Use Social Media for Offense and Defense

Social media give people a forum and voice. Unfortunately, that includes people of all levels of intelligence and judgment. Case in point: Two Domino’s Pizza employees in Conover, North Carolina, decided to shoot video in which one employee prepares a “secret recipe” sandwich that includes sticking shredded cheese up his nose then onto the sandwich. The video was posted on YouTube and spread rapidly. The location of the Domino’s involved was determined quickly and the responsible persons identified. But, damage had already been done to Domino’s reputation.

In a case of fighting fire with fire, Domino’s responded to the disturbing video with a video of its own. Company President Patrick Doyle apologized to customers and tried to reassure an emphasis on quality and cleanliness. The message was posted on YouTube. Also, Domino’s is using Twitter (@dpzinfo) to distribute information about its response to this situation.

Some people have criticized Doyle’s response as scripted and calculated. While Doyle came across as a bit uncomfortable in the 2-minute clip, Domino’s social media response should be commended. The very medium that put the brand in a bad light was used to set the record straight. The response was swift, and the use of tools like YouTube and Twitter allows Domino’s to listen to what consumers are saying about its brand. If there are concerns arising from this unfortunate incident, Domino’s will be better equipped to deal with them because of its ability to monitor what people are saying about the brand.

Link: USA Today – “Domino’s Nightmare Holds Lessons for Marketers”

New FTC Regulations for Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing has been elevated from a side benefit of owning a great brand to an important piece in many firms’ marketing strategies. The explosion of blogging and social media makes it easier than ever for person-to-person communications about anything and everything, including consumption experiences. As a result, proactive companies have sought out bloggers and enlisted “buzz agents” to try and review products.

The Federal Trade Commission is considering guidelines to regulate viral and word-of-mouth marketing. Current rules pertaining to these practices were developed long before word-of-mouth as practiced today came into existence. The main piece of the FTC’s proposed guidelines is to create transparency in product reviews and other communications. Someone who was compensated by a company, whether it be in cash or free product, would have to disclose his or her relationship with that company.

Some practitioners cringe at the thought of government regulation, but the FTC’s intent in this case appears to be bringing regulation of social media communications in line with media advertising. If someone is paid to make claims about a product in a TV commercial, that relationship has to be disclosed. It should be no different for a blogger. The aim is transparency. Why would a company want to have its relationships with influencers called into question?

The proposed FTC guidelines are aimed at the unethical players; companies that value how customers perceive them are likely to operate above board when it comes to disclosing relationships in word-of-mouth marketing channels.
Link: Ad Age – “Bloggers Be Warned: FTC May Monitor What You Say”

To Tweet or not to Tweet: That is the (Latest) Question

Twitter has the hearts of marketers aflutter. It is the new must-do medium as it grows its number of users and elevates in status as a “cool” social networking platform. According to ComScore, Twitter had about 10 million site visitors in February 2009. Now, the curiosities of businesses kick in – “How can Twitter help our business?” “Should we be using Twitter to reach customers?” “Do we use Twitter the same way we use e-mail or our web site?”

Twitter is a channel for reaching an audience, just like mail, telephone, Internet, radio, and so forth. The 140-character maximum for a Tweet (a Twitter message) obviously limits how much information can be delivered. Add to that limitation the question “What would people want to hear from our company when we Tweet?” Is it sales information only? Conversations between employees and users that serve to personalize the customer service experience?

Check out B.L. Ochman’s list of 10 reasons your company probably shouldn’t use Twitter in the link below. Her list is on-target. As a social networking platform, Twitter is a medium for conversation. It is all about interaction. Marketers that treat it like more traditional one-way communication mediums (e.g., advertising) will likely find their Twitter experience unsuccessful. On the other hand, Twitter seems to hold much promise for companies that actually want to hear from their customers and are willing to open a channel for that dialogue.

Link: Ad Age Digital – “Top 10 Reasons Your Company Probably Shouldn’t Tweet”

Free Speech Parameters for User Generated Content

The growth of interactive and user-generated content tools on the Web gives the ordinary person a voice unlike never before. We have moved from spectators to participants in sharing thoughts about the world around us. From a marketing perspective, one of the greatest impacts of this trend is the stronger voice consumers now have in sharing their experiences with brands and companies. Frustrated or unhappy consumers can vent to anyone who cares to click and read.

The capability to speak and be heard comes with a responsibility to stick to the facts and not engage in libelous communication. This caveat is at the heart of recent lawsuits filed by professional services providers against consumers who posted negative reviews of their service encounters on the online review site Yelp. In one case, a San Francisco dentist filed suit against a couple who posted negative review about the quality of treatment their 4-year-old son received. This suit follows another one filed by a San Francisco chiropractor over a Yelp posting by a patient critical of billing problems encountered. The parties eventually settled in the latter case after what the defendant said was “a misunderstanding between both parties led us to act out of hand.”

Online customer reviews have resulted in greater transparency in a business’ dealings with customers. User-generated reviews should force companies to be held to a higher level of accountability in taking care of service and product failures. Review writers must take care to temper dissatisfaction by focusing on objective, factual matters in their posts. Name calling and reputation bashing, while possibly relieving some stress at the moment a review is written, could create even greater angst if the target of a review is libeled or injured in some way.

Link: Online Media Daily – “Court Allows Dentist to Sue Writer of Bad Yelp Review”

Who’s the Twit that Changed Skittles’ Web Site?

In a little more than 10 years, corporate and brand web sites have gone from a novelty to a given. A company or brand without a web site? Is that possible today?

While having a web presence is a must in today’s interactive world, the nature of a company’s communications with its target market should be revisited. The first decade of the web communications era was characterized by companies using their web sites as electronic brochures for their products. While the brochure format has a place for many companies, it does not fit the brand building needs of all products, particularly consumer packaged goods. So, when Mars Skittles brand reinvented its web site to have a social media focus, the move may be one of having foresight about the future role of brand web sites.

The relaunched Skittles web site bears little resemblance to the product display focus we have become accustomed to encountering on the Web. A visit to the Skittles web site redirects you to a social media platform such as Facebook or Twitter. The brand has given up the product focus of traditional web sites and replaced it with a people focus. By putting consumers’ relationships with Skittles at the forefront of its communications efforts online, Mars has created a means of strengthening relationships between customers and the brand as well as build community among those people who are passionate about Skittles (yes, I know being passionate about candy sounds strange, but it happens!).

The Skittles experiment will be watched closely. If it has any degree of success, look for other consumer packaged goods brands to revamp their microsites to feature a more significant social media component.

Link: Marketing Daily – “Marketers Praise Skittles’ Gutsy Site Move”

Businesses Lacking in Social (Networking) Skills

The social networking craze is one of the greatest opportunities presented to marketers in many years… if they can figure out how to harness its potential. The power of person-to-person communication based in communities of people with shared interests makes it possible to engage customers in conversation and more importantly, allow them to take charge of the conversation. It is less about creating exposure and more about establishing rapport with people.

A recent study by research firm Gartner reflects both the promise and pitfalls of social networking as a marketing platform. The study predicts that 75% of Fortune 1000 firms will have some type of social networking initiative in the near future. That figure is indicative of the promise that social networking as a means of getting feedback from customers and enabling word-of-mouth communication and community building. It is indicative of the promise if marketers use social networking in a way that supports overall marketing strategies.

Unfortunately, the expectation is that half of the companies employing social networking initiatives will experience failure of those initiatives. Why? It is a problem of “leap before you look.” If a brand rushes to establish a presence on Facebook or MySpace, what does it expect to achieve by being there? Are social networking tools used by your target market? If yes, how do they use them? To search? To listen? To talk? To meet others? These questions go unasked too often, and the result is usually disappointment that social networking did not pay off. How could it if there is no strategic focus for it to play a role in brand building and customer relationship development?

Link: Cnet – “Analyst: Half of ‘Social Media Campaigns’ Will Fail”