As the importance of the monolithic corporate website wanes, blogs and social networks have emerged as critical tools allowing businesses of all sizes to connect with consumers in a more direct and meaningful way.
The best companies will use these tools as an opportunity to engage consumers in a dialog while respecting the social media ecosystem.
However, simply setting up a blog and sending your employees to dive into the deep end of the social media pool isn’t enough. Without a firm understanding of how social media works, the results can be lukewarm, at best, and disastrous, at worst.
Just how bad can a corporate social media campaign be? The following case study analyzes the unfortunate social media campaign of the DuroSport corporation. If you’re involved in planning social media strategy for your company, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to learn from DuroSport’s many mistakes.
For over forty years DuroSport has been the leading manufacturer of consumer electronics in Moldova and parts of Eastern Europe. Despite the company’s long history, North American consumers have had almost no exposure to the DuroSport brand. Furthermore, based on the company’s stated mission and promise there is some question whether American consumers will be receptive to the style of products that DuroSport manufactures.
DuroSport’s market research indicated that the company was making minor inroads with an older demographic group than the company desired. Apparently the company’s very large products appeal to older consumers with failing eyesight.
In an effort to reach a younger demographic the DuroSport marketing department decided to use blogs and social media to promote the company’s Prism media player. This decision was arrived at after a series of contentions meetings and the strenuous objections of Prism product manager, Nero Tarlev.
Despite Tarlev’s opposition, he was assigned to be DuroSport’s social media project lead and was asked to move quickly to establish a DuroSport presence on various social networks.
DuroSport Goes Social:
On the surface, DuroSport’s social media marketing strategy makes sense. Consumers are more likely to learn about new products from gadget blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget than through a corporate press releases. They are more likely to seek out the opinions of fellow consumers on social networks than they are to search out the product specifications and marketing material on a corporate website. Clearly, a company like DuroSport could benefit by engaging consumers through the use of social media.
Unfortunately, in practice DuroSport seems to have almost no understanding of how social media works, let alone how to use it to engage consumers in a meaningful way.
Despite these limitations DuroSport proceeded to implement a haphazard social media campaign that included the following:
- The Corporate Blog: For most companies the first attempt at social media will be a corporate blog. Blogs are probably the best way to give your corporation a human voice. Blogs are an essential tool for initiating a meaningful and ongoing dialog with your customers.The DuroSport Insider blog was started as a way to give customers a behind the scenes view of the inner workings of this unique electronics company.
In the beginning, the blog wasn’t so bad. Tarlev, the newly dubbed “social media guru”, made an effort to deal with uncomfortable issues head-on. His post explaining the reason behind the company’s rather embarrassing t-shirt recall was remarkable for it’s candor. Few corporate bloggers would be so transparent about the role of canines in the garment production process.
Regrettably, later posts saw Tarlev veer off into unfortunate territory as he used the blog to attack his competition, engage in a heated public argument with employees of Best Buy’s Geek Squad, and insult the intelligence of readers who doubted his claim that DuroSport had invented an unbreakable DRM system.
Worse yet, at some point Tarlev was joined on the DuroSport Insider Blog by Chief Product Engineer Vladimir Concescu. While group blogs can be used quite effectively to give multiple perspectives from inside your organization, that wasn’t the result in DuroSport’s case.
Concescu’s poor command of the English language, combined with rambling posts about his favorite television program and life in Moldovan prison added nothing to the dialogue DuroSport was attempting to initiate with its customers.
As corporate blogs go, the DuroSport Insider Blog is a textbook case of what not to do.
- MySpace: At the instruction of his marketing department, Tarlev proceeded to setup a DuroSport profiles on MySpace. It’s fortunate for Tarlev that his blog has so few readers, because it’s likely that most MySpace users would be offended by his claim that they are a bunch illiterate hoodlums.Based on Tarlev’s profile and meager collection of friends it’s obvious that he didn’t spend much time on this project. It actually looks like he fulfilled the bare minimum obligation so that he could check this one off on his social media to-do list.
On the contrary, Concescu embraced MySpace with enthusiasm. Perhaps a little too much enthusiasm. According to Tarlev, Concescu’s growing obsession with MySpace is partially responsible for the company missing key product release deadlines.
While Concescu’s profile may be fine for a personal account, the fact is that he’s linked his profile to the DuroSport corporate blog and vice versa. Whether he realizes it or not, his profile has become an extension of DuroSport’s larger online presence, and it does not reflect well on the company.
- Facebook: Compared to MySpace, Facebook presents a much more hospitable environment for businesses of all kinds. Facebook Pages, combined with Facebook’s advertising platform and targeted demographics are an almost ideal environment for marketers wishing to reach consumers through social media.Surprisingly, DuroSport has no presence on Facebook. This curious omission makes it seem like their social media strategy might be based on a two year-old white paper. MySpace may have been the big story a year and a half ago, but Facebook is the story today. Tomorrow, who knows? The point is that social media is evolving rapidly and your social media strategy can easily go stale if you don’t review and update it on a regular basis.
- Second Life: Just as Concescu embraced MySpace with great vigor, Tarlev seemed to be a little too at home in Second Life. As a result, DuroSport spent an extraordinary amount of time and money building a presence in the virtual world. A presence that Concescu now refers to as “Nero’s Folly”.Reviews of the virtual DuroSport store were not kind, and there’s no indication that the project did anything to increase sales or brand awareness in the real world.
While some have argued that virtual worlds are the future of the internet, the truth is that these environments still reach a very limited niche audience. Never mind the highly misleading numbers thrown around by Linden Lab. Second Life has a very small (and mostly inbred) gene pool.
There’s no doubt that virtual worlds have a high coolness factor. However, they have an equally low efficiency factor. As a result, they should not be considered a key part of your social marketing strategy. At least not yet.
As a side note, DuroSport’s Second Life build did have one positive aspect. It allowed the company to make the claim that its virtual media player has outsold the iPod in Second Life.
- Flickr: In a rare moment of social media lucidity, DuroSport’s Flickr photostream actually makes sense. The company used Flickr to post photos taken in and around its Second Life build. Given Second Life’s small user base and high system requirements, these photos actually allow DuroSport customers to experience the virtual store without the hassle of installing special software and learning to fly.Flickr’s funny that way. There are lots of interesting ways to use the service and it can be a great resource that supports some of your other social marketing efforts.
- Twitter: Depending on your worldview Twitter is either a revolutionary micro-blogging platform, or a highly overrated time sink.Twitter’s reach can’t compare with more mainstream social networking tools. But sometimes quality trumps quantity. That’s certainly the case with Twitter as the user base tends to be extremely high tech and very well connected.
There are any number of ways a company might make creative use of Twitter as part of a larger social media strategy. However, reporting on physical ailments and insulting Robert Scoble are probably not the best approach. Needless to say, that’s exactly how Tarlev has been using “the Twitter“.
I do think Tarlev may be on to something when he offered Evan Williams a job. Twitter could be a great recruiting tool for tech companies.
Where DuroSport Went Wrong:
Social media is an opportunity to engage consumers in a way that has never been possible with traditional media. Unfortunately, it’s clear that DuroSport has no real interest in engaging its customers. If anything, DuroSport is hostile towards its customers.
While I suspect this attitude may be prevalent among lots of other companies, it’s an attitude that won’t get you very far on the social web. These days if you hate your customers, they know it, and they’ll hate you right back. Worse yet, they’ll tell all their friends about it.
If DuroSport’s disdain for its own customers wasn’t enough to sink any hope of success in using social media, the top down approach certainly was. The most successful social media strategies will emerge from the most unexpected places. This is not something your marketing department can dictate and force on unwilling employees. Your social media guru has to be, well, sociable.
DuroSport’s Marketing department should have sought out and cultivated the involvement of employees who were already using social media (just not Concescu, obviously). In some ways this is like the early days of the web, when successful early web initiatives emerged from just about everywhere but the IT department.
Whether you’re already engaged in an active social media marketing campaign, or you’re just starting to explore the possibilities, there’s plenty to learn from the mistakes of the DuroSport corporation.