This video is a few months old, and the general argument one often made by both Spike Jones (@spikejones) and his former agency Brains on Fire, but I just came across it and it’s well worth the watch:
One of the best points made is this one (paraphrasing): A campaign is not a movement. A campaign has a start date and an end date – a movement never ends. However, I’d add one corollary: many campaigns these days seek to develop elements of a movement, by building or engaging with communities – and just like movements, communities don’t just end either. That’s a really critical point for marketers in all disciplines to grasp, as it carries profound implications for anyone involved in word of mouth, social media, or community marketing.
Most marketing campaigns these days – while unfortunately in no way planned out to spark “movements” – do include some kind of community-building efforts. These can be as shallow as attracting fans to a Facebook page or Twitter account, or as deep as actively engaging that passions of established and vocal groups, clubs, forums, and so on. If your campaign actually manages to resonate with people, communities of all size and stripes could start to form around it or the products, services, or brand it’s promoting.
These communities of fans, followers, advocates, and evangelists are paying attention and engaging with your efforts, responding to your prompts, sharing with their friends, and even co-opting the campaigns lingo, creative, and so on. The marketer’s dream situation, right?
Not if you then pull the rug out from under them three months later. As Spike notes, a marketing campaign has a defined lifespan – it launches, cycles through various stages, and then shuts down while the marketing team rolls onto the next big thing. But those communities that may have formed around your product or campaign live on, and if you simply walk away to go focus on the next big thing, you risk anger, disaffection, or outright backlash by the very people who just last week you counted as your most passionate fans.
Even if you’re not wholly adopting Spike’s message and investing the time and energy it takes to try and build a movement around your brand, every marketer needs to be aware that the social and community elements of their brand and campaigns will in many cases outlive the quarterly media spend. If your fans and advocates invest the time and emotion into what you put out there, simply shutting down and moving onto the next campaign could carry some seriously negative effects.
In short: If you’re marketing effort involves trying to reach out to or cultivate communities of fans, advocates (or even skeptics) – which it should in almost every case – you need to be prepared to do it well beyond the life of the campaign of the moment. Like it or not, you’re in it for the long haul.
A bit of a blowup occurred this week over on ScienceBlogs.com, a generally very high quality collection of blogs on a range of scientific topics. The blowup was a major brand – PepsiCo – attempting to inject itself into the ScienceBlogs community via a sponsored blog.
The problem was one of trust and integrity. The trust the loyal community of readers and independent bloggers had in the overall integrity of the ScienceBlogs community, and how that appeared to be seriously violated by Pepsi and the community’s leadership. Food Frontiers, the offending corporate blog, purported to be on healthy eating topics but created and run by a soft drinks company, was given a home within the ScienceBlogs community.
A revolt among the site’s usual bloggers ensued:
The offending blog, which has already been operating for some time on the PepsiCo website, greatly diminishes the credibility of ScienceBlogs by providing a corporation with a platform to advertise to readers without actually calling it advertising. A newspaper or magazine would not allow PepsiCo to write articles about global health or nutrition – there is a very clear conflict of interest there – so I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why the SEED management team thought it acceptable to give the corporation space here. If PepsiCo wants to have their R&D scientists blog on their own site, that’s fine, but in moving Food Frontiers to ScienceBlogs, the company is trying to trade in on the reputation I and other Sb bloggers have built while simultaneously tarnishing that reputation...
For more on this controversy, see these posts from PalMD, Abel, Isis, Janet, Zuska, Blake, Christie, Sharon, Jason, Greg, Orac, PZ, Mark, and GrrlScientist, as well as the notes from James H., Alex Wild, Scicurious.
So what went wrong for Pepsi? As the ScienceBlog leadership notes in their “apology” post linked above, “Although we (and many of you) believe strongly in the need to engage industry in pursuit of science-driven social change, this was clearly not the right way.”
Pepsi, and even the ScienceBlog community leadership, didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of the nature of the community on their own site, and completely misjudged how receptive they would be to a corporate sponsorship of this particular nature. A community is not like any old content site, it’s not just a collection of blogs and forums pushing content out to passive readers. Very often a strong community is full of advocates who will passionately defend the nature and integrity of the community, and anyone seen as attempting to mess with it, or shove themselves in uninvited, will be received less than warmly.
The lessons to be drawn form this for Pepsi and others?
Do your homework, and get to know the community
The #1 lesson for any company attempting to ingratiate themselves with or even sponsor a strong, thriving, and clearly passionate and opinionated community. You simply have to do your homework, spend some time reading, talk to some of the community members and generally get a solid understanding for the tone of the community and how it reacts to outsiders, corporations, and so on. Perhaps Pepsi did this, or more likely they relied on the opinion of the ScienceBlog leadership (which as noted apparently didn’t have a solid grasp of their own community’s likely reaction).
Engage the community, become part of it, don’t just buy your way in
A community of serious science enthusiasts likely would have been at least moderately receptive to a company attempting to engage in open, honest, rigorous and humble conversation within the existing structure of the site. A well versed brand, even with a touchy reputation, engaging like this, might have been able to develop real trust or at least a touch of respect for a willingness to be part of the community. Buying your way in, and in a manner viewed as attempting to hijack the integrity of the community to legitimize your own brand…not quite the right tactic.
Basically, approach established online communities like you would any large, thriving, well-connected group of friends or colleagues you might be introduced to offline. Don’t just barge your way in, or start bragging to the world you’re a part of the group without bothering to actually *become* a part of it in the first place. It’s a sure fire recipe for backlash.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the monthly networking luncheon for the local (Greensboro) chapter of the PRSA. Aside from a general desire to get out and start meeting some local practitioners from my adopted new home town, I was very interested in seeing what the guest speaker, Trey Pennington, had to say about social media.
Now, in general it’s easy to rapidly tire of the same rehashed social media tips presentations, typically with recycled titles like “7 CRAZY ideas for TAKING OVER THE WORLD using social media! YEAAAH!”
What matters are the real world examples. I don’t really care to hear about general concepts anymore, but I absolutely love hearing about interesting ways companies are seeing real value in their use of social media as part of the marketing and communications mix.
Which brings us back to Trey. Fortunately, he spent little time on the general stuff and lots of time telling a couple great stories about companies I’d never heard of and how they use (or, in one case, deliberately decided not to) social tools. The one that stuck for me is Carolina Manufacturing, the Greenville, SC manufacturer of…bandanas.
Though bandanas might not be in everyone’s wardrobe, at least since the early ’90s (unless you’re Bret Michaels, of course), they really are a perfect product to build a social media marketing effort around.
Because they all have a story, and there are small pockets of deeply passionate people who love telling them. You’ll have to see Trey talk to get the full story, but the marketing director for Carolina Manufacturing, @MaddenKim, discovered micro-communities of passionate fans of the company’s distinctive bandanas.
Dog lovers, cyclists, not-quite-retired ex-rockers, celebrity tycoons…even while bandanas generally faded from pop culture over the years, these small groups of hard core fans kept up their love, found each other online, and created their own conversation and communities around the iconic head gear.
The really cool part of the story is how Kim and team found these micro-communities, embraced them, and made their personal passions part of the brand’s story. A small but wonderful real world example of how a company can tap into practical social media marketing.
Some relevant blogging, community marketing, and WordPress links from the past week:
- 6 Steps to Effective Blogger Outreach (Andy Sernovitz) – Smart tips for running a blogger outreach effort.
- AT&T Reportedly Blocks 4chan. This Is Going To Get Ugly (TechCrunch) – AT&T possibly ignites a Web firestorm by picking on the wrong online community.
- Top social media brands include Starbucks, Dell and Microsoft (Techflash) – Report from Wetpaint and Altimeter Group on top brands who make heavy use of social media.
- The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and JESS3 – Awesome chart highlighting and categorizing the vast array of social media “conversation” tools and services.
- Gini Coefficient for Online Participation (Bud Caddell) – Long reading, consider this your online community grad school course for the week.