garnered a whopping 92 per cent of mentions.

2. Chococo (9 per cent), Paul A Young (6 per cent), Green & Black’s (5 per cent), Mast Brothers (4 per cent) are in second, third, fourth and fifth place respectively, with Rococo and Artisan du Chocolat taking a mere 1 per cent each. Out of the group analysed, Melt Chocolates has had the lowest share (less than 1 per cent) with just 42 Twitter mentions in the last 31 days. Just to put things in perspective, when high street favourite,Thornton’s, is added to the group, Hotel Chocolat’s share of voice shrinks to a mere 29 per cent of the conversation, with the others barely registering on the graph – and Thornton’s taking up 60 per cent).

3. Does the share of voice broadly sync with the number of Twitter followers each brand has? Not quite: Hotel Chocolat (46.3K followers), Chococo (5.5K), Paul A Young (17K), Green & Black’s (27.3K), Mast Brothers (7K), Rococo (10.5K), Artisan du Chocolat (6.5K) and Melt Chocolates (4.8K). On the basis of follower engagement, Chococo is punching well above its weight – mostly down to the success of its collaboration with Dorset Tea to win a tasty (and beautifully presented) Valentine’s hamper. The competition launched 3 February and the Twitter wave is still going strong: the original tweet has gained 991 retweets to date.

Fig.2: Tweet volume per chocolate brand: Jan-Feb 2016

4. The impact of Valentine’s Day on chocolatiers’ social media marketing strategies is clear: the sheer volume of tweets has escalated over the past month (see fig.2). The group generated just 70 mentions a day in mid January – this rose to 1,319 mentions yesterday alone. In terms of effort put in, Paul A Young (author of 16 per cent of tweets about chocolate in the last month) has been tweeting more than twice as much as Hotel Chocolat (7 per cent). But Hotel Chocolat has reaped the greater reward in terms of reach and engagement. Why? Its massively successful #FreebieFriday promotion, asking people to “follow and retweet to win luxury chocolates”. This is not a particularly original campaign but highly strategic – making use of two already popular hashtags (#FreebieFriday and #FridayFeeling) to generate no less than 2,312 mentions in the last month. Still, Paul A Young tweets from the heart – the founder runs the account himself, so many of his tweets are genuinely conversational, rather than pure broadcast.

5. Although sentiment in this sector is broadly positive (it’s chocolate!), a relatively large proportion (14 per cent) of Mast Brothers’ tweets were negative: it is still suffering the fall-out of a Twitter storm which broke last December after this Quartz article about marketing spin (which in itself followed on from a March 2015 Slate feature arguing that Mast Brothers wasn’t “craft” chocolate at all. While Mast Brothers’ two founders have avoided responding to criticism directly (as they follow no-one and seldom tweet, this comes as no big surprise), they did launch a counter campaign, #morelovemorechocolate, backed by celebrities like Jared Leto, to build some positivity around their brand.

Green & Black’s has suffered too – over accusations that the palm oil in its chocolate was not ethically sourced, but the criticism appears to have died down quickly. Maybe because Ethical Consumer has assessed Green & Black’s to have a positive palm oil policy.

So, which chocolate brand will you be buying this Valentine’s? Does Hotel Chocolat’s domination of Twitter sway you to choose its chocolates? Or do you prefer the more bespoke, conversational approach of Paul A Young or Chococo? Does Mast Brothers’ arrogance bother you? I know who I’d prefer.

This post is one of a series written in collaboration with Brandwatch. For more on how different small businesses are using social media, see #stateofindependents.

Photo: CoCreatr