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Social Media: Pitfalls and Successes

In the past few years, Social Media has become the holy grail of marketing for many, the latest in a long series of “must do” approaches to marketing. Many social media campaigns have focused on Facebook as the cornerstone of their social media strategies. I would argue that using Facebook alone is a dangerous road to follow. We urge clients who contemplate social media initiatives to think long and hard about what they’re doing and why, and to seriously consider the downside before starting down that path.

Social media is a double-edged sword, and Nestlé found out the hard way. Like many other companies, Nestlé created a Facebook page a few years ago. The page prominently features their logo, a nest with a mother bird feeding two babies. In early 2010, fans started posting protests of Nestlé’s use of Palm Oil and modified their profile pictures to reflect their own versions of Nestlé’s logo, much to the consternation of Nestlé’s lawyers, who asked that fans cease and desist. When users responded negatively to this attempted “control” of the conversation, a Nestlé spokesperson on Facebook replied “Oh's like we're censoring everything to allow only positive comments” (that was the actual reply!). Fans responded with a firestorm of criticism including calls for a boycott of Nestlé products. Clearly, a good thing went awry. Nestlé is still doing damage control.

Don’t get me wrong: Facebook and Twitter do have a place in marketing, but on Facebook you don’t own the data-- Facebook does. Though these are powerful tools, we think they are best used as jumping off points to drive traffic to something else, a “walled garden” where the marketer can control the conversation. Here are three success stories which used such a “walled garden” approach. captured the imagination of a younger, “wired” generation of 18 to 29 year olds which had been disillusioned with the political process and needed to be engaged. It combined a proprietary community website offering powerful viral tools with sophisticated mobile tools designed to exploit the growth of mobile technology.

Obama’s campaign managers understood that younger voters ignored politicians because they tended to ignore the issues which most interested them. Through online tools, Obama built relationships with his supporters which inspired them to rally others. His supporters became a nationwide community and a huge media phenomenon. The Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool on allowed them to reach a large number of people in a short time, engaging supporters in social activities such as signmaking and door-to-door petitioning. Customized information targeted to supporters’ individual interests (based on data collected about them) allowed the campaign to engage supporters with relevant tailored to their beliefs. The campaign team was then able to target and encourage activists in contested, winnable areas, through programs like the website “Neighbor-to-neighbor”. That combined with aggressive messaging which resulted from extensive A/B testing made Obama the most tech-savvy and “cool” candidate, cementing his popularity with youth voters, and Obama won the election.

Best Job in the World is one of my favorite success stories. It turned Queensland, Australia, home of the Great Barrier Reef, from an unknown to a coveted tourism destination overnight-- all on a classified ad budget.

Here’s how it worked. A classified ad was posted in newspapers around the world for “THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD”. The job? Clean the pool, feed the fish, collect the mail, explore and report back. All for a 6-month contract paying $150,000 Australian (about $153,000 US dollars). Anyone can apply:

The press was immediately abuzz with the news. There were 35,000 applicants from 201 countries, and 8 million website visits with 54 million page views. 610 hours of user generated content were submitted. The campaign got an estimated $150 million in media coverage-- all for a paltry $1.2 million campaign budget. It was a huge success and-- best of all-- it put an unknown region of the world solidly on the map as a tourist destination.

My third example is the Pepsi Refresh campaign. A few years ago the Pepsi marketing team came up with a radical idea: what if instead of spending $21 million on one Super Bowl ad, they took that money to support community-oriented ideas? They went to Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi and made their case successfully.

Applicants could sign up by going to They told Pepsi about their idea, what category it was in and how much money they wanted. Once submitted, people voted for the best ideas. Each month Pepsi awarded 10 grants each worth $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000 plus two grants worth $250,000, for a total of $900,000 monthly, or $10.8 million annually. It was so successful that, according to Pepsi, more people have voted for projects pitched to Pepsi Refresh than in the 2008 US presidential election.

What made these campaigns so successful? They were catchy ideas at the right time. They were positive. And the marketers controlled the conversation and “owned” the discussion and the data. We recommend you do the same.

If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d be happy to talk. Email me at .