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? http://www.Skittles.com. Do you think Skittles.com 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?

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6 thoughts on “Experimenting in Social Media Can Be Dangerous to Your Brand

  1. Interesting analysis. By the way, Skittles is replying to comments left on their Facebook wall. Here’s an example:

    “Skittles wrote at 10:11am
    Ryan Lynch wrote:
    ‘I don’t think Skittles taste good.
    Is that you cousin Katy?’

    We’re sorry to hear your taste buds disagree with Skittles. However, we’re excited this page doubles as a Lynch family reunion group.”

    What really matters for Skittles is that they move toward a goal. It could be to boost product sales for 7 days — which they probably will. It could be to be more top of mind next to their biggest competitors; in other words, be in the consideration set more often. It could be to expand their product user base — get those who have never tried Skittles to do so. Maybe they wanted to improve excitement around the Skittles brand. This will probably give Skittles a short term spike. When the dust settles, will they be better off than before?

    I don’t know the answers, but Mars is definitely learning a lot with this exercise and using one of its more edgier brands to do so. The long-term payoff will be tremendous.

  2. @Hetty4

    Thanks for commenting :)

    When I checked out the Facebook page, Skittles had yet to reply to anything on that page. So maybe now they are learning after getting hit in the head with this?

    But I have to disagree with you, I don’t believe much of this impacts buying Skittles – as Social Media outlets like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, & Flickr are NOT used by kids who buy their candy.

    Had my sister look at this on Tuesday w/o giving her any information. When she saw the page w/ the Twitter replies and some of them quite offense, she said – “that’s it, my kid isn’t typing in THAT site anymore”. She has a 6 year old who is learning computers now in school.

    I’m sure she’s not alone in that thought, and won’t be the last. and that’s who their audience is – not us Social Media users.


  3. Thanks for your reply Li. My daughter (age 12) and her friends are all using Facebook. They’ve just started, but are actively using it. So, I know they use Facebook. They would use YouTube more if we hadn’t blocked it because of trust infringement by our 15 year old. Twitter, not so much.

    I’m not an expert on confections — I don’t know what candy types appeal to different segments and why. But if I were going to expand my target audience, I would go where the new audience is. Again, I go back to goals. Maybe Skittles isn’t targeting the tweeners with this. Maybe they are looking to the less-monitored, more socially engaged teens and older. And I would agree, your sister and I are not the Skittles target. But I bet this is all the buzz on college campuses and perhaps high schools as well. And I bet Skittles is moving more product.


  4. Social Media Marketing is highly dangerous to brands and must NOT be embraced at all. Too many cooks spoil the broth! If you are ‘engaging’ in customers who mix business speak along with playful banter and perhaps rude comments, you are making your brand common as muck. Even seeing your brand logo along with potentially harmful comments on a twitter feed, blog, facebook page can tarnish a brand. Seeing customer complaints being posted on twitter is not good. Customer services depts speak to customers one on one without the world watching. Social media, just like the .COM bubble will burst with a catastrophic bang. People who have jumped onto the band wagon and are embracing social media are dancing with danger and damaging their brands. A brand is NOT about engaging with people on twitter. If you inteligently analyse what the MAJORITY of twitter feeds are about – it is merely internet ‘GURUS’ promoting some dodgy eBook via an equally dodgy looking one page sales-letter website. If you then look at twitter inteligently, you will find that millions of people are all talking millions of different things all at the same time – this causes a catastrophic information overload and achieves nothing. Social media does NOT improve productivity or sales at all. If you really look beneath the covers you will find that employee man/ woman hours are utterly wasted on facebook and twitter. Furthermore the ROI of twitter is no where near as high as the ROI of a traditional advertising campaign. This is because in the LONG -TERM (what really matters) – the brand will be damaged beyond repair. Engaging in social media is like making every one of your clients/ customers a brand manager – and when this happens it is a case of too many cooks spoil the broth or in this case – the brand!

    I know I am being very controversial about not agreeing with the masses of people that are embracing social media–however, during the .com boom, the wise sage Warren Buffet disagreed with the masses of investment professionals around the world who were jumping on the bandwagon regarding the dot com boom – Warren Buffet never invested even one dime in the tech stocks of the dot com boom and he predicted the crash and it happened. Now, to give you a bit about my background, I have an elite MBA in Finance & Strategy with International Marketing and have worked for numerous Fortune 500 Co., as well as run an advertising agency. This does NOT make me an expert of any sort, but I do have a deep understanding of business and branding and corporate functions. It appears EVERYONE is trying to get something from nothing—this attitude in society caused the .com BUST—where investment bankers and MBAs and private equity firms were throwing money at any .com startup even if they had NO IDEA of HOW or WHEN they would generate revenue. The same attitude caused the current credit crunch crisis—trying to generate money out of nothing—thin air by living on CREDIT and not knowing HOW to pay it back. Similarly, SMM is free and people are trying to make it generate millions—there is a fundamental flaw in this business model that people cannot see. The main problem with the SMM model is the very nature of the fact that it allows everyone to comment on anything and everything—there is no longer any strategy or coherence in the message as you cannot coherently control millions of individuals with millions of opposing views.

    SMM can:
    1) Disintegrate a strong internal corporate culture by giving individuals too much power. Governments are elected by people to RUN the people and country to prevent ANARCHY! If you give PEOPLE all the power to have a referendum on EVERYTHING then you ruin the country and cause CHAOS. Similarly, if you give CUSTOMERS all the power to dictate what a brand should be, the multiple opposing views will cause brand anarchy and OPENLY annoy and anger people around the world at a rapid pace. Furthermore, it will cause employees to openly oppose internal corporate culture, openly challenge management strategy, cause openly shared silos and rifts and disintegrate corporate culture, which in turn can affect the brands values by affecting customer service, employee morale etc. This goes a LOT deeper than the internet ‘guru’/ work at home mom/ soccer mom mentality. SMM can damage brands beyond repair.

    2) SMM is extremely time consuming and generates trickles of revenue compared to traditional main-stream media. SATELLITE, TV, RADIO, MAJOR NEWS/ MAGS, INTERNET ADS—these are the channels that even though are saturated, they have more consistency and enable more control over your message. The SECOND you hand over your brand message to the masses of un-qualified ‘brand specialists’ AKA the public, then you are going to cause chaos, confusion and mayhem. Imagine if the government said tomorrow, we are resigning and would like YOU the people to run the country! IT would end in utter chaos because people look up to LEADERS, but if you have NO BRAND LEADER and just millions of ‘followers’ trying to dictate what a brand should be—it makes millions of leaders, which causes disintegration and damage.

    3) RISK! SMM can produce unprecedented amounts of risk to a brand. Not only is there the direct threat from competitors, and dissatisfied customers, but there also is the threat of data protection violations which can cause people to lose trust.

    If you REALLY THINK about WHY in the past the peasants WORSHIPED ROYALTY, or in the present day WHY the masses WORSHIP CELEBRITIES—it is because of the perceived POWER! It is because they are JUST OUT OF REACH, it is because they cannot be touched—BUT—the second you remove that perception and you say, hey WE ARE JUST COMMON LIKE YOU—then the POWER goes out of the window… and with it goes the perception of being ELITE—and when that happens no one will want your brand anymore. If ROLEX advertised on the back of milk cartons no one would pay $5000 for it. THE CHANNEL is just as important as the message—and if you ‘advertise’ using SMM you can damage brand reputation.

    All this is just the tip of the iceberg—I have written an in-depth thesis about all this backed up with evidence—it is controversial but highly engaging and interesting. Thanks for your comments and I hope this opens up a huge debate because I would love to learn from everyone out there too. Thanks!

  5. nice explanation. your analysis is also quite clear. it can be a material for discussion. in my opinion, I agree with you. it will be very dangerous to share a brand in the internet.

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