The Day Social Media Failed

I recently read a post by Shar VanBoskirk on the always very interesting Forrester blog for Interactive Marketing. In this post Shar shared her experience at the P&G social media night; an event heralded as a way of giving to a good cause and testing the value of social media to market a product namely retro Tide logoed t-shirts. Shar, an admitted social media skeptic, felt the results of the event indicated that social media is not all it’s cracked up to be as far as a marketing tool.


In some senses I totally agree. The people tirelessly pushing uninhibited social media tactics seem to be doing so because of the novelty and “unexplored territory” nature of social media…or that elite cadre of social media “guru’s”. J

But the way the event was executed illustrates some fundamental misconceptions of how to use social media as a marketing tool and here’s why;


1.      Message

The medium is not the message. If yo u’ve selected your medium before your message you’re on the path to wasting time, energy and dollars. The medium is dependent of the audience; what kind of media does our audience consume and where can we add value? If the message is lame and/or irrelevant than it does not matter how you deliver the message – it will go nowhere.

What was the message of this experiment?


Assessment of the Tide Virus

Get a Retro Tide shirt

Price = $20 a shirt

Please buy tonight to help my team win!

Benefits a good cause

Part of an experiment



For the large majority of people there isn’t much in that message that is very sticky. On an off day, I might have bought one; (can you ever have enough retro, 80’s looking brand shirts?) and I might have shared the link with my friends. But one very telling thing to notice about Shar’s report of the evening is the absence of any comment regarding how word of the event spread. It probably didn’t. Relevant messages = Viral = Word of Mouth.


2.      Audience

Equally as important as identifying a targeted message that speaks to the most relevant, profitable attributes, is identifying who in the world cares about that message. Who wants to know about your product? For whom is your product going to fill an unsatisfied need?


The truth of the matter is that there are essentially two types of people out there; those who care and those who could care less. There are groups of consumers that are subsets of those, like those who’ve cared in the past but have left the category and have now joined the ranks of those who could care less, but really it’s just those two.


Advertisements selling infant diapers to single males in their 20’s for example. The biggest factor in choosing an audience is relevance. Putting a bunch of people in a room and telling them to use their social networks to see how many shirts they can sell illustrates a core misunderstanding of marketing through social media.


Shar continued by saying;


“The big deals were relationship sales.  My team sold a lot of onesies and twosies, but what really moved our dashboard were a few 50 and 100 t-shirt sales.  And these deals were made personally through phone calls to contacts who might need matching shirts in volume for teams, schools, work groups — not through digital/online outreach.”


The success found through the phone calls had absolutely nothing to do with the medium they used to contact people – but everything to do with the fact that they actually got their message in front of people who had a need that they could fill. To that targeted group of people their message was actually relevant… and it worked. 


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