Most brands have at least dipped a toe into the waters of social media, but earlier this week, Skittles sent the online world into a tizzy by being the first brand to jump head first into the deep end. They did so by turning Skittles.com into a social media portal, and turning their brand and brand message over to the fans through the user generated content that’s been placed on various social media channels.
After confirming your date of birth (which seems a little silly since you can see everything that appears behind the pop-up window before entering a date anyways, and because all of the individual channels are available freely to anyone of any age) you’re taken directly to one of the Skittles channels (Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter or Wikipedia) where you can view it in all its glory, plus an overlay to help you get from one channel to the next. As can be expected, some people used the opportunity to spam the Skittles fans with NC-17 messages and randomly tagged junk, but eventually the novelty wore off and things returned to normal. (Or normal, plus the tons of extra traffic and chatter from the increased awareness that the campaign created.)
For a brand that had little to no online presence (admit it, you hadn’t been to Skittles.com in the last six months either) they managed to go from zero to hero in less than 24 hours. Sure, they have done some fantastic TV spots recently that garnered a few views on YouTube, and people occasionally uploaded a picture of a design they created on their counter with a bag of Skittles onto Flickr, but there was no compelling reason for anyone to visit Skittles.com. After this campaign went live however, every blog, every news channel, every pundit, and every person with an opinion about the campaign and the Skittles brand was sharing it with others, and Skittles became not only the hot topic of the entire Internet for a day, but a buzzword for the rest of the week as well.
Now obviously this isn’t a model that would work well for any brand, since no one wants to visit the Wikipedia page for Joe’s Finger Traps and Staple Removers, but it does show that with a little effort, you can take the conversations and interactions that are already happening about a brand and amplify them through the use of social media. In addition, Skittles realized that these conversations and interactions are going to happen anyways, so they could either try to ignore them, or they could embrace them and participate in them as a way to regain some control over them. (Ironically enough, they gained back that control by going through the motions of giving up that control all together.)
In addition, when you look at the Return on Investment for a campaign like this, the numbers are phenomenal. The overlay itself doesn’t cost a lot to design and implement, the buzz spreads the word automatically, and Skittles was creating and designing their own social media channels anyways, so this just gave them a chance to show off their work and share a bit of the spotlight. Plus, once everything is in place, the users are the ones making the content, so Skittles can just sit back and relax with their hand on the moderation key for the occasional fan mis-step.
(This does bring up a good point however about moderation and a brand’s willingness to let go. For Skittles, they made the choice, either intentionally or accidentally, to give users full control, and I think it was the right choice to make. If you try to control the message, anything that slips through will be blamed on the brand, but when it’s obvious that the fans have full control, the message gets attributed directly to the creator and doesn’t send shrapnel towards the brand if anything off-brand makes it through. Plus, users tend to police themselves, so the detractors eventually get bored and move on while the true fans stick around to create content and promote the brand.)
So what are the lessons to be learned from the Skittles campaign, and how can a brand begin to adapt them into their own online strategy?
- Stop worrying so much about controlling the message. Users are out there talking about your brand anyways, and they’re doing it in their own words and their own way and without your influence, so trying too hard to control the message is only going to upset them and discourage their contributions. Instead, embrace customers that are evangelical enough to talk about your brand with others, and encourage and motivate them to do so through rewards like the social justification of appearing on your website or the physical rewards of a contest or giveaway. If you do need to retain some control, do so by supporting the positive and ignoring the negative, because the system will naturally monitor and correct itself over time.
- Integrate user generated content into your website. Rather than trying to segment everything into its own little area (Videos go on YouTube, Photos go on Flickr, etc.) create a central location for customers and potential customers to see it all together. Potential customers are going to seek out the opinions of current customers anyways, since we naturally trust other people the most when making a decision, so brands might as well embrace that exchange of opinion and make it happen on their own turf. Plus, it keeps development costs down, and helps keep a site relevant and fresh.
- Focus as much attention on the leading social media channels as you do on you own website. Gone are the days when a user went to a company’s website to find out more information about that company. Instead, they’re looking for that company in the places that they’re already visiting, and chances are, if the company’s not there officially, they’re finding someone or something else that’s there in its place. To capitalize on this, embrace the power of social media, and put simple and cost effective work into creating a place that people want to be and that motivates them to share.
- Total integration of social media encourages participation and consumer interaction.
- Novel approach increases buzz and drives huge spikes in traffic.
- Development and upkeep costs are kept low, increasing ROI.
- Users can abuse the privilege with spam and inappropriate messaging.
- Companies put some (or all) of their brand into the hands of their fans, and let social media shape their message in a public way.