advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

But can it tell me how many bottles were bought at 7-Eleven?

This NASA-like set-up is the Gatorade Mission Control Center Social Media War Room things as some would say. Outside of politics, I never liked reinforcing the negative connotation of a PR crisis with that label, even though a few agencies with clients under public scrutiny are gravitating towards this approach. For a few I’ve seen up close, it’s social media as damage control.

Through the efforts of Radian6 and agency Struck though, Gatorade and Pepsi are trying to make real-time social media monitoring second nature for all aspects of their repsective brands. This whole thing will be held up as a case study for others to follow no doubt, but it also falls into the gray area over the effectiveness of branding relative to social media monitoring, especially in terms of tangible proof.

We’re all about the metrics and hard data when it comes to number of mentions or follows now, but where does that ultimately lead if I never intend to buy the product?* That’s a rhetorical, and as much as I believe in efforts for brands that don’t translate into sales, it’s still an often ignored question by the branding crowd at large.

The only logical answer for the customer who never intends to purchase, let alone use the product, is that mentions and follows et al. can only lead to building buzz—at best. All is not lost though because that other PR mantra comes to mind: Any PR is good PR.

Except that outside of entertainment circles, when it comes to consumer products, cumulative buzz isn’t generally a good thing if it’s negative, especially if the brand fails to address it. Here’s where the social monitoring supports customer service efforts: Bad experience with an airline equals sooner we find out about it and deal with it, damage to brand mitigated. And so on.

Where it falls apart is if you don’t have the right people interpreting the results.

The NASA analogy is apt, because they also once plugged monkeys into the equation to see if astronauts were even needed to pilot the craft. Not that that’s what they’re doing here, but a few brands assume they can plug an intern into a social media position and everything is fine. To abuse another metaphor, just because anyone can get a hammer at Lowe’s doesn’t make them Ty Pennington.

I say that because while the example used in the article cites how Gatorade responded to buzz over a song used in their spot, I’ve mentioned cases here where brands can’t even connect those same dots with music in their promotions. (As for real-time and integrating the entire customer experience, it would be cool to see a visualization of real-time purchases of all Pepsi or Gatorde products in the country on a site, and at all conferences.)

This Mission Control likely represents the high end of what brands with serious commitments and dollars to social media are doing—six people crunching data and a digital shop to get you up and running is not cheap—but it also can scale down to the smaller brands with less to spend. While you may not get quite the same results, by now anyone has at their disposal basic tools to monitor what’s being said about their brand, from Google Blog search to Nielsen’s Blog Pulse to various Twitter tools.

They key is an underlying commitment to doing it though, regardless of the tools you use or the person you assign to help with it. If you don’t believe in it or don’t see any value whatsoever, it’ll be a giant fail.

While no brand has this figured out everything in the space just yet, and even though Pepsi has had gaps in the execution of their social efforts along the way, expect more companies to run out now after seeing this to buy up those shiny new Radian6 hammers for their social media home entertainment centers.

* Disclosure time for those who need one: I drink Gatorade and the rest of the fine family of Pepsi products and should have a wing at corporate named after me, and I’ve also worked on Pepsi promotions.

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