Yesterday, the candy brand Skittles relaunched its product with a social media campaign which would annoy the hell out of most social media marketers, let alone their unsuspecting consumers. Their home page at skittles.com has been converted into a java panel over Twitter Search with all tweets using the word “skittles” listed. But as the Wall Street Journal noted, the experiment seems to have backfired, and badly. Following last weekend’s Aussie attempt to hijack trending terms by promoting “fisting” (it was funnier than it sounds here), someone set up a skittlefisting site (which isn’t anywhere near as funny). But more to the point, the vast majority of skittles oriented posts have been characterised more in terms of dismay than anything else. Many commentators on the issue have focused on the ‘bravery’ of Skittles giving up control of their brand on the tweetstream, but it would have been a much braver thing for Skittles to engage directly with their users/consumers rather than just to set up a doorway to… nothing. Give users a mirror and they tend to make funny faces in front of it. Give users some content, and a context in which ideas can be explored, and they engage.
This is one of the key issues about social media strategy execution. Too often there is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of interactivity and the principles that are embedded in user centred design. I know I often use the phrase “social media channel” but I certainly do not think that social media represent a mere content stream in the manner of a broadcast channel. The word “channel” in this case bears more similarity to the one that contains water than any broadcasting content. Traditionally, canals and channels were used as trading and information exchange routes, and were the bedrock of social relations in communities. We’re reclaiming that important collective experience with social media. The channels now are densely populated with ideas and resources and provide links to relevant people and places, ideas and opportunities that were virtually impossible prior to the emergence of microblogging.
Skittles has failed in its social media campaign because all it has done is hold a mirror up to conversations, without providing any content of its own, any context for remotely valuable conversation, and any rationale for productive engagement. If you’re desperately seeking the positives, then maybe it’s encouraging that a FMCG company is at least trying to make the leap into social media, but I find it perplexing that such a poor campaign can be regarded as a social media case study and am convinced the entire episode should be regarded as no less than a marketing embarrassment.
EDIT: I’ve also commented at length on this at Paul Fabretti’s blog at blendingthemix.com.