Brands Stumble On Twitter And Facebook

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Is the rush by brands from T.G.I. Friday’s to Ford to harness social media savvy — or just a tone-deaf scramble onto a bandwagon? And will there be collateral damage to platforms like Twitter and Facebook who make themselves too adaptable to brands at the cost of user experience?

Twitter hype has been running strong for some time, and a cottage industry has sprung up of books, panels and webinars advising corporations how to use the service. But the social media upstart has gotten a fresh wave of attention after it was reportedly valued at $1 billion. Living up to this high number requires Twitter to offer brand-friendly business solutions that will lead to revenue and profitability.[more]

And Twitter certainly seems to draw a brand-happy audience. An Interpret study recently cited by paidContent found that “Twitter users are twice as likely to engage with brands—in multiple ways—than other social network users”:

…roughly 24 percent of the respondents that used Twitter, reviewed or rated products online; just 12 percent of people that used other social nets—but not Twitter—said the same. Twitter users were also more likely to visit company profiles (20 percent) than non-Twitter users (11 percent), and twice as likely to click on ads or sponsored links (20 percent vs. 9 percent).

Nevertheless, is there a danger for Twitter, and the brands that use it, of alienating users with heavy-handed promotional attempts? Maybe so. As Marketplace reported last week, Ford has recruited a posse of 100 “agents,” who are rewarded with free use of a car in exchange for spreading the Ford Fiesta gospel throughout social media:

Ford doesn’t pay Jill Hanner to [praise Fiesta]. Or not exactly. She gets to drive the car for six months for free. Gas included. All she and 99 other “Fiesta Agents” have to do is blog, Tweet and post about their vehicles as much as possible.

One might think that anyone whose updates promote a brand “as much as possible” would be widely unfollowed. Marketplace cites UC Berkeley marketing and social media expert Zsolt Katona: “the real risk is that Ford’s not telling the truth: that the Agents aren’t really free.” But Adrants notes today that Ford is seeing a huge success — measured in social media terms, if not necessarily in sales:

The [agent] program — which included a test-drive program — has elicited the interest of about 50,000 potential buyers, 97% of which don’t drive a Ford at present… In toto, official Fiesta Movement content has drawn 4.3 million YouTube views, 540,000 flickr views and 3 million Twitter impressions.

Marketer and author Greg Verdino criticizes brands’ social media campaigns for what he calls “‘marketing 0.2 in a 2.0 world’ — taking the same old things that seem not to work so well anymore on television, in print and (yes) even in traditional digital, force-fitting them into social, and praying they’ll work.”

Verdino’s examples include free T.G.I. Friday’s burgers and Starbucks scones in exchange for Facebook fans. Verdino calls these efforts “old school churn-and-burn promotional tactics [and not] proper commitments to building meaningful, mutually beneficial, long term relationships between a brand and it’s customers.” He criticizes a glut of “post-and-pray viral videos,” “brand Twitter accounts that do nothing more than broadcast brand messages” and “blogs, social network pages, podcasts and Apps that start out hot and cool off faster than microwaved leftovers”:

Friday’s hits 500,000 fans… Starbucks gives away a zillion scones — and then what? our space abounds with bad examples. Remember all that hubbub about Skittles “getting” social because they began presenting real-time Twitter search on their home page? They’re still doing it […] even though the stream of tweets hardly tells a compelling brand story. High marks for looking like you get social; low marks for proving that looks were all that really mattered to you. What’s the objective? What’s the strategy? I still can’t figure it out — unless their primary goal was bandwagon-hopping.

Two basic principles underlie the difference between effective and clueless use of social media by brands: the content has to be engaging, and it has to be authentic. Paying bloggers to flack a product will be quickly seen through, and spamming followers with corporate-speak marketing messages is likely to alienate them. And brands must remember that “social media” means two-way communication, and use these platforms to listen and respond, not just broadcast.

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