Using Social Media Is Not the Same as Using Social Media

Yes, you read it right. No typo here. Just because some marketers employ social media tools such as blogs or online social networks (OSNs) does not mean they capitalize on the potential power of social media.

In general, social media are earned media where marketers participate in ongoing, many-to-many conversations (dialogues), engage consumers for their insights, and earn their interest and trust with which to build relationships and brand loyalty. These conversations can be initiated by either marketers or consumers. They cannot be treated as another marketing channel owned and controlled by marketers (an earlier post “Markets are conversations“). By contrast, traditional media are usually paid media (e.g., TV and radio commercials, magazine ads, and paid key word search) or owned media (e.g., corporate websites) with which marketers can broadcast (in a one-to-many fashion) their well crafted monologues (a.k.a. advertisements). Consumers have very few, if any, opportunities to interact or contribute their own messages.

Putting an advertisement on a popular blog or Facebook does not amount to using social media. It simply treats these social media as “media” – a channel of marketing communication paid for by marketers; there is nothing “social” about it. Likewise, maintaining a corporate blog or creating a product page on Facebook does not by itself amount to capitalizing on the power of social media if the company simply uses these media to continue publishing its product information, brochures or press releases. In such case, it treats these media simply as owned media (it does not own Facebook of course, only its Facebook product page). It only use these media as social media when a corporate blog or Facebook product page is designed to support social interactions – engaging consumers in a meaningful conversation and letting them bring more friends into it, allowing them to share their consumption experience and contribute content, and/or crowdsourcing product design ideas.

Here is my key takeaway. What distinguishes between social media and traditional media is not the technology or means of communication (e.g., analog vs. digital, or Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 era software applications, or whatsoever). Rather, it is the marketing mindset that shapes the information flows (many-to-many vs. one-to-many), underlies the relationship between the senders and receivers of the messages (dialogues vs. monologues) and defines the nature of the media used (e.g., paid and owned media vs. earned media). In other words, it is not which media they are but how they are used that determines whether a marketer is using social media.

CRM Goes Social

It is a well-known fact that CRM implementations have had a relatively high rate of disappointing results. While still trying to address these poor results, marketing and strategy planners now have to address a new set of challenges: the rise of social media, which has radically altered the relationships between businesses and consumers. Social media have enabled consumers to communicate among themselves and greatly curtailed marketers’ ability to control the messages and information about their brands and products.

Why CRM Must Go Social

Consumers can now produce and share their views and creative content, and connect with one other online with ease. Social media give them a mighty megaphone with which to tell the world their experience with product X or brand Y. As a result, the influence from traditional marketing communication channels has become increasingly negligible. Consumers can educate themselves over the Internet through their connections in social networks, blogs, discussion forums, chat and more. Consumer-to-consumer communication becomes frictionless such that it is no longer one-to-one, but rather many-to-many. Messages, good or bad, can spread so widely and so fast just like viral infection. All of these take place on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media that lie completely outside any company’s control.

CRM, as we knew it, is ill-equipped to utilize social media for building and managing customer relationships.

  • CRM was conceived and developed in an era of information asymmetry. Communication followed a one-to-many pattern. Companies were able to tightly control the information and image about themselves, their products, brands and services as they could use their communication channels to simply broadcast their marketing monologues.
  • The mindset underlying CRM implementation was “command and control” – customers would interact directly with the company in a controlled manner across multiple, well-managed touch points. Much of the information available to consumers was marketing messages (e.g., advertisements, product brochures and web-page content) being produced by the company.
  • CRM therefore optimizes relationships around the company, not its customers. Although the goal of CRM is to provide a single view of individual customers and manage one-to-one relationships with them, its implementation in the Web 1.0 era often focused on automation of front-office tasks. At its most basic level, CRM is a fancy contact database. It lets sales representatives view “profiles” of their accounts, capture deal information, track performance, communicate with contacts, and share information internally with sales managers and other members of their account team.

In this social media era, the term CRM (“customer relationship management”) has become a misnomer, argues Maria Ognewa (2010), Director of Social Media at Attensity. After all, the company no longer controls or manages the relationship; the customer does. To remain effective, marketing must become engaging and conversational, and CRM (or any other term you prefer) must get social.

Social CRM Defined

Social CRM, also known as CRM 2.0, capitalizes on technology and utilizes social media tools. However, it is none of these. Rather, as described by leading CRM expert Paul Greenberg (2009), it is “a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It is the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation” (emphasis added). Or more briefly (as in a “tweetable” definition), it is “the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

Social CRM vs. Traditional CRM

Social CRM does not replace traditional CRM, but augments it instead. Customers can still interact with the company through conventional media (e.g., phone, postal and electronic mail). Social CRM extends traditional CRM capabilities with social networking capabilities – marrying the company’s existing systems and customer touch points with data provided by user-contributed content and communities. It taps social media to first understand consumers’ perceptions and then takes actions within those outlets to improve the standing of the company and its products. Consider online sales, for example. They account for only 10 percent of total retail sales; the remaining 90 percent still remains offline. Yet social networks influence more than 40 percent of all offline sales.  The challenge for marketers is to determine how best to leverage the collective intelligence inherent in social networks and effectively evangelize the company’s products, services and/or brand propositions through social media. These media are like traditional touch points such as call centers, sales organizations, partner portals and marketing applications. There is one key difference, however. With social media, the company must engage and join in ongoing conversations as participants, not as overseers.

Differences between social and traditional CRM have been widely discussed (see “Notes” below). I highlight a few of them here.

Traditional CRM v. Social CRM

  • Specific-department responsibilities vs. enterprise-wide engagement. The responsibilities for building and managing relationships under traditional CRM implementation reside with specific departments. By contrast, customer engagement under social CRM must be enterprise-wide. That means empowering employees, especially those facing customers, to engage customers and prospects on social media channels within well-defined usage guidelines.
  • Company-defined channels vs. customer-driven channels. Under traditional CRM implementation, the firm selects and manages the contact points (e.g., company’s website, customer help desks, email) through which it interacts with its customers. Its single view of each customer is built upon the data collected from such interactions. Under social CRM, the number of possible channels for engaging with its customers has multiplied many folds (e.g., traditional contact points, plus online social networks, blogs, tweets, video sharing, etc.). Few of them can be defined and managed by the company. Instead, many of them are determined by customers, organized on the ground up and/or managed by third parties. They can easily move on to other channels when feeling such engagement lacks authenticity.
  • Operationally-focused vs. people/community-focused. Businesses typically turn to CRM to improve communication between sales and marketing operations, and to improve data-access so as to positively impact decision-making. Toward this goal, traditional CRM focuses on operational effectiveness and its impact, both internally and on the customer, whereas social CRM is all about people and community – joining conversations with consumers on relevant online communities and build the kind of reputation needed to maintain credibility and trust.
  • Data-driven vs. content-driven. Traditional CRM grew out of the need to store, track, and report on contact data and other critical information about customers and prospects. Social CRM is growing out of a need to attract the attention of those using the Internet to find answers to their problems by providing right content, and just enough of it, in formats that are easy for them, whether blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, or Webinars. Offering compelling content is a key pillar of social CRM strategy. The aims are to convert content into conversations, extend these conversations into collaborative experiences, then to transform these experiences into relationships.
  • Process-centric vs. conversation-centric. Traditional CRM focuses on implementing and automating processes to ensure the proper activities and tasks would be performed by the appropriate people, in the correct sequences. Although processes are still essential for a successful social CRM strategy, conversations with consumers looking for help in solving their challenges are at the heart of it. The goal is making it easy for consumers to find the company (through its content – a comment left on a blog post or following the company on Twitter) and invite it into a conversation on their terms.

Social or Traditional, It’s CRM

It is quite easy to get carried away by all the talks about how different social CRM is from traditional CRM and how much things will have to change. Let us not forget that social CRM is supposed to bring together the company’s CRM and social media capabilities. Customer information and insights from social media engagement must be brought together with customer data from traditional CRM system into a single view of the customer. Likewise, social media initiatives must be integrated with traditional customer service and support to be effective. Leading vendors of CRM systems and services such as SAP and Salesforce.com seem to understand this. They are investing in integrating CRM with networking platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Hopefully, we will once again talk about CRM, not social vs. traditional CRM.

Notes

  1. Paul Greenberg, “Time to put a stake in the ground on Social CRM”, PGreenblog, (July 06, 2009), URL: http://the56group.typepad.com/pgreenblog/2009/07/time-to-put-a-stake-in-the-ground-on-social-crm.html
  2. Dion Hinchcliffe “Using social software to reinvent the customer relationship”, Enterprise Web 2.0 Blog, (August 18, 2009), URL: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hinchcliffe/using-social-software-to-reinvent-the-customer-relationship/699?tag=mantle_skin;content
  3. Brent Leary, “Traditional CRM vs. Social CRM”, (June 2009), URL: http://technology.inc.com/software/articles/200906/leary.html
  4. R. Wang and J. Owyang, “Social CRM: the New Rules of Relationship Management”, Altimeter, (March 5, 2010), URL: http://www.slideshare.net/jeremiah_owyang/social-crm-the-new-rules-of-relationship-management
  5. Bob Warfield, “A social CRM Manifesto: How to Succeed with the Social CRM Virtuous Cycle”, Helpstream, URL: http://www.slideshare.net/Helpstream/a-social-crm-manifesto-how-to-succeed-with-the-social-crm-virtuous-cycle

Is (User Generated) Content King Kong?

Among the three elements of the 3Cs business model, content is the one that has undergone the most profound change in recent years. The rise of social media has allowed Internet users to create and distribute content with ease. User generated content (UGC) now shares the stage with commercially developed content (CDC) that once ruled the world of Web content. Will content, or more precisely UGC, actually be king this time? If not, what will it be?

What is UGC?

UGC is also known as consumer-generated media (CGM). It refers to the materials created and uploaded to the Internet by non-media professionals, be them product reviews on Amazon, seller ratings on eBay, photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, bookmarks on Delicious.com, or user profiles on Facebook. It has been around in one form or another since the early years of the Internet such as examples include the bulletin boards on portal websites like Yahoo and AOL and “product rating” websites in the 1990s. Over time, it has evolved to encompass blogs, wikis and media-sharing, social-networking, and virtual world sites, and has become a dominant media and one of the fastest growing forms of content on the Internet. In 2006, UGC sites attracted 69 million users in the United States alone, and in 2007 generated $1 billion in advertising revenue. By 2011, UGC sites are projected to attract 101 million users in the U.S. and earn $4.3 billion in ad revenue (IAB, 2008).

Practically all social media applications (from blogs, social bookmarking sites and wikis to online social network sites) enable some form of UGC. An effective way for classifying UGC is to do so according to the motivations for users to contribute content and the level of communal involvement in doing so. The motivations can be either rational or emotional. Rational motivations may include sharing knowledge with the world (knowledge sharing) and advocating a particular stand toward an issue (advocacy). Emotional motivations may include building social connections with friends, relatives, or other Internet users (social connections) or entertainment (self-expression). Users can contribute content through individual efforts or group collaboration (Krishnamurthy and Dou, 2008). The entries on Wikipedia are collaborative efforts of tens of thousands of contributors from around the world who are motivated by a desire for knowledge sharing. User profiles on online social network sites such as Facebook are created by individual members who seek connections with friends online. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft involve a very large number of players who interact with one another within a virtual game world. They are found to prefer socializing online to offline and have very strong emotions when playing these games.

While there are many types of UGC sites, for branding purpose, marketers should pay close attention to three specific types.

  • Review sites. They are where consumers share their brand experiences in order to help others make more informed purchasing decisions, making them an important place for marketers to have a voice. Most review sites focus on a specific product/service category (e.g., CNet on consumer electronics, Edmunds.com on automotive, and TripAdvisor on tourism). They are generally well moderated and can be very brand friendly to the company that respects their culture and is willing to participate.
  • Blogs. Blogging has been around in one form or another since the mid 1990s, but it was the launch of Open Diary (the first site to provide blogging software and the first to facilitate user comments) in 1998 that turned blogging into a UGC phenomenon. Letting readers reply to blog entries, thus allowing interactions between bloggers and readers and among readers, is the hallmark of blogging and UGC in general as well. It should be noted that blogging today is no longer for users only. Among the rank of bloggers are many salaried professionals (e.g., huffingtonpost.com), marketers and corporate CEOs.
  • Media sharing sites. They tend to be specialized by content formats such as photos (e.g., Flickr, Photobucket and Smugmug), videos (e.g., Youtube, Metacafe and Dailymotion) and presentations (Slideshare.net and Scribd). The huge audience of some of these sites such as YouTube and their popular media formats, particularly videos, can get brand messages, good or bad, spread extremely far and fast.

Advertising on UGC Sites

This is still an uncharted territory. Much is yet to be experimented and learned. Below are a few more common practices. They involve placing commercial messaging in and around the content or by becoming a part of the content itself.

  • Video Ads. One common method is “pre-roll” video — a short ad that runs before the video itself. Another method is “overlay” ad, which pops up about 15 seconds into a video and only covers the bottom one fifth of the screen. The ad disappears after a few seconds if the user does not click it. If the user does select the ad, the main video will pause, and the video ad will play; once the ad has ended, the video will resume. The idea behind this method is ensure the ad does not interrupt the user’s viewing experience. Some UGC sites, including YouTube, now prefer this “overlay” method over “pre-roll”.
  • Conversation targeting. Marketers can target specific conversations that are relevant to their brands, be them on some blogs, online communities or social networks. They can then add their “voice” (e.g., product or company information, press releases, and experts’ opinions) or place their ads next to these conversations. A camera producer, for example, may try to identify widely read blogs about photography whereas a sport apparel producer may look for some online forums on physical fitness. They may utilize the service of some third-party specialists in finding not only the most relevant conversations but also the most influential.
  • Custom communities. Marketers can build custom communities that provide an online hub for brands — entertaining and engaging consumers through relevant content, interesting games, useful applets, or exciting contests. They may use off-site advertising to drive consumers to these communities, where these consumers participate and pass along interesting or valuable content to others. A variation of custom communities is dedicated channels for specific brands on content-sharing sites such as YouTube.
  • Brand profile page. Marketers can create profile pages for their products or brands on social networking sites such as Facebook. On such pages they can offer relevant and interesting content, from demonstration videos to widgets that let site members include these pages in their “friend” network or tag themselves as a “fan.”
  • Widgets. Some marketers now make available branded widgets for users to download onto their computer desktops or embed in their blogs or profile pages and through these widgets to import some form of live content. American TV network ABC, for example, offers a series of widgets around its popular primetime shows such as “Desperate Housewives”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Ugly Betty” and “Dancing with the Stars”. These embeddable widgets let fans add exclusive ABC.com content to their blogs, web pages and social networking sites. Each widget includes video clips, photos, news alerts and links back to ABC.com’s media player for viewing of full episodes.

Kong: a King Gone Wild

With the rise of UGC, is content fit to be king? To put it differently, is the notion of “content is king” any closer to reality in the UGC era  than it was in the CDC era? Survey data from the OPA shows Internet users spend the largest share of their time online at content sites (39.6 percent), far ahead of communication (24 percent),  community (20.6 percent) and other sites (e.g., commerce and search at 10.9 and 4.5 percent, respectively). Back in 2003 when data on community sites was not available, they spent more time at communication sites (47.3 percent) than content (33.6 percent) and other sites. Content sites are those designed primarily to provide news, information and entertainment (e.g., CNN.com, ESPN.com and MapQuest). Community sites are those combining UCG with communications in order to foster relationships between individual members and groups of members (e.g., Facebook and MySpace). Communications sites and those designed to facilitate the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information directly between individuals or groups of individuals (e.g., Yahoo! Mail and AOL Instant Messenger). Commerce sites are those designed for shopping online (e.g., Amazon and eBay). Search sites those scanning the Web to provide prioritized results based on specific criteria from user requests (e.g., Google Search and Yahoo! Search). Essentially, content-rich sites are where consumers have been spending their time at, then or now, despite the growing popularity of community/networking sites such as Facebook.

Website traffic statistics (Alexa, 2010) seem to confirm the predominance of content. Four of the top-ten sites globally are content sites (e.g., YouTube, MSN, Wikipedia and Blogger); the remainder includes four search sites, two of which (Yahoo and Baidu) are content-rich, a community and social network site (Facebook) and a communication site (Tencent QQ – a Chinese instant messaging site). For marketers it is clear that they can ignore the content element only at their own perils.

Utilizing UGC sites for marketing communication is not without its challenges, however. UGC sites are by nature a freewheeling exchange of opinions and points of view, in which an advertiser is expected to be just another participating voice. Marketers can no longer broadcast one-way messages at their audiences in a carefully planned and controlled environment. Instead, they must now engage in conversations that are initiated, maintained, and “owned” by consumers. They need to surrender some degree of control over the brand messages. That carries a level of uncertainties and risks much higher than what most marketers are accustomed to (see my other post: “Markets Are Conversations”).

So while content may turn out to be king this time, it is likely a different sort of king: King Kong. Like the infamous ape made in Hollywood, UGC can be wild and unpredictable; meanwhile its raw strength can be overwhelming. Recall the Chevy Tahoe online video contest discussed in an earlier post (“Markets are Conversations”).  The beast can be quite destructive but controlling it is equally impractical. Ignoring the beast does not make it go away either. Perhaps with a new mindset radically different from the traditional “command and control” approach, marketers can meet King Kong (or rather UGC) face-to-face. A different ending, less tragic, this time?

References

  1. Alexa (2010) “Top Sites”, at: http://www.alexa.com/topsites (accessed July 7, 2010).
  2. Online Publishers Association (OPA) (2010) “Internet Activity Index (IAI)”, at: http://www.online-publishers.org/page.php/prmID/421 (accessed July 7, 2010).

Markets Are Conversations

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View this presentation — “Markets Are Conversations” — on Prezi.com

From Conversations to Monologues

In The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls and David Weinberger remind their readers that, for thousands of years, markets were conversations. These were places for exchange where buyers and sellers looked each other in the eye, met and connected. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, advertising and public relations. Customers talked among themselves about products and merchants, giving each other their recommendations. Words of mouth were a powerful tool of advertising.

Then came the Industrial Age and with it mass production, mass consumption and inevitably mass marketing. Ever since, market conversations have been interrupted. In their places are marketing messages that businesses push onto consumers. Marketing becomes a profession, an applied science, the engineering of desirable responses through the application of calibrated stimuli. A new metaphor, “business is war”, has taken hold. “We launch marketing campaigns based on strategies that target markets; we bombard people with messages in order to penetrate markets… Business-as-usual is in a constant state of war with the market, with the marketing department manning the front lines”. There is one big problem with this:  marketers are trying to do all the talking; but people do not ask for all these marketing messages and do their best to tune them out. All the sophisticated marketing research techniques and promotional tools have proven increasingly less effective. Marketers and consumers become disconnected from each other.

The video clip below — “The Break Up” — says it well. It is “a story of love gone wrong” — all she (the consumer) wants is genuine affection; all he (the advertiser) offers is loyalty reduction. A break-up is bound to happen.

Back to the Future

Once again the world is changing. The rise of the Internet and the proliferation of social media enabling users to create and contribute content and to network online have altered the balance of power in favor of consumers. These are not simply new channels for marketers to continue broadcasting their messages more widely and cheaply. Instead, they are new virtual spaces where people can gather around topics of interest to them, learn and talk about products, brands and their consumption experiences, and recommend directly to each other what to buy and what not.

The Cluetrain Manifesto proposes several dozens theses about the impacts of the Internet on markets and organizations. Among those is “markets are conversations”. The book was published in 1999, long before the proliferation of social media tools. Its theses were way ahead of their time. On the 10-year anniversary of the book, a 2009 video clip by Jacobsland Partners highlights some of the key theses.

Market conversations are back, but with one major difference this time: the marketspaces are highly networked. Because people are more widely connected online, their conversations can expand far and wide, spread from one forum to another easily, and get picked up by other media instantaneously. All of these can take place with or without participation from marketers.

Ignore Market Conversations at One’s Own Perils

Good, bad or ugly as these market conversations may be, their reach and impacts can be wide and serious. Ignoring them does not make them go away; and there is no realistic way of crowding them out with advertising blitz. Instead, participation in these conversations is often a smarter choice while keeping a distance and being silent can be a costly mistake. The experience of the leading computer maker Dell with Dell Hell serves as a vivid reminder of this. In June 2005, blogger Jeff Jarvis posted on his blog Buzzmachine (http://www.buzzmachine.com) his complaint, entitled Dell Hell, about the failure of Dell’s customer services to repair his laptop. It quickly attracted thousands of links, comments and emails from other aggrieved Dell customers, and became the third most linked-to post on the blogosphere in the following weeks (Gupta, 2005). At the time Dell had a “look, don’t touch” policy regarding blog commentaries in effect. So, it did not respond to this brewing negative publicity until Dell Hell received wide coverage in the mainstream media (including the New York Times, Slate, CNN, Business Week, etc.). By then, according to an analysis by Market Sentinel (2005), Dell had badly lost out to Buzzmachine and other blogs as the source of information on Dell’s customer services. Coincidentally or not, Dell’s sales growth stalled and profits fell. Eventually, Dell had to take a series of corrective actions, including the creation of a blog, known as Direct2Dell, to engage in candid conversations with its customers.

Be Authentic

Conversations occur in human voices as being from a person with authentic identity, a point of view and a passion, not a legal entity trying to deliver a message or keep them on message. They are two-way communications involving both listening and talking; they need to be authentic and transparent to gain the public trust. The goal is not to build a walled garden of content that hold consumers hostage to the marketer’s brand messages but rather to create a “public square” — a virtual meeting place where customers come back for the rich and engaging experience (Tapscott and Williams, 2006).  So, lighten up, loosen up and listen for a change. Only by presenting itself as a human face and by engaging its constituents (e.g., customers, suppliers and employees) in meaningful conversations can a company or institution have a fair chance of influencing consumer opinion. When frustrated customers launched a blog recounting the hours Jet Blue left them stranded on the tarmac during a snow storm, the carrier responded quickly, not with a traditional press release, but by posting on YouTube a video of an apology from its CEO. Its response received favorable and supportive comments and e-mails from thousands of customers (Eikelmann et al, 2007).

The price for not being authentic can be high. In September 2006, Working Families for Wal-Mart, an organization founded by the public relations firm Edelman, sponsored a couple for their trip by a recreational vehicle (RV) from Las Vegas to Georgia. The couple maintained a blog named Wal-Marting Across America where they wrote about the lives and stories they encountered on their journey, including the many employees who reportedly expressed their love of working for this giant retailer. The couple was real and they already had, prior to the sponsorship, a favorable view of Wal-Mart particularly for its policy of letting RVers park for free at its parking lots. However, the failure to disclose the sponsorship raised suspicion about the authenticity of this blog and led eventually to its exposure as a “flog” (or a fake blog) and plenty of uproars in the blogosphere (Gogoi, 2006). Subsequently, the president and CEO of Edelman had to apologize publicly for its failure to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers (Siebert, 2006).

Have Thick Skin

Joining a conversation takes much more than simply adding social media to the marketing communication tool set. It also means embracing a new management mindset — ceding control in order to build relationships (Li, 2004). This can be a challenging and risky move for marketers who accustomed to controlling their messages through one-way broadcasting media. The publicity surrounding GM/Apprentice advertising campaign underscores the potential risk of ceding such control. In 2006, GM launched a promotional web site in partnership with NBC’s “The Apprentice” to offer consumers a chance to create their own advertisements for the Chevy Tahoe SUV (sport-utility vehicle). Environmental activists, consumer safety advocates and many anti-SUV consumers quickly seized on the opportunity to create many advertisements that slammed on the Tahoe for its adverse impacts. These videos quickly found their way onto YouTube. GM management was slow to respond to these negative advertisements at first but later decided to face these head-on, trying to clarify the facts (e.g., pointing out that the Tahoe outperformed other competing SUVs on fuel economy, safety ratings and engine emission) and to put a positive spin on the whole campaign. Writing on GM FastLane blog, Chevrolet General Manager claimed GM management had expected this sort of campaign would not come without risks but “adopted a position of openness and transparency, and decided that we would welcome the debate… In our opinion, this has been one of the most creative and successful promotions we have done. And we invite you back to the final ‘Board Room’ as we select the winning entry.” (Peper, 2006).

Loosen up Control or Lose Control

While the risk of ceding control on marketing messages is real, the ability to control such messages has been sharply reduced, if not totally eliminated, by the rise of social media anyway. In the age of user-generated content (UGC), there is little that marketers can do to prevent or stop consumer from posting and spreading messages, negative or otherwise, about their brands. By embracing social media, instead of rejecting or ignoring them, marketers can at least become part of the conversations and be better placed to shape consumer perceptions. Not all was lost for GM in the GM/Apprentice campaign, according to Charlene Li of Forrester Research (2006). “By losing control over the brand experience, Chevy actually brought more people into it — witness the debate over the campaign itself. The environmental and SUV fuel economy debate has always existed outside of the Chevy experience, but by bringing it into chevyapprentice.com, Chevy has harnessed it into a promotional benefit”. The key lesson is “…in the social computing arena, you [marketers] have got to have thick skin and be ready to engage in the messy world of your customer’s opinions. Marketers that have the guts to turn over their brand to the public will in the end win over their customers.”