Managing expectations may not be the first thing that you think of when planning your social media campaign. Believe it or not though, there is a dark side to social media. Marketing directors and social media managers who turn a blind eye to this unpleasant aspect of this powerful tool may find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of dealing with relationship outrage.
But wait a minute! You thought that aside from the occasional inappropriate tweet or embarrassing Facebook picture, there wasn’t an evil side to social media? Well as it turns out, when you’re managing a brand over social media a whole new world of concerns emerges that marketing officers and brand managers need to be aware of. That new list of problems revolves, for the most part, around a new social concept of trust between the brand and the consumer.
We here at Ad Nauseum have covered like-gating in the past. Dhyana Estephan’s November 21st, 2011 posting (Click Here), Like-Gating: The New Marketing Tool? discussed the practice of like-gating and illustrated how it’s become more prevalent in recent months. While the NAD has determined that like-gating is acceptable so long as it is not deceptive, it straddles a fine line between what is permissible and what is not. As like-gating has increased, so to have related tactics aimed at attracting social media users to particular brands or products.
Bayern Munich, a German football (okay, soccer) team recently discovered one of the few unpleasantries of social media when it promised to use their social media channels to reveal a “spectacular” new signing. Bayern’s clever concept backfired though when thousands of fans logged onto the club’s page only to find out that the newly signed athlete was in fact a digital representation of himself or herself superimposed into the team’s active roster. Not, to the dissatisfaction of most of the Bayern fans, a season saving superstar athlete.
Bayern’s strategy of enticing fans onto its website overlooked the possibility of failing to meet fan expectations. The ensuing public relations nightmare damaged the good will of the team and alienated hundreds. Bayern’s problem lay in the fact that the team failed to understand the close, social level of trust developed between itself and its affectionate fans. Social media has enabled new channels of connections between brands and, in opening new, more interactive channels, has increased the amount of interaction between consumers (fans) and brands. Bayern’s stunt was, while unintentional, tantamount to a close friend making fun of you while hanging out with the cool kids during lunch (I wouldn’t know.)
Bayern quickly realized their foul (soccer lingo) when the fans handed the team a “yellow card” of approval with their reaction to the social media experiment. Bayern quickly released a statement apologizing for the social media campaign. Despite Bayern’s apology, fans have continued to display their disapproval on Bayern’s Facebook page and are blasting the team on twitter.
Mistakes such as the one that sidelined Bayern are not uncommon though, and are happening to other, well known brands. The power of social media is enough to attract any company or organization online. The benefits of social media are almost endless. Sports teams, for example, have utilized Facebook and Twitter to offer exclusive access to fans for certain sporting events or advanced ticket purchases. Music artists and movie producers have used social media to offer their followers “first glimpses” of songs and movie clips. It’s not uncommon for a company to entice you online and onto their Facebook page promising a coupon or entrance into a give away. Imagine your dissatisfaction though, if upon visiting that company’s page you realize you were tricked?
As Bayern learned, social media is more about a new level of trust with the customer than anything else. Enticing fans to visit your page and to play an active role in participating with your brand is a new, novel way of marketing. But when companies fail to understand the importance of trust, they alienate their customers. In the “like-gating” case discussed in Dhyana’s November Ad Nauseum post, Coastal Contacts lured consumers to their Facebook page with the promise of a free pair of glasses if they “liked” their brand. While this may seem fine, it can come across as deceptive as well. After visitors “liked’ the Costal Contacts page they were taken to a set of fine print contest rules. Many of the fans (rightfully) assumed that they would receive a free pair of glasses just for “liking” the product without realizing that they were in fact entering a contest with no real promise of winning glasses. While that may not seem all that harmful to the average consumer, the marketing benefits to a company employing this tactic are enormous. Almost instantly a company’s social media page can gain thousands of hits, giving off the impression that their brand is significantly more popular than it is.
Similarly, companies are now paying celebrities to tweet about their products. “Snickers-gate” struck the United Kingdom last year when numerous celebrities were paid to tweet a picture of themselves eating a snickers bar. Almost instantly millions of people began following Snicker’s on twitter. What is worrisome about “snicker’s-gate” is that oftentimes it’s not clear to consumers that celebrities are being paid to endorse those products – which is a deceptive practice. Customers learning of the paid endorsement plan felt as if they had been lied to and almost immediately “unfollowed” both the brand and the celebrities.
Bayern’s social media campaign enticed hundreds of people online and, while the Bayern brand is certainly strong, the buzz created by the excitement set the visitors up for the same type of disappointment as visitors “liking” a page with the expectation of a free pair of glasses, or being let down by a product after a celebrity endorsing tweet.
Only when marketing officers begin to understand and appreciate the value of trust created by the social media platform and the brand will companies and organizations begin to maximize on the benefits of social marketing. Executives will have to be sensitive to the perceptions of fans and must work to maintain ethical, legal, and considerate practices so as to avoid the Bayern catastrophe. Offending the expectations of your followers can do more harm than good, and that’s a quick way of finding yourself immersed in the evil side of social media. And that, regardless of which country you’re in, is no goal.