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Gini Dietrich

Samsung Threatens Bloggers and Provides a Valuable Lesson

By: Gini Dietrich | September 6, 2012 | 
178

It’s been a while since we’ve had a PR gone bad case study to review.

And, granted, this did not happen in North America.

Yet here we are again.

I saw the story this past weekend and was debating about whether or not to write about it when Jodi Echakowitz asked me if I’d seen it.

Then we had a healthy debate about it and she convinced me it’s something we should all know about and consider for any future blogger relations and/or brand ambassador programs.

So here’s the story…

Samsung Threatens Bloggers

The gist of the story is that Samsung has, what they call, Mob!lers, which is their brand ambassador program.

People who are part of this program, at least in other parts of the world, are contest winners who are then given a phone and other perks, in exchange for tweets, updates, videos, podcasts, blog posts, and other content that talks about the benefits of the Samsung phone products.

So far, so good. These are the types of programs I’m sure we’ve all at least seen, if not also created.

So Samsung launches this program in India and invited some bloggers to cover the IFA Conference in Berlin, in exchange for an all expenses paid trip.

But here is where it gets weird.

In the bloggers’s minds, they were going to cover the conference, which meant they could attend the conference, walk the show floor, talk to other vendors, and go back home to India with lots of content for their blogs.

In the minds of Samsung, however, the bloggers were to wear a Samsung uniform, stand in the booth all day, every day, and shill the product on behalf of the company.

When the bloggers refused, stating they had no intention of playing the role of a Samsung employee, a “stern-faced” PR professional told them they could either play by the rules or be stranded in Germany.

They were told on a phone call to one of the bloggers:

You can either be a part of this and wear the uniform, or you’ll have to get your own tickets back home and handle your hotel stay from the moment this call ends.

They felt their hands were forced so they wore the Samsung shirt and stood near the booth, but opted not to demonstrate the phones for attendees.

The next morning, the bloggers awoke to an email stating the Samsung event was over so they were being shuttled home (several days earlier than planned). They were not allowed to attend the show to cover any other part of it, including any other product demonstrations or vendors who were in attendance.

What this Means to Brands

I have to admit, if I’m paying a brand ambassador to attend a conference, I want them there supporting our client(s).

But a brand ambassador is different than a blogger. For all intents and purposes, bloggers should be treated as journalists. Sending them to an event and expecting them to cover only you, even if it’s an all expenses paid trip, is clearly not going to fly.

Brands, be clear about your intent before the trip, event, or conference arrives. If your intent is to have them cover you, and only you, be clear about that and, if they refuse, pay for only a portion of their trip so they are free to cover other products and vendors.

You can, however, be very clear in that they are not to cover a competitor. But you can’t tell them who to meet with, what to cover, and certainly not what to write. And you definitely cannot threaten to send them home, once you’re there and decide to change the rules.

A brand ambassador is someone who can act like an employee and help you shill your product. The relationship with those people is of that nature.

A blogger, on the other hand, is an influential journalist. There is a reason you have invited him or her to the event, just like you would a journalist. It’s to gain the third-party credibility and (you hope) to gain positive coverage. But it’s not to have them shill your product or tell them what they can and cannot write.

I know I wouldn’t accept a trip if I were told what I could and couldn’t cover. My job is to my readers, not to a brand. If you want me to cover you, give me the information and tools to make an informed decision and let me cover it the way I would, even if you weren’t paying me.

What this Means to PR Pros

Guys, this isn’t any different than a media tour, which I’m certain most of you have done at one point in your career.

I’ll give you an example.

I used to work on The Catfish Institute business. I loved working on that account. Our job was to get farm-raised catfish onto the menus of white tablecloth restaurants.

Part of that was inviting celebrity chefs to create recipes using the Mississippi-bred fish, which was a total blast.

One year, we held a recipe contest in Mississippi. We flew the celebrity chefs down. We flew the food media down. We created an event out of nothing.

The rules were the celebrity chefs were to have one recipe (out of four) that included farm-raised catfish. And the media were to cover the event. They could decide not to include the catfish recipes in their coverage…or they could. It was up to them, but the important thing is we did not tell them what they could and could not write about, even though we’d paid for their trip.

In this case, our brand ambassadors were the chefs and our bloggers were the food media. In order to create a fair and balanced event, only a quarter of the recipes had to include our client’s product.

The rules have not changed.

Just because your audience is a blogger does not mean you can tell him or her what to cover, how to cover it, and what to say.

They are journalists. The reason you want to work with them is because they’ve created an audience you care about.

If you pay a blogger to do anything on your behalf, be clear about your expectations up front and let them decide how they want to handle it. There is always room for negotiation, but one thing you should never do is tell them what to write.

It’s not ethical and it’s not right.

If you want to read the entire story about how this went down, including copies of email exchanges and the “apology” from Samsung, you can find it on The Next Web.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

176 comments
ladylaff
ladylaff

That is not only bad practice and bad manners, it genuinely creates business risk and for that reason should raise a bright red flag to an HR department.  If you expect these people to represent the company, you might have to accept responsibility for them and their actions. What if the blogger was injured on the stand, or harrassed by a Samsung employee?  What if a blogger decided to get drunk on the stand and spout obsencities to passing trade?  You get the idea.  It just ain't clever.

AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly

Big Brand Bullying = BAD

Is that the brand positioning Samsung is after? Mobile bully? It's hard to believe that a corporation this size would allow this kind of behaviour from anyone in its ranks. It really makes me question their management. 

Thanks for calling it out.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

Cultural differences or no, there's not a culture in the world where companies that lie to the "little guy" get respect for it. If it's true that they told these bloggers they were going as "reporters," then threatened them when they expected to act as reporters, Samsung is 100% in the wrong, regardless of where the bloggers came from.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@jonbuscall Jon, I miss you. Twitter is evading me lately. You good?

karenswim
karenswim

@ruthdfw good point from the other side to get terms, in writing and know what you're signing up for cc @SpinSucks

tanyagm
tanyagm

This is spot on.  What's disappointing is that brands 'don't get it'.  It seems somewhat elementary to say, but isn't this common sense? Bloggers=journalists (esp in this example) Brand Ambassadors = not journalists. 

Having a clear set of intentions/expectations for those who willingly represent your brand (bloggers or otherwise) is a clear path to more productive relations; between the brand and the ambassador/or blogger and the larger audience. 

This communication breakdown, and the assumptions that underlie it, are the kind of thing that is making 'social relations' in the online world for brands so challenging [for them]. 

A lot of this is built on the same principles espoused by neuroscience, behavioral economics and simple social/situational awareness and relationship-building.

Seems those principles aren't common sensical to everyone.

Thanks for great post.

 

Onward and upward, always.

TanyaFounder, GOTRIbal

 

saratweetshere
saratweetshere

@ginidietrich Wow. That is shocking. Maybe things don't transfer internationally as well.

TheJackB
TheJackB

Culture is certainly a big part of the equation but I can tell you from personal experience that many of the pitches I receive essentially ask me to either work for free or to pay to be a part of the "wonderful company" they want me to write about.

 

One of the reasons I agreed to become a brand ambassador for Nintendo is because of how we are treated. We are not required to write about any of the products/services/experiences we are provided with and if we do there is no push back for posts that are critical.

 

The purpose of my comment isn't to praise Nintendo but to illustrate some of the differences between companies, bloggers and PR. I think one of the challenges comes from so many companies not having a clearly defined manner of working with bloggers and an understanding of what that means.

Latest blog post: Writers Write Right Part 2

LouHoffman
LouHoffman

Watching this train wreck from afar raises a bigger issue--

Many big brands, particularly those from the consumer sphere, are still struggling with the intersection of PR and digital (including social media), a struggle that becomes more pronounced in emerging markets.

Consider what Samsung has achieved with its brand over the past 10 years or so. I think it's fair to call the results spectacular. Sophisticated. Huge investment. Stayed the course.

Yet, even when doing so many things right a company can look like a buffoon without some type of governing mechanism over its worldwide effort. As Samsung experienced the hard way, a mistake in an emerging market impacts the brand around the world.

 

 

 

bdorman264
bdorman264

You know me, if there were food and drink I would show up in a clown suit......or Speedo if that is what it took. And you want me to say what? How loud? 

 

Good point, sounds pretty heavy handed especially if they were going to get stranded. Probably not going to get the publicity they wanted after a situation like that.

 

Communication is key; establishing your role, what the expectations are and what it looks like before you even get on the plane. Sounds pretty simple.........apparently not............

 

 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I tweeted this to the head of US Social for Samsung Esteban Contreras @socialnerdia  curious if he will stop in and comment. There are many facets to this story. First is in the US any bloggers would have to say the trip was paid for and possibly their role. So Samsung obviously knew this is different in the EU and India (is it?). I agree with the statement Gini these are journalists.

 

What shocks me is that Samsung which is a Fortune World 50 company would be so cheap about this. If they told these folks 1] trip is paid for 2] we will provide you sightseeing and dinners and style you out 3] but you have to work the booth during the trade show hours 4] Please give glowing reviews and write about how great we are 5] If tradeshow hours make sightseeing and dinners hard (doubtful) we will give you a few extra days.

WHO WOULDN'T SAY YES TO THIS??!!! But they went half assed cheap. I don't get it. 

 

But guess what no one in the general public in the US or EU will really hear about this. More proof social is very bubble-ized.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@BeingMarci Samsung should have been clear about what they wanted from these people #communicationfail

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @ladylaff You raise a good point. Where IS HR in all of this? Warren Buffet once said he'd be forgiving if you lost money for his company, but ruthless if you lost reputation for it. I think a lot of organizations could live by that creed.

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Barrett Rossie

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @AlinaKelly It's surprising to me, too. It's hard to believe leadership is so far removed from day-to-day operations that this stuff is allowed to go on, but rumor has it it was three days before the Samsung CEO found out they lost the Apple suit. That one blows my mind, but I guess it explains how this stuff happens.

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Barrett Rossie

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @jelenawoehr Did you happen to read the public apology from Samsung and then the email exchange with one of the bloggers? They can't just help themselves. Transparency is clearly an issue.

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Barrett Rossie

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

@ginidietrich Goodish. How bout you?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@saratweetshere I think it's a cultural thing, but also a transparency thing

JavierArronis
JavierArronis

@katrinakaye Thank you greatly for the RT, Katrina! Much appreciated.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @HowieG  Most of this we're speculating, based on email exchanges that were published. What we're not seeing is the email exchanges that weren't published so we may be missing something. I also know there is a big cultural difference, which is why I went back and forth in my brain about whether or not to blog about this. But then I decided there is a lesson for U.S. brands in it.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

agreed. But for me, it raised question of Blogger/Brand expectations: Are bloggers marketers or journalists? @ChantalSaville

AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly

 @ginidietrich If that rumor is true, I think we can see trouble on the horizon unless this outfit regroups and gets some solid leadership in place. There's no room for that kind of corporate disconnect in such a competitive environment. RIM anyone?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@jonbuscall I'm pretty good. Bummed it's raining so no outdoor ride today. But good, other than that!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @ginidietrich  @TheJackB well Microsoft and Sony employees might say no to being a Super Mario wonk.

 

But I am curious Jack. Were you a huge Nintendo fan to start before becoming a brand ambassador? I always thought you found the super fans and got them to become your ambassador. Because I am thinking I might put my Brand Ambassadorship for Spin Sucks up for bid maybe to Chris Voss or American Apparel. I never even got a Gini Dietrich T-Shirt. I been doing this all wrong I see.

katrinakaye
katrinakaye

@JavierArronis You're welcome, Javier!

Keena Lykins
Keena Lykins

 @ginidietrich  @HowieG  I agree there is a big cultural difference but the world has contracted enough that most everyone knows how journalists should/should not be treated. Even in China, where it's customary to pay an honorarium to a journalist to write your story, you can't tell them what to write.

 

To me, it appears Samsung didn't view these bloggers as journalists. That I can understand. While some journalists are bloggers not all bloggers are journalist (remember the mommy bloggers escapades?) That said, I can't believe no one from Samsung's in-house communications raised the red flag about treating people this way. Wouldn't self-preservation alone tell you that you might not want to be rude and vindictive to people you've armed with weapons of social communications?

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@BeingMarci @chantalsaville they are and can be both. Each decides their own role and how/if to work with brands.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@BeingMarci well that's the $64million question. The line is blurry for those who monetize.

AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly

 @bhas  @ginidietrich You know I agree with you about the great products. And even if the lawsuit rumor is a joke, the treatment of the bloggers is not. It speaks to a lack of brand consistency in the organization and that will not work for them long term. They can't afford that kind of "mistake" - if that's what it was. 

bhas
bhas

 @AlinaKelly  @ginidietrich I still think it's something someone floated for shits and giggles. I would want to see some reputed source talk about this. It so does not square with Samsung as a company that makes great personal tech products

AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly

 @ginidietrich Maybe if he had an iPad, the CEO could get more timely news updates? If the lawsuit wasn't high on the CEO's priority list what was? 

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

 @HowieG @ginidietrich 

 

No, I was not a huge Nintendo fan. I don't know all of the reasons they had for asking me, but I know for certain much had to do with my presence in the dad/parent blog community.

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @belllindsay  @ginidietrich Let's just say I fell into the water with my phone so that killed the whole 'tweet-up' concept for me, and the water was kind of chilly...............:). 

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@phdinparenting @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville good point.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@phdinparenting @ChantalSaville @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl OK I would not accept $$ fro product review, but would accept products 1/2

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@phdinparenting @beingmarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl I can imagine.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@phdinparenting @beingmarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl oh ok. I totally agree

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@BeingMarci @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville Easier to say no to everyone than to be really picky + piss people off.

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@BeingMarci @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville ... and not a lot of interest in writing that type of post.

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@BeingMarci @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville Too many e-mails from people asking me to review their product ...

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@ChantalSaville @beingmarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl I would never write a paid review. That's an ad, IMO.

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@ChantalSaville @beingmarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl They gave me a pump, but no $ exchanged hands.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

That's decent. Can I asked why you stopped doing reviews? @phdinparenting @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@phdinparenting @beingmarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl but this wasn't a $$ situation...?

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@phdinparenting @karmicevolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci Exactly. I'm not a cheerleader. Key word is balanced.

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@BeingMarci @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville Yes, they thanked me for taking time to get to know their pump.

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci People come to me for recommendations. That's the point of my reviews. And mine are balanced.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@BeingMarci @phdinparenting @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl yes I was curious about that too

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@phdinparenting @KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville Did you get any feeedback from evenflo on your review?

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@KarmicEvolution @phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville yes, I'd say "too expensive.too salty, too...FOR ME but maybe not for you.

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@BeingMarci @phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville but you wouldn't say what you didn't like?

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@KarmicEvolution @phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville So, I'd probably like what I DID like ANd say "but not for me" too.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@KarmicEvolution @phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville I'd say it.But not every product will appeal to ME, nor am I EXPERT of it -

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci I don't do reviews anymore, but when I did, I always used same style.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@KarmicEvolution @phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville I'm fine w/that.Look, if I thought product was dangerous or irresponsible -

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@phdinparenting @hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci when a post says "not for me but see the appeal" I wonder what they're not sayin

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@hvbabywilltrvl @KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci Also don't trust any review that doesn't touch on good and bad about a product.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @beingmarci reviews

phdinparenting
phdinparenting

@hvbabywilltrvl @KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci I think it is valuable to incl recommendations + things to avoid.

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci say there's a product you're curious about, you google it, are you looking for reviews or recos?

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci random product review is not people asking for recommendations.

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci How so? People ask for recommendations, not for examples of things I don't support.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@BeingMarci @karmicevolution @hvbabywilltrvl yes.

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@BeingMarci @hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville mho if you're brand loyal you pull or tweak a post. Reader loyal you post even negative reviews

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@BeingMarci @hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville exactly. I'm not saying my way is right. Just my opinion.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@KarmicEvolution @hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville great thing about a blog is YOU own/control/edit it as you see fit, right?

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci but all my reviews are balanced. Readers and brands don't expect me to be a cheerleader.

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci you don't think that's a disservice to your readers?

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@hvbabywilltrvl @karmicevolution @beingmarci makes sense

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@KarmicEvolution @chantalsaville @beingmarci if I really didn't like something, I would discuss to see if they'd prefer I rather not post.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@hvbabywilltrvl @beingmarci I'm guessing less honourable bloggers would still do it. Money talks.

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@ChantalSaville @beingmarci not likely to happen since I fully research before deciding to work with any company. But if it did I would not.

KarmicEvolution
KarmicEvolution

@hvbabywilltrvl @chantalsaville @beingmarci so you wouldn't post a bad review?

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@BeingMarci @hvbabywilltrvl @karmicevolution I know. Just realized that.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@ChantalSaville @hvbabywilltrvl Ha - Chantal you and @KarmicEvolution are saying same thing really...

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@hvbabywilltrvl @beingmarci what if asked 2 write about some aspect of their biz that you didn't agree with. You can say no? Will they walk?

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@ChantalSaville @beingmarci Simple. Wouldn't work w/them or would discuss/end relationship. Bad for business, but important for credibility.

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@hvbabywilltrvl @beingmarci but you won't always agree with a brand's pov. How do you deal with that?

hvbabywilltrvl
hvbabywilltrvl

@BeingMarci @chantalsaville why? I consider myself both. Would never work with/support brands I'd never support anyway, and always disclose.

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

If I am writing about a brand I always list it at TOP of my post, to be clear from the start, for example. @ChantalSaville @hvbabywilltrvl

ChantalSaville
ChantalSaville

@hvbabywilltrvl @beingmarci bottom line? It needs to be transparent to the reader. Is it always?

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@hvbabywilltrvl @ChantalSaville agreed. It's the wanting to be BOTH that seems murky to me....

BeingMarci
BeingMarci

@ChantalSaville and not just for those who monetize...I don't and still feel confused at times ;0

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