I'll warn you right now, this is a rant. And like all (good?) rants, it's kinda one-sided. So feel free to disagree. Feel free to prove me wrong... that's what comments are for. :-)
Cholesterol-and-sodium mecca T.G.I. Friday's found themselves in the frying pan (if not the fire) this week for their "Woody" campaign - and I've chosen the word campaign deliberately. If you're not familiar with the program, Friday's is offering free burgers if their spokes-character Woody gets half a million fans on Facebook. They're pitching the offer on their site, in their TV spots and with Facebook ads. Must have seemed like a good idea (to someone) but now bloggers are asking, so what? And what's next?
Clearly, Friday's took a page out of Starbucks' (face)book after the coffee giant grew the largest Fan community by offering members free pastries. Spike Jones of Brains on Fire calls efforts like these "social media bribery" and rightly points out that they have more in common with old school churn-and-burn promotional tactics than proper commitments to building meaningful, mutually beneficial, long term relationships between a brand and it's customers.
In my presentations, I often talk about "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. Marketing 0.2 comes in many flavors (beef and coffee are just two) but seem to share one common ingredient -- lack of depth.
Friday's hits 500,000 fans (they've already surpassed the mark although as I write this, the television ads driving traffic to the Fan Page are still running and the promotion is still highlighted on the chain's home page), Starbucks gives away a zillion scones -- and then what?
In a very different example (one we discussed on this week's BeanCast) AT&T unveiled Seth the AT&T Blogger Guy in a YouTube video that aimed to explain why their service for iPhone owners has been pretty shoddy, and assure customers that they're listening and on the case. If it weren't bad enough that this video smacked of too-little-too-late (why now rather than, say, during SXSW Interactive when thousands of social media influencers were directly impacted by AT&T's poor coverage; why in a single YouTube video rather than a more robust social program or, heaven forbid, a TV spot), it quickly came to light that Seth the AT&T Blogger Guy was neither an AT&T employee (he works for their PR agency) nor an actual blogger (apparently, he does blogger outreach.)
Blargh.I hate to say it but 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 BTW (behind age verification because, of course, kids don't eat candy) 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.
But you don't need to cherry pick dramatic examples. You see the same shallow, misguided and misinformed attempts at social media marketing everywhere you look -- in the post-and-pray viral videos, the brand Twitter accounts that do nothing more than broadcast brand messages (despite the fact that there are plenty of good examples to follow from other, smarter brands that tap into Twitter for everything from conversation to customer support), in the blogs, social network pages, podcasts and Apps that start out hot and cool off faster than microwaved leftovers.
Are the agencies to blame? Consider this: MarketingProfs community manager Beth Harte (herself a respected marketing blogger and prominent member of the Twitter community) emailed Universal McCann to request a copy of their Wave 4 social media study. Her email was deleted without even being opened. Does it matter how well you've researched the social space if your actions prove you don't understand that social is at its core about peer-to-peer relationships? Actually, this isn't just an example of bad social marketing; it's bad old school relationship marketing -- why squander the permission someone has granted by offering up her email address. Shouldn't UM know better?
Are the clients to blame? I mean -- they greenlight these programs, don't they? They're quick to pressure their agencies for the next big thing, and even quicker to pull support and funding when the latest social media tactic doesn't scale right away or deliver immediate, measurable ROI.
Looking at examples like these, it seems we really haven't come very far from the olden days of fake blogs and trying-too-hard-to-be-cool MySpace profiles. Have we?
Trying the tools, driving the traffic, collecting the friends, fans or followers aren't what matters. What matters is the "what's next." And what matters for those of us who earn our living doing social media marketing is what happens next for us too -- when we stop being so shallow with gimmicks, giveaways and poorly conceived short term tactics, and actually dig deep into long-term, commitment-based relationship building.
Yes, I know there are plenty of good examples that I haven't mentioned. Once again, feel free to yell at me in the comments. I rant because I love... and (for now) rant over...