Guest

Brand Bullying: A Tale of Ragu and Social Media

By: Guest | October 4, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Michael Schechter.

Last week, C.C. Chapman blogged about the latest example of poor social media marketing – Ragu Hates Dads.

The brand had reached out to him on Twitter with a campaign that admittedly is in pretty poor taste, and C.C. took to his blog to respond.

It wasn’t the fact that he felt the need to call out their failure that caught my attention (and I certainly don’t argue that it was a failure), it was how he went about it that stood out.

The tone of his first post was excessive and I think we can all agree that going out and buying FURagu.com may be going overboard (no, seriously, he bought FURagu.com and redirected it to his post.). Ragu tried something and they failed. Hopefully they learn from the experience but do we really need to make them pay?

When we start by ripping a brand a new one, we aren’t encouraging them to learn. We are encouraging them to get the hell out of this space. I know this is their nightmare scenario. It is the reason they do not want to embrace social media. They live in terror of any negative review, nonetheless a scathing one from a top-tier influencer.

I have to imagine that the big brands feel the same way, especially when you consider they are a much juicier target.

We live in a time where the power is clearly shifting from brands to the consumer, but let’s not get carried away. All of these so called internet “kerfuffles” are great blog fodder and are perfect for the next keynote speech, but they rarely affect the long-term bottom line of a business (anyone flying Southwest Airlines less? Avoiding Nestle? Wearing less Kenneth Cole? Refusing Motrin? Didn’t think so…). This latest “tempest in a teacup” feels like an attempt to turn Ragu Dads into Motrin Moms rather than an effort to help a brand to do a better job with their marketing.

The real story here is that while there is the potential for a better balanced relationship between buyer and seller, things are still in flux. Brands are yet to fully understand the power of platforms that their average customers now possess (and by average consumer I really mean a person with a massive following and a high Klout score) and influencers can occasionally go a bit too far in their criticism…

To my fellow brands

Be prepared. At some point, someone is going to set their sights on you. At some point you are going to screw up. At some point you will deserve it. I feel your pain, but you are going to have to take smarter chances and frankly, you are going to have to become better companies.

Take the time to test your ideas offline before you go live. In the case of Ragu, if you want to connect with dads, talk to as many as you can before you attempt outreach (and while you’re at it, don’t use Twitter spam to do your outreach). By having these conversations in private, you’ll avoid heading in a wrong direction and won’t make your missteps in public.

On the days that you do try something new, be present and stay on top of things. If someone is being abusive, you don’t necessarily have to engage them in public (just make sure to connect privately as Ragu did). You don’t want to underestimate the power of an influencer and if you hope to leverage their platform, you better take the time to show them some respect.

To influencers

I have to ask, is this really how you want to use your power? Don’t lose perspective and don’t become a bully. Brands genuinely WANT to work with you, but this is going to be a bumpy road for most of them. They’ve done things a certain way for a long time and now the ground has moved underneath their feet. They have to change, but the learning curve is steep, so please try and be cautious with your criticism.

Take the time to ensure the tact you take is in proportion to the actual offense. Your blog can, and will, cost people their clients and possibly even their jobs. If you really want to help, worry less about looking for failures for your next keynote speech or the next chapter in your book (it makes some of us question your motives…).

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to call out brands who slip up, that you shouldn’t use the same platform that the brands themselves hope to leverage when they fall short. I’m just asking if this is the best way to go about it if we have any hope of encouraging businesses to participate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not interested in joining a conversation that starts off by telling me how stupid I am and I can understand why Ragu wasn’t either.

So, how do we play nice in this brave new world? How can brands be smarter in their outreach and how far should influencers go when they feel that they’ve been wronged?

Michael Schechter is the Digital Marketing Director for Honora Pearls, a company specializing in freshwater pearl jewelry. He writes about all things digital over at his blog.

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