Archive for July, 2009

A little video tease for Erik Qualman’s Socialnomics.  Nicely done.


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2043-fail-cameraJennifer Leggio offers 9 highly visible social media failures, apparently intended as a cautionary tale for those who believe that social media is a no-brainer for business.  While I agree with the premise that social media engagement is a double-edged sword, I’m not sure all of these examples qualify as failures – or even as examples of social media “campaigns.”

The Quiznos Subs “2 Girls, 1 Sandwich” ad:  Although Leggio calls this a “viral video”, it was actually produced by and embedded on Playboy.com.  As she notes, Quiznos officially denied having any affiliation, but Leggio nonetheless identifies this as an example of a loss of brand control, apparently attributable to a misguided social media campaign.  That seems to me a misdiagnosis of the problem (if a problem even exists).  To the extent that the video went viral and created a backlash among consumers, this is an example of the way that social media can complicate traditional media campaigns.  The ad isn’t an example of user-generated content, wasn’t published on a social media site, and didn’t include any of the elements we typically associate with a social media campaign.  But if you put out a traditional ad with questionable content, social media certainly makes it possible for the ad to be taken out of its intended context and virally disseminated.  That hardly qualifies as a failed social media campaign.  That Quiznos decided to allow their brand to be associated with Playboy seems a conscious decision, and however objectionable that association might be to some, the ad is pretty consistent with the type of content one would expect to find on the Playboy site.  Moreover, the risque nature of the ad is hardly a departure for the Quiznos brand, whose previous ad campaign featured a couple of demented-looking rodents – hardly standard fare for a fast-food chain.  Loss of brand control indeed.  Whatever objections one might have to this particular ad, I certainly don’t think it can be characterized accurately as a social media failure.

Motrin’s “Mommyblogger” backlash:  Again, this is an example of a traditional media ad stirring up controversy via social media (in this case, by raising the ire of so-called “mommybloggers”.  This is yet another example of the way social media empowers users to talk back to brands – an important point, no doubt – but it hardly qualifies as either a social media campaign or a social media failure. 

The CNN/Ashton Kutcher Twitter stunt:  While this certainly qualifies as a social media campaign for the CNN brand, I disagree with Leggio’s contention that it was a failure.  Leggio asserts that the stunt somehow diminished the respectability of CNN, in spite of the fact that it was a close race (CNN was fewer than 2000 followers behind Kutcher when he reached 1 million followers) and all for a charitable cause.  In this case, failure is in the eye of the beholder – an important lesson for brands as they try to figure out how to assess the success or failure of social media campaigns.  I think Leggio fundamentally missed a critical component of the “stunt” – that it was a critical commentary on the importance of celebrity culture (which given the close results, turns out not to be quite the travesty that commentary intended).  More importantly, the CNN brand hardly suffered from the stunt – it’s still one of the most popular contributors on Twitter.

What I find most interesting about this list is the conclusion Ms. Leggio draws from these failures: “Word-of-mouth marketing is a fantastic thing when you know how to leverage it. But if you lose control of your brand, the disasters are almost endless. Let these brands’ failures be a lesson.”  Maybe, and in some cases, certainly.  However, the advent of social media poses a risk to brands even when they don’t explicitly undertake a “social media campaign.”  To a large extent, loss of brand control is an inevitability in the age of social media.  Learning to deal with that loss of control and manage brand identity in spite of it is the real lesson here.


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When United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor Guitar on a flight from Halifax to Chicago, the Sons of Maxwell singer tried – unsuccessfully – to get the company to acknowledge its fault and compensate him for the damage (you can read Carroll’s version of events here).  When the airline ultimately refused, denying his claim because he failed to complain in the right place at the right time, Carroll took his complaint to the people via this YouTube video:

The song quickly went viral [UPDATE: as of 9/16/09, the video has racked up nearly 5.5 million views], and United was eventually forced to deal with the fallout, apologizing and offering to compensate Carroll for his loss.  However, Carroll considered both the apology and the late compensatory offer to be inadequate – and beside the point.  The damage was done, and Carroll stuck to his guns, vowing to follow through on his promise to publicize United’s indifference with a follow-up video mocking their apology [UPDATE: here’s the second video in the promised trilogy]:

The clear loser in this case is United Airlines.  Airline employees responded with indifference when Carroll complained on the flight after watching baggage handlers mangle his guitar on the tarmac.  United customer service representatives gave Carroll the runaround when he lodged an official complaint, which the airline eventually denied on a technicality.  By the time the company was shaken to its senses by the popular outcry raised by Carroll’s video, it was too late.  The damage was done, the apology and offer of compensation were refused, and the airline’s negligence was exposed in both social and mainstream media outlets (Carroll made stops on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Today Show).

Now, here’s the positive note.  Taylor Guitars, manufacturers of Carroll’s broken axe, capitalized on United’s failure by posting the following self-promotional video:

Though not as popular as Carroll’s vid [UPDATE: Taylor’s vid racked up 181,292 views as of 9/16/09], Taylor piggybacked on its popularity and seized the opportunity for a little free promotion of its guitar repair services.  Brilliant.  The moral of this social media story: one company’s failure is another’s social marketing opportunity.


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coming changeSelling 2.o President Josh Gordon has authored an excellent white paper, The Coming Change in Social Media Business Applications, available for download HERE.  Although businesses primarily use social media tools for general communication, public relations and marketing purposes, Gordon argues that a shift is coming.  According to Gordon, “companies are now viewing social media as a primary tool of customer engagement, enabling lead generation, immediate customer contact, and customer interaction.”  Gordon identifies 4 primary factors driving this shift:

“First, due to the rapid rise in the popularity of social media, the number of potential customers engaged on social media sites was previously underestimated by many organizations. Second, in the current economic downturn, where there are fewer customers in general, finding them and engaging them are much higher priorities. Third, there is now a “Main Street” acceptance of social media as a powerful persuasive tool. Regardless of political affiliation, managers everywhere recently noticed that the largest and most successful social media campaign in history helped elect Barack Obama President of the United States. Finally, there has been a breakdown in traditional lead-generation programs. With more customer contact moving online, it is easier than ever for a client to ignore messages from potential suppliers. Social media can help break the ice.”

The results of Gordon’s study suggest that businesses are beginning to see social media as more than just another PR/marketing channel.  Social media allows businesses to engage customers, build and maintain relationships, and personalize their business.  Social media sites also provide a unique outlet for customer prospecting and lead generation.  If Gordon’s research is correct, businesses should begin to see markedly better results from their social media efforts.

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Sarah Evans, PR maven and director of communications at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois, posted an excellent article on The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing for businesses on Social Media.  A few highlights that deserve echoing:

  • Be transparent and authentic.  Be human.

“Social media for business is about return on engagement. Connect with people, build opportunities through dialogue which would  not have otherwise occurred, then connect them with your business.

Think in terms of ‘bad driver just cut me off’ instead of ‘just got served papers for a lawsuit.’ The first example connects people and encourages dialogue. Who hasn’t been cut off by a bad driver? The second example has the potential to make people uncomfortable or turn them ‘off’ to your brand.”

  • Leaving a Legacy

“Your social media personality becomes part of your brand’s legacy. Don’t brand your personality for the day, the month or the year. This is serious stuff. What you post stays around for a pretty long time and the information (good and bad) isn’t too hard to find. Your social media posts offer vast archives of information about you.

This means, what you share, post or tweet today should reinforce your brand tomorrow. Think about each message you share via social media as an email which has gone public to your entire organization and all of your stakeholders. Now, imagine if they are reading this email and RESPONDING to it. That’s part of the power of your social media brand.”

  • Don’t be a social schizo.

“Multiple personality disorders do not work well in social media. If you confuse, you lose. If you are a business expert one day, a media maven the next and live news feed after that, people will ultimately stop connecting.

A very simple approach is to make a short list of what you WILL talk about via social media. Stick with it. The pay off? When someone thinks about an expert in interior design, they will think of you because you will have BRANDED yourself as one. (DISCLAIMER: This is not an opportunity to ‘play a doctor on T.V.’ You should actually be an expert in the areas you claim to be.)”

  • Social climbing is not the best approach.

“Social climbers beware. As you build your social media personality, don’t only connect with people who have a lot of “followers,” “friends,” “connections,” etc. It makes sense to engage the “big dogs” of social media, but it’s even better to connect with other quality audiences. Spending too much time looking for the big fish may take away from an entire school passing you by. Go grassroots and begin to build your personality one social media platform at a time.”

  • It’s not a one-stop shop.

“There is no one-size fits all personality for your brand. In fact, think you know your brand? Explore social media and see how people really experience what it is you’re selling. You may need to adjust or reflect on your brand.

What is your brand offline? Social media isn’t an opportunity to reinvent a new brand, but to widen your brand’s reach. It’s all about the experience, right? People should get the same (or similar) experience with you online that they get offline.”

  • Return on Engagement (ROE).

“It’s all about ROE – return on engagement. Is your social media personality working? You’ll know when opportunities arise that never would have been possible otherwise. A few ways to ‘quantify’ engagement:

• Track incoming traffic from links

• Number of people subscribed to RSS feeds

• Number of people in social media groups, fan pages, etc

• Trackbacks or linkbacks to posts

• Conversation tracking tools like Twitter Search

• Comments on blog posts

• Increased sales and general inquiries”


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DENNYS FAILB.L. Ochman, founder of the popular What’s Next Blog, debunks 6 social media myths for businesses.  This should be required reading for CMO’s before they dip their toes into the social media pool. I frequently encounter potential clients that balk at the costs and commitment required to effectively implement a social media strategy.  Her first point – that social media isn’t really free when it comes to business participation – may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s absolutely true.  The social media landscape is littered with examples of misguided, ill-timed, poorly planned and miserably executed social media “campaigns,” some of them conceived by PR  and marketing firms with an impeccable track record of old media success.  The fact is, social media fundamentally transforms the rules of marketing – from messaging to metrics – and unless you’re prepared to shift your perspective and expectations accordingly, your social media experience could get pretty ugly.


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2043-fail-cameraPeter Shankman provides further proof that 

[(failed attempt at humor) X (social media)] + hubris = FAIL

Please, people – remember that your reach may exceed your grasp, in more ways than one.

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