Five Lessons from Social Marketing Disasters

Trash can pictureSocial marketing, as a realm that many brands are just starting to explore, is bound to feature many missteps as we learn what to do and what not to do. Nothing is more educational than failure, and just to make sure that failure isn’t you it’s a great idea to watch and learn from what other people are trying.

This was the theme of a recent panel discussion at South by Southwest Interactive here in Austin. Social marketing specialists from across the nation gathered to discuss, and have the audience vote, on the worst social media campaigns of the past year. Offenders ranged from Molson to Rudy Giuliani, and the awards had over 20 nominees.

The important thing was not who was the worst or what the particular offenses were (most of them have been removed from the web already), but why the efforts were failures. After listening to the nominees I believe that the mistakes break down into five areas – the five lessons of social marketing disaster:

1. Don’t be a brand control freak

Nothing panics you faster as a brand manager than someone else requisitioning your carefully crafted brand image and completely recasting on the web. The first impulse is to call the legal department, but unfortunately that will just make it worse. Once your brand image has become part of the social world it no longer belongs to you, and rather than fighting against the way someone might mash it up you have to look for positive opportunities to ride that wave of free, participatory marketing.

2. Be transparent

Many of the most damaging things brand did to themselves among the cases reviewed had to do with secretive behavior. Blogs, Facebook groups, or Youtube videos that pretend to be consumer-driven but have corporate marketing dollars behind them are exposed 99% of the time, and they can be extremely difficult to recover from once the resulting online revolt begins. If you pay for something, make sure it’s clear you did so, and make sure you expose as much about what you are doing behind the scenes as you can. The more open you can be, the better.

3. Don’t enter the objectivity zones

There are places on the social web where marketers marketing aren’t welcome, under any circumstances. Just as in the offline world, there are outlets that pride themselves on their objectivity, and these communities often police themselves very effectively. Most of these areas are open and participatory in nature, so they can be a temptation to individual marketers. Wikipedia is one such destination. Entries in Wikipedia that contain bias are quickly exposed and rolled back to previous versions, and if it’s discovered that a corporate marketer was involved it is likely that the effort will be publicized and panned on the open web. Know the landscape.

4. Stick with it

The word “campaign” can be a bad word in the world of social marketing. A campaign by its very definition has a time limit, and when a social marketing “program” launches it needs to have a minimum lifetime that matches the scope of the audience it is reaching. A successfully established social environment will weave itself into the fabric of its users’ lives, so if it is jerked away or cut off prematurely it can leave them disenchanted. That also severs a valuable connection for you. The best way to approach a new program is to make an ample commitment and leave yourself an option to continue it indefinitely. Hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to take that option.

5. Don’t ignore it

In the featured examples there were 20 or so brands that tried, and failed, at a social marketing effort. They were guilty of doing it wrong, but there are hundreds if not thousands of brands guilty of not doing it at all. At the very minimum you should be listening to what the social web is saying about you. At this point, you should probably also be planning a foray to get you into the mix – you can be assured that your competitors likely are. The sooner you start the more you begin understanding the vagaries of how the social web works within your category, your brand, and you can start building a conversation with your customers. That learning, and that conversation, is invaluable.

(Photo Credit: Bonnie Martin)


SxSWi hits Austin. We hit back.

Meet me at SxSWThe South by Southwest Interactive festival is starting up in Austin today and continuing for the next few days, with a host of keynotes and panels that will appeal to web designers, developers, and businesspeople alike.

Powered will be rolling out some folks that fit in all of those various categories to attend the proceedings, but here are just a few good panel picks just for marketers relevant to the social space. Keep in mind that they are producing audio recordings of every keynote and panel, and these will be available after it’s all over.

The Suxorz: The Worst Ten Social Media Campaigns of 2007 – 3.8 @ 11:30
Likely to serve up some valuable lessons in terms of what not to do

The Art of Speed: Conversations with Monster Makers – 3.8 @ 3:30
A take on viral and social marketing from web pioneers

Social Marketing Strategies Metrics: Where Are They? – 3.8 @ 5:00
Marketing thought leaders get “real” when it comes to investing in social initiatives

Social Strategies for Revolutionaries – 3.9 @ 11:30
“You’ll need to combine a radical’s spirit with a strategic framework to get your company to act.”

Sunday Keynote Speaker – Mark Zuckerberg – 3.9 @ 2:00
This young CEO and his company Facebook are challenging for social dominance

Social Networking and Your Brand – 3.10 @ 11:30
Understanding this relationship has been the genesis of social commerce

10 Tips For a Great Presentation – Steve Jobs Style

stevejobs.jpgCool piece over at BusinessWeek. They had their communications coach analyze his last presentation at Macworld. Certainly advice to take to heart. Two that struck me:

#6 Create visual slides: As a former management consultant, I find myself guilty of not doing this one from time to time. I love the look and impact of a single offbeat or unusual visual. Obviously this approach demands the presenter have a command of the material and can hold the audience with words. The most recent great example I found of this was a show called I Am The Media. Very easy on the eyes, and I especially like seeing Orson Welles/Charles Foster Kane depicted as “old media.”

#10 Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse: Couldn’t agree with this more…especially if you’re presenting material others wrote. And ESPECIALLY if you combining it with #6. Professional entertainers do it. We should too.

In this industry, we’re in the business of informing, educating AND giving people a show (which coincidentally was #7). Tough to combine all 3 all the time, but worth shooting for.