It Isn’t Always the Brands to Blame for Social Media Screw Ups

Blame someone else

If you follow any brand news in social media, you’re probably aware of the criticism Toyota has been receiving over its Superbowl Twitter campaign.

If you haven’t heard about it, Toyota wanted to promote its new Camry range, so it started numerous Twitter accounts to send tweets to people about the car.

Now, there’s no doubt that having multiple accounts sending out random messages into hashtag conversations is spam. Heck, I’ve written about that here before, and it’s always a big no-no in any of our campaigns at Jugnoo.

It’s pre-Permission Marketing at its worst. And yet…

I can’t help but feel that we’re blaming the wrong people. While Toyota’s team may have been the ones behind the campaign, generally for brands that size it’s an external agency that handles promotions like this.

Sure, Toyota would have had to have signed off on the proposal, but at the end of the day, the expertise and best practices lie with the agency.

I’ve worked on accounts for Ford Canada, RIM, LG and more, and while these companies took the plaudits for the success of their campaigns, it was the agency that conceived, conceptualized and implemented – not the brand itself.

Because of the nature of the client/vendor relationship, it’s very rare that the talent behind a campaign is publicly acknowledged. And that’s how it should be, because you’re generally on a contractual status, nothing more.

So before we start shooting brands for a faux pas (perceived or actual), let’s just take a minute and be sure who the blame should be targeted at, before we scare away brands altogether when we should be encouraging them to be more active.

It’s the only way we’ll truly encourage brands to continue to experiment, and be where their customers increasingly are. And we all win when that happens…

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Blog consulting with Danny Brown

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  1. says

    The thing is, brands can’t have it both ways – they’re more than happy to take the credit when they have a successful campaign, so they can’t turn around and publicly point a finger at the agency when it goes wrong. If their relationship with the agency is healthy, they will have been involved in the creative process (if only as a final decision maker).

    They could fire the agency, though, and whoever signed off on a spam campaign DURING THE SUPERBOWL.

    • says

      Agreed, mate, and if you look at Marketing Magazine or awards events, you’ll see many brands sharing the plaudits with the agency.

      The approach I was taking is where the brands are the target even when people know there’s an agency involved, as it’s open season on a product that a consumer has just been itching to take a potshot at.

      We seem to be all too eager at getting het up without any digging, and that misses the point altogether.

      Cheers, sir!

  2. says

    I ranted a little about this on Twitter when it happened. People are so quick to criticize, condemn, and in this case crucify the brands. The brands seek out agencies for their advice and guidance. An agency of the size that Toyota used should know better. And believe me they do.

    The issue is, when we jump on these brands like this, how do we expect to draw more brands to the social space. All we do is point out bad examples and show everyone’s mistakes. Why would I want to be part of that? Especially if i’m a big brand that’s already doing OK. We make social media sound like a place brands go to die, then we try to sell them on why they need it.

    • says

      I hear you on that, mate. It makes me wonder what other accounts the agency in question runs, and whether or not they’re behind more faux pas.

      The team (brand) is only as good as its coach (agency). In this case, the coach was left wanting.

  3. says

    Love it. I have been thinking the same thing as of late. Many people want to jump all over the brand and you are right in that some of the blame lies with them but if they are hiring an agency, that agency has the responsibility to know and understand the intricacies of the social world. That is what the brand hired them for.

    Reminds me of the blow up over the McDonald’s hashtag. Yes there were some bad tweets that came out with it but when you are on social media that is bound to happen anyways. The good posts far outnumbered the bad.

    I think SM professionals just like to show the bad that is going on to puff themselves up. If you look at how many “fail” articles there are out there, they seem to far outweigh the success articles. Like Chris said, we “celebrate” the fails but then want these brands to join the space?

    • says

      That furore about McDonald’s was crazy, wasn’t it? We ran a hashtag campaign for a client and there were a few negative ones that came in. Like you say, every brand has detractors.

      However, we used the negative ones as a focus group nad helped improve the process where the brand would talk to the customer, and actually converted around 60% of the negative tweets to giving the brand a second chance after improvements.

      Something for those jumping on McDonald’s to think about…

    • says

      Interesting point. I think you need to encourage activity before engagement, since you can’t engage without being active.

      Exactly how brands engage after becoming active is another matter altogether… 😉

  4. says

    The way I see it, if you’re willing to put your name on it, you’re willing to take the fall for it. Goes with the territory.

    Sadly, the most vocal lot of the bunch raising holy hell about this non-issue is likely the social media echo chamber. Because we need to make sure we accelerate and amplify stories of social media failure to the uninformed masses.

    It’s like Schechter and I were discussing on Geoff Livingston’s site this week; any fool can point out symptoms. It takes a real professional to solve root causes. And real social media expertise comes in accelerating and amplifying THAT message.

    Your mileage may vary.

    • says

      You know, mate, often I wonder if it’s an attempt to pitch a brand? Give some “sage” advice, offer how they can fix it, and then wait for the phone to ring…

      • says

        Is it a pitch? Could be, but as much as you and I might have been happy to consult a certain digital “infoolence” peddler, were we pitching them, or merely ranting?

        I guess it all depends on the objective, ya know? If I want ConglomoCorp to put me on easy street with a fat project, I really think they’d be more receptive to the buzz generated by my ridiculously happy clients than my digital screed.

        “You’re doing it wrong” doesn’t really work.

  5. says

    Danny – great post. What strikes me is that for innovative brands managers – those who are willing to take risks & experiment with new technologies – increasingly, their job is as much about explaining their strategy and addressing concerns about it when people call them out. They don’t always get it right, but I have a lot of respect for their willingness to take risks, and then take the time to answer critics when things go wrong. It would be nice to see the agencies behind the campaigns do the same.

  6. says

    I think the brands’ in-house marketing team definitely needs to make themselves aware of the do’s and don’t of social media, otherwise it leaves them ignorant and prone to mistakes like Toyota’s. Doesn’t mean they have to know everything about social media, but at least educate themselves on best practices, etiquette, etc. and they need to do their due diligence, research these marketing agencies, double check what they’re proposing isn’t against any unspoken rules.

    I totally agree that this agency set Toyota up for a fail, I’m really surprised they implemented that method on Twitter. But Toyota can take responsibility for the scenario as well, learn from it and educate themselves so it doesn’t happen again!

    • says

      Agreed, Ferris. I guess the problem is, often you’re relying on the expertise of the agency you hire to educate your staff. You’re trusting them to get it right for you, and if you have little-to-no experience in this space, it can be hard to gauge who’s right for you, versus who’s just out to fleece you.

  7. says

    Danny~Another insightful, spot-on piece. I don’t agree that “brands want it both ways.” If an author hires me as a consultant, and I completely re-work his or her book proposal that lands a 6-figure deal, then the author has no obligation to give me any credit (only compensation). If a company seeks me out for creative consulting, then I have to stand behind my programs and trainings. I risk being the scapegoat, and I risk not getting credit when things go well.

    In the U.S. political world, Mitt Romney fired his debate consultant b/c the newly hired consultant was receiving (and inviting) all the media praise for Romney’s turn-around debate style. The media of course then thought it small-minded of Romney. I thought it perfectly appropriate. Consultants and agencies have to “take it both ways”: Assume responsibility for the campaigns and strategies we suggest, and be grateful when we receive due praise (but don’t expect it).

    Our motto is to astonish our clients and to make our clients look good (not ourselves).

    Tonia also makes a good point about the responsibility of agencies to “go public” when things don’t go right. Now THAT would be a way to ASTONISH your client.

    • says

      Hi there Jeffrey,

      You make a great point about being the third party (the hidden one). Yes, it’s great to be acknowledged – but then that’s why NDA’s were created and signed… 😉

      Besides, I’ve never had any issues with brands not wishing to give you a referral when using them as an example for a client pitch. Usually they’re pretty happy to do so, as it shows their success in the field.

      And agencies going public and apologizing? Now that would be awesome!

  8. says

    I have to agree with Jeffrey on this one. As a consultant, I can give all the advice that I can for a client but its the final approval of the brand/company to run with it. I’m working with a client who wouldn’t listen to my team and just spent the last month pushing out sales messages, so much that we’re seeing their social media influence drop. So now we have to fall back and punt with them to get them back on track. So are we at fault or the company that this happened?

    It just seems to me that these companies/brands that keep making these bad choices (ie the McDonald horror hashtag story) are large enough to create their own in-house social media team. If they take everything in-house, then there would be less chance that the messages aren’t consistent with the branding and if it goes wrong, there’s no one to point the finger at.

    I always remember this from when I was a kid: when you a point a finger at me (my company/consulting services), you’re pointing three back at yourself.

    • says

      Hi Penney,

      That’s a fair point, and agree that if you’re going to spend X amount of dollars, you need to have the gumption to make the call.

      But if you’re new to the space (Toyota isn’t quite, but not as advanced as Ford, for example), should you be given a little slack since you still need to trust the agency to make the right decision? Especially for the dollars you’re paying.

      I’m wondering if brands are slipping because there’s no advisory body in social media that helps shine the light on reputable agencies?

      • says

        I would agree with your point when you look at from that perspective. And yeah, I get the feeling that these companies (even if they are as large as Toyota) don’t have a clue regarding social engagement and are putting WAY too much trust into these agencies.

        I see a new opportunity for jobs coming our way as more and more of these larger companies take these programs in-house. It just seems to me that this is the best route to handle the branding and ensuring the consistent message that’s going out.

    • says

      See, I can see the benefit of that type of campaign, if done right.

      – Are you segregating your audience from the generic shopper?
      – Have they opted in?
      – Are you sending at the right time (seasonal, weekly, etc)?
      – Are you offering mobile-optimized sites to drive traffic to when near a location?
      – Are you deducting the price of a text from the phone bill if recipient makes a purchase (makes the customer very happy)?

      It’s not hard to run a great campaign; it just seems that way.

      • says

        I actually elaborated about that in my discussions with the Walgreens guy. While I find it way too many steps to gain a discount until we evolve with better technology which is the reverse of today’s club cards it can work.

        My issue with club cards is they garner all this history of your shopping and retailers should be proactive vs reactive. When I come in if I scan the card (or contact via my mobile device) then you can pitch me deals to guarantee a sale vs hoping I buy. No need for any social integration but I would include a social option where I can tweet or facebook or G+ my stream that I got a deal.

        The problem with Foursquare was they lacked brand participation and now I stopped checking in. If I knew each store I entered would give me a discount I would use it.

        But isn’t that just eroding your margins if you do that? Which is why I prefer the custom deal algorithm. and it shouldn’t give you a deal on your regular purchases but set to expand what you buy (similar to Amazon’s – people who bought this also bought this’ set up)

  9. says

    So what you are saying is that I should blame folks like you for the snafu?

    In all honesty, the agency should lose the business for doing something that generated backlash in the space.

    • says

      Agreed, mate. It’s like the GM agency that was fired; while it may be harsh, if you’re taking the big bucks you best be prepared for the big fall too.

  10. says

    They would have done better keeping the social side inside the firm instead than outsourcing it this way. They had the money to pay a good social media manager I guess. Imho if you can afford it it’s always better to keep key services within the business and check how things are done. Strange that they are Japanese.

    Wondering how much they paid those gurus and how much money they’ll lose with this thing. Enough to pay a social top gun for years probably.

  11. says

    What role does LocalResponse play in this, as I see they are counting down the number of days until they are no longer beta? It’s 4 days from today:

    Do you blame the marketing agency that allegedly conceived the campaign, this company that powered the campaign, or Toyota that blessed the campaign? Or all three? And, what role does Twitter play in verifying all of these accounts?

  12. Mike Ashworth says

    The saying, “when you point a finger at another, you point three back at yourself” is, I feel, highly appropriate for much of the behaviour I see online.

  13. Vaiebhav Gangan says

    Good point Danny. I have worked in the engineering industry, and it is usually the client that takes the blame or enjoys accolades, and I believe, that’s how it should be. It’s their money. Of course, consultants like us should and do enter their work in industry awards.