Social Media: From Indispensable to Marketing Fail

With 2011 already underway, I thought it might be an idea to do a small roundup of end-or-year/start-of-year on thoughts and tools in social media.

There can be no doubts now about the impact the social web is having and how it can be used to amplify your message. But there are also traps, as Best Buy CEO and avid tweeter, Brian J. Dunn (@bbyceo), found out. Writing in December’s Harvard Business Review (HBR), Dunn recounted some of the drawbacks of social media.

A hacked Twitter account “was embarrassing and irritating.” And an employee who caused a blogsphere kerfuffle by posting YouTube videos that mentioned Best Buy and was unflattering to customers “was awkward.” The videos mentioning the store were withdrawn, but one funny, if profane, encounter between a “Phone Mart” rep and customer can be seen below.

Yet those moments of heartache failed to dampen Dunn’s enthusiasm for social media’s potential. Best Buy has used its floor staff and Twitter to great effect to form Twelpforce (@twelpforce). This initiative brought Twitter in store to use use employees’ expertise and down time to solve customer problems. In one fell swoop, service calls dropped, satisfaction rose, and shop-floor employees became more engaged in their jobs.

In the same issue of HBR (PDF), Patrick Spenner suggests a way forward for corporations tackling social media. Arguing that marketing, corporate communications and customer service, among others, present a fragmented approach, Spenner says a new-media “ringmaster” is required. This would be:

A new type of executive who has digital savvy and is skilled at coordinating a variety of marketing and customer-facing activities — someone who functions like a circus ringmaster.

Meanwhile, open innovation guru, Stefan Lindegaard (@lindegaard), has polled open innovation practitioners to see what their online influence is like. Using a tool called Klout (@klout), he looked at innovators from P&G, Psion and Intuit and how influential their social media is. Using your Twitter or Facebook profile, Klout places scores between 1 and 100 and puts people on a 16-square matrix from observer to celebrity. I scored 34, an explorer, someone who actively engages in the social web, explores the ecosystem and makes it work for me, etc.

Against this backdrop of belief in social media, analyst and author, Paul Gillin, predicts marketing departments will fall out of love with it as the promised gains fail to materialize. According to the article:

Stories of social media failures will become more frequent as practitioners realize that customer conversations are time-consuming to maintain and that peer conversations present as many problems as they do opportunities.

Meanwhile, HBR blogger, Alexandra Samuel, has tips for people on how to engage with social media in the new year. Director of the Social Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, Canada, and the co-founder of Social Signal, Samuel’s advice is directed more at personal users to help the “quality of your life online and of your relationships offline.”

She suggests stepping back and asking some basic questions about what you want to do on the web.

  • What am I choosing to do on the Web?
  • Who am I choosing to be online?
  • What problems am I choosing to fix with the help of the Internet?
  • Am I choosing to be a brand or a person online?
  • How am I choosing to use boredom?
  • How am I choosing to live online?
  • Where are you going to ask for help online?

The question about boredom becoming more relevant with the spread of mobile technology. Reaching for a smartphone in traffic, waiting rooms or queues may prevent our minds from wandering. And that is not necessarily good, Samuel says, because our brains need a certain amount of downtime.

Those moments when our minds wander are the moments that give us breakthrough thinking, insight and innovation. Reaching for the Blackberry when you’re stuck in a line-up, or processing e-mail during tedious meetings: these activities displace the former vacancies from which aha! moments once emerged.

As for the employee who produced the video below, there were rumors on the web that he was fired. Dunn said the worker was suspended for a few days while the incident was investigated. He was asked back to work but “in the meantime he’d decided to pursue a career in film making.” The video itself has been viewed over 11 million times.