To be Social or Not to be Social?

It’s around us everyday – we tweet, update our Facebook status, become 1 of 948,543 fans of Skittles, research how to cure a hangover on, upload pictures from Vegas to Picasa, and write on our blogs before even taking showers in the morning.

Social media is all around us and is becoming a normal part of our daily lives. Because social media use is now equivalent to watching TV (an everyday occurrence), brands are finding ways to connect with consumers in this space in a variety of ways. Brands use social media to appeal to audiences, to engage with their consumers, and to leverage their brand advocates.

Comcast – Helping Customers.

A majority of us have had problems with our cable/Internet provider – the cable goes out, the Internet is running at a snail’s pace, or the bill is beyond the comprehension of someone who didn’t major in math at Harvard. This past year, Comcast added a Twitter division (Comcast Cares) to its Customer Service department to help respond to the immediacy/instant gratification desired when current Comcast customers have problems with their service. Numerous Twitter users tweet about bad experiences/frustrations they have with Comcast. Comcast searches for those comments among the Twitter database and can be directly connected to the frustrated Tweeter via the Twitter Direct Message button, so they can privately discuss issues via e-mail.1

Overall, Comcast’s approach to solving customer problems is a great way to provide customer satisfaction when a product has caused user frustration. Customer service and reputation is crucial in this industry to avoid customers from switching to competitive cable providers. Many people are not afraid to use social media channels to vent their aggregation, and it’s important that these issues don’t get ignored. More brands should use this model in hopes of increasing their brand images among consumers. It’s possible we will soon see more brands mimicking Comcast’s model to assist users with problems, schedule appointments, provide coupons, or give step-by-step instructions to fix issues themselves. The customer is always right. Therefore, more brands need to start listening to their customers and responding to their issues in new ways.

Skittles – Has the Rainbow Gone Sour?
In March of 2009, Skittles updated its Web site to help improve its image and instigate discussions about the products/flavors the Skittles brand offers. To increase Web traffic, the redesigned Web site re-launched to reflect Twitter, in hopes of increasing site traffic. The Skittles homepage featured live feeds from its Twitter page.
Skittles 1 Skittles 2
The new Skittles new site was launched on 3/1, and by 3/3, there were 3,000 blogs dedicated to the launch of the site, 1,000s of tweets, and 100s of wall posts on Facebook. A majority of the conversations focused on the cool factor of the Web site vs. conversations around the product itself. Initially this campaign seemed harmless, but some of the feedback illustrated the risk brands take when using social. Posted during the site’s first few days included topics such as “F$%K Skittles,” several competitor links, profanity, and prank tweets.2 In response, Skittles changed its landing page to its Wikipedia page until they could resolve the issue. This site re-launch wasn’t considered a failure, just an example of a brand not recognizing the power of social media and the risks involved.3 It’s important that a brand considers filtering its Twitter feed prior to posting it on a Web site (if it’s concerned about user response). Once the filter applications were set in place, Skittles changed its landing page to its Facebook page (a filtered Twitter feed can be accessed on the site). Some applications that other brands have used, including PepsiCo, are FriendFeed and Plaxo. These applications pull all user-generated content on a particular subject together from social networking sites, blogs, and photo-sharing systems. These help brands view comments and moderate them as needed before they are posted. It could be said that filtering user-generated data shouldn’t occur because then the information isn’t organic and doesn’t provide the brand appropriate feedback. Therefore, it’s important to consider the best way to use social media for your brand and how you’re likely to respond if a campaign doesn’t go as planned.

Ford – Social Media Brand Ambassadors.

Ford In 2010, Ford will reintroduce the Fiesta model to the United States after a successful launch in the United Kingdom. To test the product and get the word out, Ford has selected 100 brand ambassadors (who are also bloggers) to test the Fiesta. These brand ambassadors are encouraged to write on their experiences in the car, post videos, and provide reviews by updating friends through Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Each month, the brand ambassadors/bloggers will have themed missions, from travel to social activism, which they must report about on their blogs.4 Ford is taking a strong leap of faith in their product and leaving the stamina of the brand and model in the hands of 100 randoms. The honesty they’re hoping to receive is of course praise for the car (which has already had great success in Europe), but also to point out product flaws, perks, and everything in between. Ford plans to measure the campaign’s success by sales and the life of this movement after the test drive is over. The social media focus group Ford is investing time and money in could potentially backfire. A successful outcome to this test relies on recommendations from the bloggers in the social media space. It’s putting the fate of the brand into the hands of its audience. Perhaps Ford is onto a new phenomenon in which brands will actively reach out to social media users to gather honest opinions on products and consider that feedback in bettering the end result.

Overall, social media provides an environment that can be phenomenally successful or a complete disaster for a brand – relatively uncontrollable by the brand itself. The Integer Group has five principals of great creative: get noticed, be the brand, tell the story, get a reaction, and be memorable – all of which can be facilitated by social media. If you do it right, it definitely pays to be SOCIAL-able.

1. Comcast’s Twitter Man by Rebecca Reisner
2. Skittles Stupid Social Media Trick by Laurie Burkitt
3. Tasting the Social Media Rainbow by Courtney Chadwick
4. Ford is counting on army of 100 bloggers to launch new Fiesta by Eric Tegler
5. What can Social Media do for your business? by Aneta Hall

Contributed by Kelly Moriarty