The Good, Bad & Ugly of Social Media |

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Social Media |

[as published in Power Retail‘s Special Report#7: Social Commerce]

The great thing about social media is that for the first time in marketing history, we are able to start monitoring and measuring the ripple effect of word-of-mouth.

Let’s face it, word-of-mouth is not a new phenomenon in marketing; far from it. In fact, I’d go so far to say that word-of-mouth preceded the cognitive art of marketing.

But despite many marketers recognising the incredible impact that word-of-mouth can have (take Charlie Kanan, president and marketing director of The Haagen-Dazs Shoppes Co. Inc who back in 1985 proclaimed: “We have never advertised on television, never developed an ad campaign. The brand was basically built on word of mouth.“), why is it that there is a resistance towards engaging in social, which, from a marketing perspective, is essentially word-of-mouth in its visible form?

Perhaps the answer lies in the question: perhaps it’s the visibility that fuels apprehension; similar to that of speaking in front of a large captive audience for the first time, only exaggerated by the fact that the audience is potentially in the millions, the speaker is one without media training, and there are no lawyers pre-moderating the communication. Perhaps the apprehension is associated with the perception of losing control of the brand.

But is this apprehension well founded, or could it be that Roosevelt was right in his first inaugural address:the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Before reviewing the good, bad and ugly examples in social media, it’s important to firstly understand its layers.

The Foundation layer: Relationship Building

Attempting to butt in to an existing conversation with a completely irrelevant dialogue is simply not the way to go in the real world and the same applies in the digital world.

Like joining a new group of people for the first time, the foundation of social media starts with listening, in order to understand the context of the conversation and the personalities within it, before joining in with a dialogue that will be welcomed and valued by that particular interest group.

Once welcomed and valued, many opportunities arise from a business perspective; the type of opportunity being determined by the context of conversation within the interest group. For example, where your product features are being discussed at length, the opportunity lies in dialogue to enhance product research and development; where faults and issues are being discussed, the opportunity is in dialogue to improve customer service, and; where proposition and pricing details are being questioned, the opportunity lies in marketing; and so on.

No matter what the context, however, the opportunity of driving advocacy is ever-present. The more the consumer is engaged in a relevant and appropriate way, and the more they are involved in driving the direction of the business (and seeing the outcome of their involvement), the more they shift towards becoming brand advocates.

This is clearly great for business as it fuels the word-of-mouth referrals. However, the reach that this layer generates is relatively limited.

To generate reach, greater attention must be earned by introducing something that sparks interest or surprise in a way that people feel compelled to tell others.

The Amplification Layer: Social Object Creation

These sparks of interest and surprise are commonly referred to as ‘social objects’. A social object is the centrepiece of every conversation, whether that be a joke, a new gadget, a unique story, a baby photo, a work project and so on.

In marketing, the art is in creating social objects that enhance and amplifies brand reputation whilst simultaneously aligning with brand attitude.

Again, social objects are not a new marketing concept, however digital provides an opportunity to create far more immersive experiences through consumer interaction, and the ability for companies to seed the ideas within specific interest groups where adoption and response is most likely to spawn.

Once spawned, many of the most successful social objects are picked up and mutated by consumers who add their own spin on the idea thus extending propagation by adding fresh interest.

It is this mutation that often causes many brands to resist trial of social media; however, from what we’ve seen to date, the risk is far outweighed by the opportunity…

Social object success stories

Marc Ecko is a street-wear brand that, by its own admission, sets out to break boundaries and as a result is often quick to trial emerging forms of marketing and media.

In mid 2006 it did just that, and created arguably one of the most impressive social objects to date: a fake but incredibly realistic two minute home video that followed a bunch of hooded graffiti artists on a successful mission to tag the words “Still Free” on the US president’s private 747 jet plane, Air Force One.

The result? Within one week it hit 3,500+ websites, had over 100 major broadcast news appearances, and was featured in more than 17,000 global news outlets. By the second week, it recorded 23 million unique visits to its website, And importantly, the reach was accompanied by a reinforcement of its ‘breaking boundaries’ brand attitude in the creative idea and execution.

The cost of media buy? $0. Yes, an audience reach of over 23 million for $0.
A perfect example of the power of ‘earned’ media: coverage earned through the newsworthiness of the content itself, as opposed to being paid for.

This campaign was one of the first to showcase the potential power of social media in raising brand awareness on a global scale without paid media investment.

And it’s not just large companies who are able to realise this opportunity. Take BlendTec, a previously little known manufacturerof high performance blending products that created a social object around the blender itself.

With reportedly just a US$50 marketing budget (though this is questionable given assumed video production, studio and editing costs), BlendTec’s marketing director, George Wright came up with the idea of extreme testing, after having been taken aback by founder & CEO, Tom Dickson’s extraordinary testing methods, including running 2×4 blocks of wood through the blender.

The campaign, which brings these maverick testing processes to life for others to witness, sees Dickson throwing everyday objects into the blender and asking ‘Will it blend?’.

Launched simply through a video upload and an email sent to BlendTec employees [asking them to pass it on if they liked it], ‘Will it blend?’ received over six million visitors and 10,000 comments within just five days of launching, according to BlendTec’sGeorge Wright.

Today, the company’s YouTube channel has received more than 142 million upload views (the iPad test secured more than 9.4 million views alone) and BlendTec is now a widely known name.

It goes to show that company size is not important in achieving social media success, but creativity, uniqueness and brand alignment is; as is authenticity, consumer collaboration and a positive attitude as part of the foundation for relationship building in social.

So what happens when these criteria aren’t delivered on?

Brand alignment #fail

Kraft Foods’ ‘Name me’ campaign aimed to leverage the power of the online community through a competition to name its new Vegemite product.

The new name was announced during the broadcast of the 2009 AFL Grand Final as ‘iSnack 2.0’ which resulted in a flood of backlash across the internet, and the debate extending out to traditional media. Four days later the company launched a poll to rename it.

Despite doubt over whether the ‘iSnack 2.0’ name set out to be simply a publicity stunt, it highlights the fact that an attempt to stretch the brand too far will result in non-acceptance from consumers –ie, had this been a Nudie product, consumers would have accepted it (possibly even revered it) as a cheeky poke at Apple; but for a heritage brand this just didn’t make sense, which is no doubt one of the reasons that many became suspicious of it being a publicity stunt.

Creativity / Uniqueness #fail

Cisco’s attempt at playing homage to the Old Spice social campaign with a copy-cat version, fell flat on its nose with just 2,750 views across 18 videos in the first 24 hours (compared to more than 40 million views that Old Spice videos attracted).

The videos, featuring ‘Ted from accounting’, failed to deliver anything unique, and the parody wasn’t helped by the casting of ‘Ted’ who lacked personality (which if intentional, should have been taken to the extreme).

Positive attitude #fail

When Greenpeace activists friended Nestle on Facebook in an effort to get the company to sort its palm oil sourcing out (some of whom changed their Facebook profile picture to a mock-up reading “Nestle Killer” instead of “Nestle Kit Kat”), Nestle took an unexpectedly hostile response and publicly threatened and insulted a number of ‘fans’ on its Facebook wall.

The result turned Nestle itself into a social object but unfortunately with amplification of a negative kind. Nestle has since apologised and hopefully learned the importance of developing and rolling out social media and crisis management guidelines to its front-line social media employees.

However, despite a few companies publicly failing at their attempts in social, it’s important to remember that it’s the sum of many experiences that creates a lasting impact to brand advocacy, and therefore a few failures in amongst many successes are unlikely to have a lasting impact.

And it’s for this reason that I’d back Roosevelt’s theory: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself …yet what we have to gain from trying, is far greater than the impact of not.

Jennie Bewes
Jennie Bewes
Former Australian Financial Review columnist, speaker and founder/MD of REDSQ innovation & consulting, Jennie Bewes has been a driving force of innovation within global brands for the past 20 years blending strategic marketing, design and development with cultural change for optimal results from the inside out.

1 Comment

  1. Rob Goldberg says:

    Great article. Well stated.