The recent sale of former social media darling Digg for $500,000 (it was valued at $175m four years ago) is a timely reminder that in the world of social media, nothing is forever.
It got us thinking that despite the power of social media as an online marketing tool, all too often big business has managed to miss the point by a country mile, making a right royal mess of it in the process.
Behold, three exercises in social media slapstick:
Skittles falls prey to Twitter trolls
In 2009, some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to harness the power of user-generated content and release it untamed on the Skittles homepage. The gig was to set up a rolling feed that would update every time somebody mentioned 'Skittles' on Twitter. This accident waiting to happen started off innocuously enough, until some of the more cynical quarters of the Twittersphere caught wind of the exercise in social media naivety and pounced. Cue a hurricane of choice adjectives, the colour of which would make you fall off your chair, plastered across the Skittles homepage for every man, woman and child to see.
Stop to consider if your campaign can be used for evil, as well as good. Unfortunately, not everyone is a fan of your business and trolls don’t just dwell under bridges, you know.
Chrysler commissions hapless marketing agency
In 2011, Chrysler's Twitter feed played host to the following pearl of wisdom:
"I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to ****ing drive."
Suffice to say, the Chrysler damage limitation machine staggered into life, initially claiming that the feed had been hacked. However, it soon came to light that this wasn't the case at all. The truth of the matter was that a member of the social media agency Chrysler had hired to boost their online marketing profile had, in a fit of colossal ineptitude, tweeted by mistake; thinking he was using his personal account. Chrysler's social media agency quickly became Chrysler's ex-social media agency.
It’s so easy to communicate with the world instantly that some of us forget to think of the consequences. Think before you post; would you want this published on the front page of the Sun? If so, click send.
Ryanair bullies a blogger
Marketing mismanagement isn't the sole preserve of Twitter. In 2009, Ryanair took customer service to a whole new level of foolish when they took umbrage at blogger Jason Roe for pointing out a glitch on their website that allowed a user to book a flight for free. So how did Ryanair respond in the blog comments to someone letting them know there was a bug in the booking form?
"jason! you're an idiot and a liar!! fact is! you've opened one session then another and requested a page meant for a different session, you are so stupid you dont even know how you did it!" (SIC: full comment here)
Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara then confirmed the comment was genuine, while adding his own take on social media to the conversation.
"It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won't be happening again... Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel [SIC]."
The resulting Twitterstorm sent the original post viral, leaving Ryanair to wipe the runniest of eggs from its cut-price face.
Don't be Ryanair.
Seriously though, what can we as social media marketers learn from these three failures of online marketing?
Well, the key takeaways are that social media is neither a quick fix method to be approached on a careless whim because it's "the thing to do", nor a medium whose power can be shrugged off as a passing fad. Careful planning of a social media campaign is essential. Learning the market and getting to know the audience beforehand can set you in good stead for a campaign that delivers value, as opposed to one that remains stagnant because the groundwork's not there, nor the passion fired up to follow it through. Engagement with the community and, equally as important, respect for that community is the way to build a desired buzz around your brand.
And once people are talking about you for the RIGHT reasons, it's worth considering that 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, whereas only 14% trust ads.