Online Strategies to Survive a Man-Made or Natural Disaster

My online marketing background started in the travel industry.  Now at KeyRelevance I deal with clients with a wide range of interests.  The one thread that is constant is the reality of what a crisis or disaster can do to your online and offline business.  Hurricanes, Oil Spills, Fires, and other disasters happen all the time.  Sometimes we have a business that can thrive in these environs, sometimes Continue reading

Trust Seals Could Bang Up Conversions For Local Websites

Internet 500 Retailers have been in-the-know about one secret key to online success for quite some time: trust seals. Trust seals are graphic badges which adorn the websites of companies and are awarded based on whether the company and/or website meets certain criteria, such as if they meet security guidelines, quality measures or if they have honorable business practices. There are a handful of better-known trust seal organizations which usually provide the assessment and seal service in return for a fee.

For internet marketers, there’s a really compelling reason why one should seriously consider paying the fees and going through the steps for obtaining a trust seal: they can inspire consumer confidence.

Some of the more popular website trust seals include Trust Guard, ValidSafe, Merchant Safe, TRUSTe, VeriSign, McAfee Secure, and VeriSign.

Trust Seals, Trustmarks

There have been a number of different academic researcher studies which have found that trust seals can improve rates for online purchases. In one research paper from 2001, Myth or Reality: Effect of Trust-Promoting Seals in Electronic Markets,” Xiaorui Hu, Zhangxi Lin, and Han Zhang found that the seals can encourage consumers to buy from storefronts they are not familiar with, and that the seals that consumers recognized more influenced them more. David Gefen’s earlier paper, E-commerce: the role of familiarity and trust,” also found support for the theory that trust seals influenced online book purchase decisions.

However, online website trust seals decended from their offline counterparts, which already had a long history, if not track record. In 1894, due to faulty electrical parts causing fires, the National Board of Fire Underwriters started performing the first tests on the combustibility of insulation materials — their mark was the Underwriters Laboratory or “UL” seal of certification. But, even before that, seals of quality, certifications, trustmarks, and seals of approval have been in use by tradesmen or service providers. Royal seals of approval likely date back a few hundred years more.

Although there is not as much research on the subject, Continue reading

Town & City Name Sponsorships

I just wrote an article which published at Search Engine Land yesterday on the subject of some innovative and occasionally guerrilla marketing tactics that might be used to display advertising promotion via Google Maps. (See: Six Odd Tactics For Getting Ads Into Google Maps)

One aspect the article touches upon is how some smaller towns and cities might find it attractive to sell the rights to their names in return for sponsor dollars. I find this concept interesting, particularly as many municipalities have begun considering flogging the rights to name all sorts of things from auditoriums to subway stations to city service departments.

In the article I mentioned “DISH, Texas” which sold its name a few years ago to a satellite dish company in return for free satellite TV service for all of its residents. While this is one of the more recent examples of “City Name Sponsorships”, it’s not the first. My coworker, Mike Churchill alerted me to the fact that the small town of “Truth or Consequences, New Mexico” actually changed its name from “Hot Springs” back in 1950 in order to win a radio contest.

Truth or Consequences, NM

The NBC radio program, “Truth or Consequences” offered to broadcast their show from the first town that renamed itself for the show.

In American history, quite a number of towns and cities went through various name transitions over time, but most of these monikers were inspired by people’s names or were descriptive in some way. These days, I suspect that most larger cities would find a lot of resistance to selling off their names — and for well-known cities they’d be losing a lot of “brand equity” if they dropped a well-known name. But, for small towns, there could potentially be a lot of places which might find large corporate investment attractive enough that they could overcome constituents’ resistance to name-change.

Selling a placename is bound to create controversy whenever it happens. Winnipeg’s plans to sell off naming rights on everything from parking meters to bus tickets and even city services has apparently gotten significant criticism.

Kalle Lasn, founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, says selling off naming rights to city services is an example of backward and unimaginative thinking.

“It’s really depressing … They should learn how to be a little bit more innovative. There are ways of cutting back and ways of generating revenue that don’t include selling your soul to corporations.”

(Adbusters is famous for helping promote “Buy Nothing Day” and other anti-commercialism and anti-advertising philosophies.)

Regardless of the controversy, the prospect of abruptly having some saleable assets available is likely to prove too attractive to resist for many city managers during these cash-strapped times. I expect we’ll see some more instances of corporate-sponsored city names appearing in online mapping systems like Google Maps.

8 Tips for Getting Online News Reporters To Promote You & Your Site

As a brief follow-up piece to the article I wrote this week on Search Engine Land, Three Ways To Optimize Business For Local Search Via Online Newspapers, I thought I’d list a few tips on how to pitch stories to local newspaper reporters in order to get coverage of your business along with the almighty links and reference citations which can help your site and listing rank higher than competitors.

8 Tips for Getting Reporters to Promote Your Business:

  • Issue a press release or “media alert”. Prepare when you pitch a story idea to local news editors and reporters. Reporters and editors are not at all lazy, but they are pulled in many different directions and are presented with multiple story options every day. So, if you want to increase your chances of having your story idea get taken by them, prepare it a bit. Do a brief write-up of the concept and prepare it like a written news release. Write it up in clear, “Who, What, Where, Why, When” format. For the “What” part, explain exactly what your concept is and why it should be considered compelling.
  • Hop on a media feeding-frenzy! Watch the current news and see what’s hot in public perception, and when some bursty bit of news is emerging into public consciousness as The Next Big Thing, be prepared to exploit it for your own advantage. Formulate a story idea linking your business/product to the current hot news item, and issue your media alert so that your local reporters will have a hot story item handed to them on a platter, ready to run with!
  • Be unusual! Run-of-the-mill story ideas are yawners and will cause your story idea to get ignored. Think in terms of attention-grabbing headlines. Can you state in one sentence why a story about your company or product would attract the attention of an average man-on-the-street? Make this your press release headline. Even just a clever turn of phrase about a moderately run-of-mill story concept could be the differentiating factor that gets your story some media coverage.
  • Do your homework. If your story idea involves making some sort of significant claims or is founded on some sort of facts external to your company, help the reporter by finding the information they’d need to check out your claims and verify facts. Provide them with links to independent reports, phone numbers of experts who back you up, and other supportive documentation.
  • Provide free photos. I’ve written previously about how free photos is good for SEO. In this same vein, providing photos that illustrate your press release or story idea for a reporter helps save them time and makes the story that much more compelling if it’s done right. Furthermore, provide an easy-to-use Press Kit on your website with a number of images that help the press and bloggers illustrate stories about you. Press kits should include a few sizes of your company logo, for both print and online, pictures of your company, employees performing typical services, customers having fun at your place of business, and pictures of prominent employees who may be frequently quoted. Be sure to have signed image releases of any recognizable people appearing in these photos, though!
  • Offer to be an expert commentator. Whenever stories come up about your industry, businesses type, or area of expertise, it’d be great if reporters would think of you as an expert they can quote. There are a number of places on the internet where you could register yourself as an expert commentator for particular subject matter, and you can also provide your credentials in advance to various TV news channels, local newspaper offices, radio station, and to local reporters and bloggers.
  • Build rapport with your reporters! Be friendly, accommodating and easy to work with for any reporter who calls you up! Let’s face it – they’re doing you a big favor, and you should be thankful. If you’re fun to work with, they may think of you much more frequently as a person to go to for stories. Send a thank you note after a story about your airs, and even send them a freebie or discount coupon from your business.
  • Manufacture a PR stunt! It may be cheap and, frankly, very blatantly engineered as a self-serving effort to get attention, but if you can arrange it for a “slow news” period, it can work just as well as any meatier news idea. Just be restrained about doing such a thing too often. Use this for slow business seasons and when you may’ve had a long dry spell from any media attention. Do it too often and you’re risk audience fatigue and it will not be as effective.

These tips owe quite a bit to Emmy Award-winning reporter, Jeff Crilley’s book, “Free Publicity.” You can read his book for even more ideas.

Save Yourself A Thousand Dollars On Simba Yellow Pages Report

Simba Information has released a report on the state of the yellow pages industry entitled “The RBOC Bankruptcies 2009: The Impact on the Future of the Yellow Pages Industry” and will offer a webinar this week to those who bought it. At $995, I think the report is likely overpriced, and I thought I’d save you some money if you were tempted to pay that much to find out why some of the major yellow pages publishers are filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, what this means for the industry, and where things are headed.

Yellow Pages

I guess I’m reacting to the somewhat hyperbolic language found in the press release which I think was intended to appeal to fears of yellow pages publishers possibly the very people who should least afford to pay this much for the analysts’ report.

First of all, I think it’s a stretch to refer to Idearc and R.H. Donnelley as RBOCs. Since Idearc was separated from the telco function of Verizon and then spun off, I don’t believe people really consider it to be an RBOC any longer. I don’t think R.H. Donnelley could ever have been considered an RBOC, even though it acquired directory parts of old RBOC companies. “RBOC” refers to “Regional Bell Operating Company”, used to describe those companies which originally made up the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, earlier known as Bell Telephone Company, which were broken apart into separate regional companies as part of antitrust requirements. The main focus of the original splintering of the RBOCs was placed upon the phone services, and the general convention is to consider those telco functions as being the “phone company”, while when non-telco company portions are spun off, they are no longer refered to as “RBOC”. This is maybe pedantic of me, but I think such loose accuracy of description is inauspicious in an expert report.

Secondly, there’s not a whole lot of mystery about why Idearc and RHD got into financial straights and had to file for Chapter 11. Both were overly debt-heavy and when the economy turned sour, they could not properly service those debts. I wrote in-depth about Idearc’s case in a post on Search Engine Land originally titled “Idearc’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Who’s Really Responsible?“, and you can see Bloomberg’s and other reports stating that R.H.Donnelley’s bankruptcy was due to overly high debt. Yell Group’s problems also stem from debt. Ambassador Media Group, another well-known yellow pages publisher, has also filed for bankruptcy protection this week as well.

So, let me save you a thousand dollars with the simple explanation of this. For a hundred years, the print yellow pages industry was a very profitable business. It was a very safe bet, as investments go. Such a long-standing business model, “ecologically adapted” to be interdependent with many other businesses, was simply not expected to see any major declines. However, the technological disrupters of first the internet, then Pay-Per-Click advertising, and then the Google search engine all had a very unforeseen effect. These companies increased capital investment, expecting longterm wins, but the rapid erosion of print advertising undermined their ability to pay on their loans quickly enough. Even though there’s increasing profitability on the part of their internet sides in many cases, the volume of internet profit is insufficient to both cancel out the losses in print revenue and simultaneously pay off their loans. In Idearc’s case, I further outlined how they were sandbagged from the very beginning by Verizon offloading an unreasonable debt load upon them.

What does the future hold for Yellow Pages?

Immediately, these companies which are restructuring will come out far stronger. They will be forced to further pare down their print divisions. Print will continue to see erosion in revenues, since overall usage is declining, just as it is with other print media (I solidly established that the yellow pages industry’s own statistical projections were considerably inaccurate, and that print directory usage likely continues to drop each year).

I’ve also been stating for quite some time that there appear to be too many players in the internet yellow pages (IYP) sector, and that I foresee collapsing of this is likely we can expect that there are likely to be some mergers of these companies in the near future.

There is also further weakening of these online directories in terms of marketshare from my perspective. For now, they can be profitable, but I see too much incestuous interselling among the players. It’s possible that once collapse within this sector occurs, that the resultant players left standing may be strong enough to continue competing and to grow. But, there is significant cause to be concerned with the growing local search marketshare taken over by the major search engines such as Google. If the IYPs cannot improve their game well enough and rapidly enough to compete with the major search engines, then there will continue to be financial instability on the parts of the yellow pages companies.

Simba’s press release mentions in passing how “…bloggers jump to their computer keyboard and pound out a call for the outright ban of books for the good of the people whether they want them or not and toss in the good of the environment as well…” wording that plays very well to those in the YP industry which have been very defensive about the attacks on the printed books. Yet, rather than playing up to the anti-environmentalist defensiveness of the YP industry, it’d probably be more productive to resolutely face into the difficult current truths. People who don’t use the printed media are increasingly irritated by having the books from multiple providers dropped unsolicited on their doorsteps these days, and environmental progressivism is a popular and rising trend, turning mild irritation into full-frontal attacks. It’s undeniable that in quite a number of markets throughout the U.S. there have been significant movements to restrict directory distribution. Quite simply, this trend is going to continue, and the industry’s thin bandaids in many cases are not going to perform well at resisting the attitudinal change.

Finally, why should you trust my analysis more than Simba’s (even though I’m saving you the thousand dollars)?

For one thing, I was one of the earliest analysts to state that I saw weakness in the yellow pages industry, and later that there were serious problems in store for yellow pages. There were quite a number of other research firms and analysts that cater to the yellow pages industry that were offended back then by my findings, but it’s now undeniable that print yellow pages have indeed experienced substantial declines. I forecast the decline, I warned of weakening in print, and I stated it out loud, even as other major analysts were dismissive and even angrily reactive. I simply observe the facts and attempt to project realistic possibilities rather than merely catering to popular notions I’m not afraid to speak the whole truth as I see it.

Interestingly enough, AT&T’s directory division hasn’t been experiencing the same degree of problems seen by other directory publishers, but they’ve been kept “within the fold” of the overall AT&T telco corporation, which can insulate them from problems experienced by the standalone directory companies. Simba’s webinar is including Frank Jules, AT&T’s president & CEO of Advertising Solutions, but I’m not at all convinced that AT&T’s yellow pages group will be all that informative beyond speaking to their directory products offered.

As I pointed out in my article showing weakening in online searches for the “yellow pages” keyword phrase, online consumers appear to be seeking out yellow pages sites less and less. It stands to reason that as Google’s blended search bubbles up local businesses to user keyword search requests more simply, there’s less reason for those consumers to be seeking out business directories. The younger generation is forgetting what a “yellow pages” is altogether, and sites like AT&T’s which have placed all their branding around the eroding concept will stand to lose out.

Simba’s report undoubtedly will have some good information in it. But, will it really be worth a thousand dollars? I seriously doubt it. If you’ve read my blog post here, I think you can safely save yourself the cost.

Your Audience & Customers Define the Value

When it comes to traditional marketing, companies are so entrenched in having to define their value statements, and defining them in their marketing messages they don’t even realize that with today’s new technologies and mediums to communicate in, it’s really the customers who are defining what the value is of their products. While company executives are so focused on “features” providing what they perceive is value, they never stop and think about what the person who is plunking down their hard earned dollars to buy the product or service truly perceives as value.

The same can be said of any type of content you are producing for consumption on the internet. In the end it is the audience who is going to decide the value. While you are thinking these are great tips on how to change a light bulb and that’s the value, the audience perceives something else as more valuable about your content. It could be that the tips save them valuable time and money, something you likely hadn’t considered. While you might be thinking certain points of a video you produced about how your product works is the value, the audience viewing it find more value in how it saved them a ton of time figuring out how to integrate your product in with something they are already using, making both products exceptionally useful to them.

value-of-goldOnce your audience finds value in the content you are providing, when they truly believe this content is worth its weight in gold, that’s when it has the potential to spread like wildfire. It may not hit the front page of Digg, but if one loyal audience member finds true value in your content they are going to spread it out to their friends by sharing their experience with it. People love to relate the experiences and those experiences, if valuable, are powerful marketing agents all on their own. The notion of “look what it did for my friend Suzie” after Suzie has explained the value she found is a very persuasive tool, and then all of Suzie’s friends relate it to their friends. If these friends are in social networks like Facebook, MySpace, or an Ning network out there, the potential for the content going from reaching just a few people to instead touching thousands is great.

This is why marketers both online and offline need to stop thinking of themselves as the “be all end all” decider of what is of value in marketing messages. Instead of consistently trying to push messages on an audience or customer base, they need to start sitting back and listening to the current conversations going on about what they are marketing and how those current messages are being received and interpreted. By listening to the conversations marketers can learn a lot more about their demographics and how they think, instead of just assuming because they are a certain age bracket and sex or race they act a certain way. Things change in the real world and the internet and the social media platforms that have been created offer marketers access to a huge , unself-conscious and very brutally honest, focus group.

Let’s face it the way traditional marketing, that of continually pushing the message that’s been carefully crafted, has changed. Audiences become banner blind, they fast forward through commercials on their Tivos, they channel hop on the radio because they do not find these messages or this type of content of any value. Marketers in today’s world of instant soapboxes (blogs) and the world’s fastest telephone chain (Twitter, Facebook & even email) have to now understand what the customers are deeming as value and create content focused on that value, not the values they crafted in a sterile office space to make CEO’s and senior management feel better about themselves. Whether companies like it or not, customers are now defining a lot of what a brand, product or service means.

Can Oprah Sell Twitter to the Mainstream?

Can Oprah sell twitter to the mainstreamOprah can sell cars, she gave away some a few years back, and the maker of the car saw an increase in sales. Oprah can certainly sell books, authors would sell their souls to have the media mogul pick their book for her book club. Oprah also likes Amazon’s Kindle, when she said “my new favorite thing in the world”, sales bumped up. Oprah can even sell an entire nation on the worthiness of one Senator over another to be President of the United States. The woman has influence companies can only dream of having. Now, Twitter doesn’t have to dream any longer.

Tomorrow, according to her Facebook page, Oprah will set foot into a world where most of us marketing, social media and search geeks have called home for the past two years. She’s about to bring with her, an army of loyal and rabid followers who are not exactly technogeeks. Are we ready for this invasion?

Maybe we should be asking Twitter themselves if they are ready for the invasion? After the upgrade two weeks ago, a bounty full of fail whales and missing avatars, I really hope Twitter’s architecture can handle what Oprah’s about to bring them. This is a lot like the “Digg Affect” on unsuspecting sites – your site goes down, and you piss off a lot of loyal customers & lose sales, just for those folks who want to “glance” at it (whatever the it is .. that’s hit the front page of Digg).

It could just be a one day affair. We know most celebrities find these technologies fleeting, and for most celebrities its about the next best thing to be seen doing. So will Oprah keep Tweeting? If she does, it’s likely to have more of an effect on bringing Twitter into mainstream America than anything to date. The woman is a marketing machine, and if her fans see her continuing to Tweet, well then, you can bet within a few months every one of her loyal fans will have a twitter account to connect to her with, and each other. This is probably one of the best examples of how communities can connect, and how Twitter really is about community.

As for Ashton Kutcher being the “King of Twitter”, I have a hard time swallowing that. Oprah’s to have him on the show tomorrow. Of course we all know this is a huge publicity stunt for Ashton Kutcher to beat out CNN to a million followers. I guess Ashton purpose is to show how to use it – how simple it is, to the audience full of women wishing they were Demi Moore.

Twitter is about to hit the mainstream folks, it’s about to become an even bigger topic on marketing agendas because of a one woman marketing machine – Oprah. Are you ready for this change?

Not only that, are you ready to help your Mom understand Twitter? I might have you all beat there, my mom‘s already there and even uses Tweetdeck!

Company Branding, Employees & Social Media

brandingAs more and more companies start to dip their toes into the world of Social Media they are faced with the increasing dilemma of how do they brand themselves, who speaks for them and what is the message they want to convey to their target audiences in this medium. This isn’t just a Fortune 500 company dilemma either, the smallest of companies that have employees that are venturing into this medium have to address the same questions, although they have less red tape to cut through to get to their answers.

Inevitably when we start a social media strategy for a client we are faced with the question, “Who Speaks For Us?” on these channels. Is it the CEO? Does he have time? Is it the marketing department, are they just going to try to jam a message down the community’s throat? Should the Public Relations Director handle this or are they going to try and control what people say? Maybe the Search Marketing team is better equipped, or is their main focus going to be about the links? Somewhere there has to be a happy balance right? Most definitely.

Paired with the question of “Who Speaks For Us” comes along the worry about it just being one voice. One single solitary person speaking for the whole organization. Companies can become very leery of this, quite fast if the person speaking becomes popular, or even an overnight sensation. For this reason its important that companies set out policies and guidelines as well as expectations of employees and their work in the social media space for the company. Once employees get a taste of the attention that social media brings, sometimes the though of Personal Branding can come into play and their intentions and actions can enter into murky waters while they are suppose to be doing work for the company. Beth Harte addresses the idea of Personal Branding very well and as background information to this post, I highly recommend taking a moment or two to read this if you are thinking of building a personal brand or are concerned about employees who might.

Stepping into social media, guns blazing, on fire and ready to roll isn’t always the wisest strategy, especially when you already have invested money, time and other resources into branding (both offline and online) already. Ensuring that your logo, your marketing and your message stays true two what you have already established is imperative, stepping out into social media with a new logo for every employee working on your social media strategy can be damaging to your established work and confusing to your audience. This is why having a plan mapped out for all scenarios, especially when those people you’ve entrusted to build your social media presence decide to leave the company, is essential. You’ve spent a lot of time an resources on building your brand, letting it walk out the door with a employee could be a huge mistake!

zappos_logoDifferent situations require different strategies. Take for example Zappos and their use of the social media tool, Twitter. Zappos employees are encouraged to use Twitter and other Twitter users can identify a Zappos employee by the “Zappos” in their Twitter name. There’s Zappos who’s Tony the CEO, Zappos_Alfred the COO, Zappos_Tid who’s head of the training & call center and even the Zappos_Lynn who’s “now working and playing at“. For Zappos and their adaption of Twitter into the rank and file employees to help promote the company through this form of social media, it’s become a rather important branding piece for them and they’ve formulated a strategy around it.

So before you set out on your adventure in social media, stop first and grab a map! If there’s not a map handy, then ask for directions. I know a bit metophorical, but this is a strange new world in social media, a lot of mistakes have been made by companies who just “jumped in”. However, there’s a lot of great successes by companies who just took to stop and look at their strategies and how to integrate their company branding into the social media plan when they are engaging their customers.

Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs – Gag Orders in Social Media

doctors-stethescopeI came across an article in USA Today a few days ago about how some doctors are now requiring patients to sign waivers. Waivers are nothing new, but these types of waivers are. These waivers basically are just “Gag Orders” barring patients from posting negative comments online about the doctor or the practice. What’s probably even more appalling is that there’s a man who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism by implementing and following through on these waivers.

I’m lead to posing this question: “What makes doctors any different from contractors, restaurant owners, hotel owners or plumbers?

All businesses that service individuals have to learn to deal with negative feedback, especially in today’s world of Yelp, Twitter and YouTube. You don’t deal with it by issuing “Gag Orders” before you render services, its just not how businesses operate. Customers have a right to their opinion whether they spread that opinion online or offline, inevitably there will be disagreement, disapproval and negative feedback in some form. How you deal with it speaks volumes to how your business will survive in today’s economic environment.

I believe I’m awestruck by the arrogance and audacity of these doctor’s who are going the route of the “waiver”. I’m sorry, if your bedside manner sucks, I’m going to speak about it. If you’re office always runs perpetually late on its appointments, I’ll warn my friends before giving the recommendation. If you screw up and leave a sponge in me during my operation and never apologized or showed any remorse, guaranteed I’m going to talk about it. If you treat me like the reasonably intelligent human being I am, with respect and professionalism and answer my questions, I’m also going to speak about it and recommend you. It’s no different than if a plumber screws up the hot and cold water pipes for my shower, and refuses to fix it – I’m going to talk about and want to share my experience with others.

I am the consumer. I have a voice. I have power. I have control. And with the power of the internet – I can share.

So what should these doctors’ be doing? Well first off, if you feel the need for a waiver, maybe you should step back and take a look at how your treat your patients. Second, instead of being offended by the negative criticism, perhaps you should listen to these experiences that they are sharing. A great example of this comes from Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. Memorial Sloan-Keating in New York started listening via social media about what their patients experiences were and what they thought about them (as well as other cancer treatment facilities in the NCCN network). One of the biggest take-aways was that it wasn’t the doctor’s experience or the reputation of Memorial Sloan-Keating that they had assumed brought patients there, it was the recommendation of their primary care physician. By listening they understood, and stopped assuming they knew it all.

No matter what business you are in, you can’t stop the negative. The negative will always be there, its just how you handle and embrace the negative that will make the difference. I’ve spoken before about upset customers as opposed to trolls, the trolls are easy to spot. The upset customer represents the opportunity to create an evangelist for you, the best kind of marketing money cannot buy. If you want to create these evangelists, you don’t do it by forcing them to sign waivers, you first start by listening and then communicating.

Postscript: thanks to Simon Heseltine for this bit about Lawyers trying the same route as the doctors

Experimenting in Social Media Can Be Dangerous to Your Brand

Experimenting in social media and web 2.0 can be a really fun thing to do. That is if you are an individual working on testing out some theories, or a small company that is nimble enough to adjust, make quick changes and adapt. Where experimenting with social media crosses the line of fun into dangerous territory is with brands who think that it’s the newest, hippest, greatest “thing” they should be doing, “just because”.

That “Just Because” reasoning is probably the most dangerous reason out there.

  • Just because the competition is out there doing it
  • Just because there’s lots of people on twitter
  • Just because my kids have a MySpace page
  • Just because CNN or Time Magazine mentions it

Those are just a few of the “Just Because” reasons you hear. These are really dangerous reasons to start “playing” with social media, especially if you have never ventured into the area before. There are key things you need to be prepared for if you enter into this space, one thing is that it takes time. So many companies are coming into this space thinking if they slap up a Twitter stream, or a Facebook page, that’s social media. Sorry to burst the bubble here, that’s as far from social media as a company can get. That’s just more of the same old advertising consumers are sick of.

Skittle's Facebook HomepageI wrote about Skittles not “getting it” with their Twitter Stream & social media when it launched on Monday. Word comes from Media Post that they pulled their Twitter campaign. Now Skittles is showing a facebook page. Again, this isn’t social media. These are just flashy billboards, ones that after a while can even hurt the Skittles brand.

update: @CharleneLi has said that Skittles was going to change out their homepage all along. Regardless of that I’m still standing by the fact that this isn’t “real social media”

Why aren’t these social media? Skittles is using social media aren’t they? The word here is using. In social media, you need to actively engage, not utilize it as an outlet like Skittles is. Did Skittles engage in conversation on Twitter? No, heck they don’t even own the @Skittle twitter account that people were trying to talk to them through. Are they engaging on Facebook? Nope, it’s other people starting conversations (see screen capture to the right, click for larger view). Skittles uploaded pictures, but isn’t starting discussions, or engaging in them, not even the good ones. Someone had commented on my post about Skittles on Monday that “did I see they were doing Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia?“. Yes, I did know, but here again, they aren’t engaging the community. For example at the time I write this post, the YouTube channel as 24 subscribers, and they’ve only watched 19 videos, favorited 1, not responded to any comments, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made any friends. How is that being social? (please also note: their “use” of Flickr is just a stream of photos on flickr tagged “skittles”, like Twitter, prime for spamming)

Experimenting with Social Media can come at a cost, too, especially when you are dabbling with something that is totally out of the spectrum of your target market. Lets take for example Skittles again. Skittles is a candy. Who is candy marketed too? Kids and perhaps teens. Now with that in mind, what do you think is on all the packaging for Skittles? Their URL (see the photos below I took of a Halloween style candy handout and the bag those came in)! What do you think kids are going to type into their computer if they are eating Skittles as they surf the internet? Do you think is going to be stopped by parental filters? Not before Monday it wouldn’t have been. Now, let me pose this question – are these kids and teens using Twitter by the droves? No, they aren’t – you find them on Bebo.

skittles-back-for-fun-sizes  skittles-fun-pack-halloween

So your major demographic is kids, but you are using a social media piece of technology not used by your target demographic, why? Ummm “just because“, it’s cool and it will get us buzz! Will it get more kids or parents to buy your candy. Nope.

What it will do, is insight the spammers, the jokesters, the rather rude people to make a mockery of your brand. It then causes those kids who read your packaging who come to your site because you displayed your URL to see messages like this tweet (please be informed that link is rather offensive), and those kids to ask their parents, “mommy what kind of flavor of Skittles is that?”

See the danger of experimenting with social media, now?