Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Social Media ain't about one-night stands, it's about relationships

I feel like I can officially state that I've been had.

About 5 weeks ago, Skittles made the 'bold' move of turning it's website over to social media. It turned the website into a landing page for its content on other social sites, and for the content that people are creating about the brand on Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, etc. The move was blasted by many, and I said that maybe we should hold off on the criticism, and give Skittles the benefit of the doubt and wait and see if this move was the first step in a larger strategy.

Five weeks later, we are still waiting to see 'what comes next'. My guess is that if we haven't seen it by now, that nothing comes next.

A few months ago, I was selected as one of the 'Pepsi 25', meaning I was apparently one of the first 25 people on the planet to see Pepsi's new branding (problem is, I'm a Dr Pepper lover). Aside from the fact that I'm not that fond of Pepsi, I haven't seen anything that's really built off of the buzz generated from this move. As with Skittles, Pepsi doesn't seem to have created an effective plan for capitalizing on the buzz generated by the initial splash.

And this seems to be the big problem. Too many companies are approaching social media as a tool to generate buzz, instead of as a way to connect with their customers. Want to use Twitter as a way to generate buzz for your product launch? Fine. Now what's your plan for leveraging that buzz and using Twitter as a channel to connect with your customers that are now paying attention to you?

Here's a clue; Know the only thing that customers HATE more than companies that ignore them? Companies that walk away when the customers are finally paying attention to them.

Don't be that company. Social media isn't about campaigns, it's about movements. The smart companies get this AND get the importance of using these tools in the same way that the people they are trying to reach AND for the same reasons.

Pic via Flickr user brucebeh

UPDATE: Love this comment from Nicole - "I can't help but look at both of these cases and see a common thread. Pepsi and Skittles both seem to view the tools as the key ingredient - when in reality they are just that, the tools. This is why I think may companies miss the mark when it comes to implementing social media because they focus too heavily on the tools as opposed to the communication and potential relationships that are enabled by them."

Nother UPDATE: Looks like the 'Anonymous' comment left in defense of Skittles, was from someone at Agency.com. The comment was left at 11:56 am, which seems to coincide with this visitor from Agency.com -

Come on. Why not just identify who you are and make your point?


Eric Brown said...

Hey Mack, Nice Post
You are spot on, if the resources aren't in place and committed, the efforts are for not.

In larger organizations, the approval processes and bureaucratic retoric is too cumbersome, and you can't act swiftly, unless someone has been specifically assigned to be responsible.

Thing is, I would bet there was some really passionate Skittles employee who would have done something and ran with this, IF companies had a plan and had trust in the employees and the process

Mike Ashworth said...

Good point Mack, consumers aren't suckers!

Perhaps, just perhaps it is time for us to stop referring to social media and social networking as if they are something separate. Some special sort of Marketing that only the few understand.

I believe the time is now here when we should refer to it as Marketing. not "New Marketing" or any other sexy term, just Marketing.

I think these firms see SM etc as a tool in their toolbox, using it to fix a problem, when in fact they have lost sight of the toolbox altogether.

All Companies are Marketing and Service driven (without these their is no business). One could argue that Service is also Marketing in which case every Company is a Marketing led Company.

Perhaps a simpler approach to the terminology would help people stop using SM etc. as tactics and campaigns and help them become the Marketing / Service led Companies we know they can.


Krista Parry said...

Thanks for reminding me that it's all about the plan Mack. As you said, social media can be a great tool to find your evangelists but it's all about the continued engagement.

What do you think is the number one thing companies should remember as part of their "movement"?

Stuart Foster said...

The faster companies realize SM isn't a gimmick and an actual channel to promote, interact and receive feedback the better off they will be.

The Skittles and Pepsi points are dead on Mack. You have to have a sustained effort otherwise they are largely pointless. I haven't heard much from skittles since they launched...the best thing I've heard from Pepsi was the ridiculous "Pepsi Logo Theorem".

Ball up companies. Consumers aren't that stupid.

@mrawicz said...

Hi Mack,
That's a great point. I wonder if they feel the need to jump on the bandwagon, but don't have all their resources in place yet to keep the momentum going (that's where good cultants like you come in!). I think many of us want to participate (and take "advantage" if you will) but don't have the budget or bandwidth yet to sustain. it. I know that's my challenge - getting stuck on all the details needed for SM to be effective and worth talking about, sharing.

Mack Collier said...

Eric great point about larger organizations not having someone assigned. Then when the feedback comes in, suddenly they realize 'whoa who is going to deal with this?'. A question that needs to be answered BEFORE the campaign starts.

Mike I am definitely against calling social media 'marketing', because then companies would simply view SM as a sales/promotional channel. Many do this anyway, but I fear all would if we made that move.

Krista they should remember that movements take time, and so do relationships. Stop looking for 'instant gratification'.

Tanya said...

Excellent post. Love the title!

Completely agree with Mike Ashworth. Seems a lot of large companies are trying to see ROI based on SM alone and are looking for the immediate results of what traditional marketing once provided them. Problem is, like you said, it's not a one night stand. It's about relationships and relationships are more than immediate return, they are give and take.

We are not a large company, but there is no separation in our marketing between traditional and SM marketing. We're quite happy with our non-traditional ways!


Unknown said...

Connected with you through Dan Schawbel because we had built a relationship so I do so agree with your thoughts.

And, I agree, visibility for visibility sake is pointless. I liken it to begin a conversation and then just walking away like a "little social butterfly" flitting onto the next suspect/prospect in the room.

Buzz has loads of definitions and as a relationship networker - I prefer to think of it as people speaking positively on your behalf. It's about recommendations and that only comes from relationships and that only comes from communication ( a 2-way street) and that comes from not only visibility, but credibility and connect-ability (are you fun + worthwhile to engage)?

I, too, like the title of your post. It says it all!

Nicole said...


I can't help but look at both of these cases and see a common thread. Pepsi and Skittles both seem to view the tools as the key ingredient - when in reality they are just that, the tools. This is why I think may companies miss the mark when it comes to implementing social media because they focus too heavily on the tools as opposed to the communication and potential relationships that are enabled by them.

Also, I would be curious to see or hear the internally strategy or approach they took beforehand. It sounds to me like they really didn't have much of one, and if so, they may be missing the part where they integrate it into their long term communications strategy.

As always, great post.


Amber said...

Hey Mack,

I feel like this is one of those holdovers from the years of "messaging". We've always viewed communications - at least in a corporate sense - as finite. With a start and an end.

We've yet to really embrace the idea that communication is a cycle, an ecosystem of interactions, and that at it's best, it doesn't *have* an endpoint. I think that's why folks get all frantic about measurement too; it's hard to quantify something that's ongoing and perpetually evolving.

But that's the real power in all this social stuff, no? And maybe it's just the part that's so scary after all?

Good food for thought, Mack. Thanks.


Unknown said...

Mack, Nicole's comment hit the nail on the head. The symptom also speaks to what I consider a deeper and persistent issue of US business and to some degree the culture at large - impatience. Our culture is very "results oriented." We don't want a process or a system, we want instant hits. We hate small talk preferring to get to the point (which is why many criticize Twitter). Companies are made up of individuals who can't be bothered with (gasp) interacting with others, instead they want to know what do we need to do to drive, grow, sell.

Lisa Hoffmann said...

Great observations, as always, Mack. Smart companies will pay attention to and learn from these misfires. Failing to plan...etc.

The good news is this opens our eyes to incredible opportunities for the companies who are into building real relationships (read: clients and potential clients!!).

Still and all, I'm grateful for brands like Skittles who are willing to put themselves out there and make mistakes. If nothing else, they make colorful presentation examples.

One-night stands are so Web 1.0 ;)

Maggie said...

Awesome post, and I totally agree with what Eric said about how approvals and bureaucracy can kill a social network and how there are surely Skittles employees who are having to sit on their hands and watch the whole thing stall out.

I've experienced this first hand; actually, experience it first hand on a daily basis, as the social media specialist at an association. It's one thing to convince your company to start using social media; it's another to get them to empower you to use it the way you know it should be used. The methodology is totally flawed; they want to set it up as an experiment to see if people are actually interested--then people ARE interested, they'll stop and think about strategy.

Just because you get them to let you set up a page on Facebook or start Tweeting doesn't mean that you're then free to run with it and use those tools to actually cultivate an engaged group of members/fans/followers. They're ok with letting you use the tools, but still want to control the messsage. What that means is that there's a lot of bad backseat driving going on--and undoubtedly a lot of frustrated drivers cringing at the mistakes they're being forced to make.

Who knows how long--if ever--it will take to get people who know nothing about social engagement to hand the reins over to people who do get it and can use it effectively.

Not that I'm bitter about it or anything ;)

Dieverdog said...

I kind of smile to myself at these conversations... don't you bet these same (or quite similar) conversations occurred when radio was new, when tv was new, when the internet hit the scene? Another new way of communicating with people and I'm sure there are always nay-sayers early on who just don't see the point. There are also a few brave, courageous, creative souls who lead the pack and forge new ground. Then the rest follow suit and copy them once they see something that works. (not all copy well though). Just an observation.

Diane Rines said...

Nice article! I have painstakingly spent years working on relationships and non-profits to hone my skills and deliver value to my customers. I started with social media on the back end and try to keep my customers and their needs in mind. I love what I do more than ever!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, I take it you have not seen the skittles facebook page where you can talk to the brand and they actually respond. They post status and address any question directed to the brand. seems over 600K fans might disagree with you about the brand not communicating. Thanks for the insight though. I like the blog

Mack Collier said...

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that when someone leaves an anonymous comment that's in favor of a particular company, that they probably work for that company? Otherwise, why not sign your name?

amymengel said...

And if you're going to leave an anonymous comment, you should probably try to get the blogger's name right!

Leah said...

One thing I wonder about quite often - is strategy a concept that all people grasp well? I sometimes think that there are people who just aren't wired for it. Even, maybe especially, in marketing.

I honestly don't mind anonymous comments in many situations. Would rather have the thoughts shared.

Matt Hames said...

Wait. i don't work for Skittles, or care about social media, but if this anonymous comments is proof that agencies don't get social media, then I think I need more proof. Why can't "drive people to a Facebook page and engage with them" be the strategy of the Skittles site?

It's damn hard to get the amount of fans skittles has in such a short time without doing a papa johns and giving away stuff.

I personally think the skittles execution was and is brilliant (even though the idea was borrowed).

This is an impulse product that got in the news, stayed there, and now has a lot of fans engaging in the new Facebook.

And how much did it all cost?

Mack Collier said...

"Wait. i don't work for Skittles, or care about social media, but if this anonymous comments is proof that agencies don't get social media, then I think I need more proof."

Nah, I think you just need to realize that non-transparent self-promotion via social media tools is NEVER a good idea. It makes the agency AND the agency's client look bad.

"And how much did it all cost?"

No idea, but I'm pretty sure Agency.com didn't do it for free.

I think a better question is "How many more Skittles were sold?"

mcolacurcio said...

Per the anonymous topic: I think @BethHarte and @dannybrown say it best in a few blog posts on authenticity. I actually love that an alleged agency representative for Skittles is engaging to discuss their point of view.

The comment would have been much stronger with a proper name attached, and even better as a clear, authentic representative behind the effort. I've found that you often build the most trust when you respectfully and honestly engage with dissenters - it shows you're listening.

Mack Collier said...

Note too, how Ford responded to yesterday's post here about the Fiesta Movement. Scott Monty stopped by several times and addressed all issues raised about the strategy. I think that helped improve our perception of where that campaign is heading.

Contrast that with how Skittles and Agency.com have handled responses to this post. Does the anonymous comment make you feel like Skittles and Agency.com 'get' social media?

Patrick said...

I think all the points Mack made are well worth considering as well as several of the comments that follow.

fact is that the skittles campaign is still missing a golden opportunity to have some fun on twitter while they continue to develop their next strategies, simply having a twitter feed run a a search for skittles is not really an understanding of the conversation space.

Got to have legs, just because you have "fans" on facebook does not mean more can't and shouldn't be done.

Jayme Maultasch said...

I think outing an anonymous commenter is unfair. I don't mind if you delete the comment or refuse to accept it but you left the impression they could be anonymous and then outed them. There are better ways to teach transparency. For example, what you did in the comments - pointing to the great dialogue you and Scott Monty had over your earlier post.

Mack Collier said...

Jayme we aren't talking about a co that made an honest social media mistake and then I slapped them on the wrist for it. We are talking about Skittles' agency posting anonymously because they didn't want people to know that they were promoting the campaign that THEY created for their client.

They made the conscious choice to attempt to hide their identity. If you can't see the difference between that and making an honest mistake with social media, then I don't know what to tell you.

Mike McCready said...

I agree with your comments. Businesses catch wind of the buzz social media creates and they try to exploit that buzz for a quick win or a quick buck. What they may not realize, this attempt at exploiting social media could shoot them in the foot. Check out this video I found that reinforces the point.

Unknown said...

Irony is, if Skittles came out and said "WHOOPS" they would have gotten a lot more cred than by going radio silent.

Agencies want to prove to their clients they are "pushing" and "earning the business" with big ideas. Clients have Brand Managers and SVPs and CMOs and boards to answer to and NUMBERS they have to meet (either for brand recognition, brand choice, total sales, etc.). Both sides push the other. Both sides need to prove something and both are accountable for this small mess and the bigger aftermath.

The agency could have done a better job of educating the client on the risks and social mores of the space. Honestly, there is nothing new about vandalism on the web - this didn't start out as a "social media" problem, it turned into one when they went silent. The agency could have helped the client *ease* into the Social as a commitment, not a campaign.

The client could have done a better job of reacting because at the end of the day, ITS THEIR BRAND, not the agency's. Someone on the client side needs to live here, full time, to be accountable and LEAD from the front.


Now what would be interesting, is if the marketing guy from Skittles got in touch with you and did an interview.

Linda Sherman said...

I love the discussion you generated with this article Mack.

Like you and many of us in social media consulting, I watch the corporate missteps in this field with sadness.

I wonder how many years it will take their agencies to catch up so that they can support their clients better.

@Tanya Actually corporate brand marketing does not bring instant results either.

Thanks to @ShashiB for listing this article at his http://shashib.wordpress.com/ links selections.