What Not To Do When Your Brand Goes To Pot

According to Netflix, I have been a member since June 2003.  And, by and large, it’s been a good ride.  I’m pretty much their typical customer.  I let the little red envelopes sit at home for months at a time and, for some reason, still dutifully pay my membership fees.  I’ve never had a problem with providing this company my money until recently. It’s not their splitting into two companies that’s bothering me. It’s that they’ve shown they have a Web 1.0 mentality of telling instead of collaborating when it comes to their social media presence.

Since I’m here to extol the virtues of a Web 2.0 mentality, I don’t know if I can support Netflix (or Qwikster) anymore.

There will be plenty of post-mortems of the @Qwikster episode by far more academic sources than me. But we’re far enough into the episode, I think, to come to some conclusions about Netflix social media strategy and where they’ve gone wrong in damage controlling a stick social media situation.

BACKGROUND:On September 18, 2011, Netflix announcing they were splitting their mailing service from their streaming service. The traditional red envelopes would be re-branded Qwikster. TechCrunch quickly broke the story on the morning of September 19, 2011, that the capitalized @Qwikster Twitter account was claimed by a “Weed-Smoking Elmo.”  Jason Castillo, the human behind the account, quickly realized he was sitting on a valuable cyber-property and began negotiating to sell the name to unnamed sources. Netflix claimed they never negotiated with Castillo and have since either set up or not set up an official accout for Qwikster at @QwiksterTweet.

Of course the obvious takeaway is that a company, even if they don’t plan on using them immediately, should check to make sure any new product has an available, easy to remember, Twitter handle available. But there are three further lessons here, I think, on brand management in general:

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1. Never miss a viral marketing opportunity. All of the targeted marketing a business in the world can’t generate the kind of buzz that a simple message that people spread barely knowing they’re spreading a message generates. In this case, there was a great deal of buzz around the @Qwikster account in the tech community. Unfortunately, instead of this buzz being harnessed by Netflix and the @Qwikster account spreading their message to an established community (and the hundreds of users who began to follow the account after the article), most of the word-of-mouth about the situation was negative. It didn’t have to be if the company had struck a deal with Castillo ahead of time.

For those who doubt that there was power in harnessing @Qwikster for Netflix, observe the following two tweets:

The first is purely anecdotal, but proves there is a perception out there that Neflix has lost its message control. The second is actually factual. As of the writing of this blog, the official @QwiksterTweet account has 83 followers and @Qwikster has 11,743 followers. If Netflix had a message on @Qwikster, it would be getting a lot more eyeballs (and, therefore, message amplication due to its humor value) than anything they put on the official account.

It must be said that Netflix is unintentionally getting amplification from people talking about @Qwikster, but not the message they’re looking to get out for any other purpose but name recognition.

A great example of a cause using an already existing account (with its existing follower count) to their advantage is @Greenpeace’s Barbie, It’s Over campaign. The organization set up a @ken_talks account for Ken. But, instead of creating its own artificial Barbie account, they enlisted an already popular @Barbie account with its built in followers at the time (rather than having to build an audience from scratch). From the case study overview that I heard at a recent seminar, they got the cooperation of the @Barbie identity to sign up for free because he or she supported the cause. But, regardless of what is used to sweeten the pot, the interaction between a “real” Twitter account and a corporate one looked better and spread throughout the news media. Earned media is always a nice, cheap way to get a message out.

Netflix, seemingly not understanding the power of Web 2.0 missed this boat completely.

2. Don’t be afraid to be the butt of the joke. Another lesson of Web 2.0 image control that Netflix seems to have missed is that the best way to diffuse a public relations disaster in new media is to laugh about it. Instead, all they have done on their @QwiksterTweet account is tweet the following:

Besides the “:-)” at the end, this post comes off as tone deaf. The verbiage is rude and off-putting. Instead of showing themselves as in on the joke, they have invited negative feedback. That is, if anyone ever bothers to look at their account. If they do, they are rewarded with a “stay classy America” tagline.  As if that’s not offensive.

3. Negative internet buzz does not always hurt you brand, but it can’t help it. Luckily for the Qwikster brand, the @Qwikster story hasn’t spread that far outside of the internet community. Then again, it still might. I have very astute social media friends who are just covering the original story now. The mainstream backlash against Qwikster”s Twitter strategy might be days away. There is still time to turn around their marketing on this one, but they’ve already lost a lot of the early adopter, tech leaders who frequent Twitter that they could have had by cooperation with the @Qwikster account. Instead these amplifiers are making fun of Qwikster online instead of spreading their message.

With all of the offline blunders that Netflix has made in this situation, their online strategy is not helping their image or their brand.

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Claiming Your Piece of the Internet – Facebook and Twitter

A business wouldn’t even think about not claiming their physical space. Yet, almost as important in today’s economy, many small businesses are not claiming their virtual spaces to their own detriments. Much like intruders come into a real world space and destroy an image through graffiti, your virtual space brand may be getting destroyed without your business even knowing it.

Whether you’re on the top two players in social media – Facebook and Twitter – or not, people are talking about your association or business there. If you don’t believe me, go to twitter.com and in the search box at the top of the page, type in your businesses’ name.

At the very least if you’re a business you should see Foursquare check-ins. But you’ll probably also see both negative and (hopefully) positive feedback about your business.

Since the first businesses started in antiquity, people have been talking in the marketplace about them. But, for the first time, with new technology, these conversations are taking place out in the open and you can participate in the discussion.

Starting on Facebook and Twitter is easier than you might think. And you don’t need a professional social media person to do it.

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Facebook guides you step-by-step at Facebook Pages. They offer business support and advice that is second-to-none.

Twitter has no special pages. A business page looks just like any other. However, this equal footing is not a bad thing. People on Twitter begin to interact with businesses as “friends” rather than service providers. And, not surprisingly, this companionship leads to increased loyalty. Starting a Twitter account is as easy as typing twitter.com into your favorite web browser, and filling in the name of your business, an e-mail address, and choosing a password.

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At first, both Facebook and Twitter can seem overwhelming. Especially if you haven’t used it with a personal account. But there are a few simple starting rules that you can keep in mind that will have your Twitter account buzzing in no time.

1. Be personal. Twitter especially is a very conversational site. While you can get away with posting press releases, people are looking for interaction. Be sure that a human voice shines through in all of your posts. Professionalism still needs to be maintained (i.e. watch your use of curse words), but you don’t need to take on airs. No one will want to interact with a robot! Also, make sure to upload a photograph of either your business or your logo on Twitter. The default avatar, an egg, is looked down upon by most users.

2. Be friendly. It’s important to always post on both sites in a friendly, welcoming voice. When a negative comment comes up, it’s important to follow basic rules of customer service. Put yourself in the commenter’s shoes and try to understand the situation in full, asking as many questions as possible. If necessary, send the person a message behind the scenes and attempt to resolve the conflict. The last thing people want is to witness a business owner losing their cool online.

3. Be available. A good rule of customer service on social media is to always respond within 24 hours. If you can do it sooner, all the better.  Facebook comments all show up on your page. Twitter comments about your business (that are addressed to your account) will show up if you click on the key on twitter.com on your page. Use your best judgement as to which comments you need to respond to.

As far as content goes, this will be discussed in-depth in another blog entry in the future. For now, just make sure that you’re participating in the space. You will be surprised how much of a difference it makes. As the old saying goes, 90% of success is just showing up.