Engaging CultureStrategy & Marketing

Skittles and the Truth about Social Networking

The candy maker “Skittles” is taking a real risk and is becoming the first company to really embrace social media.  Sure, lot’s of companies say they’re doing social networking, but Skittles may be the first to truly let the conversations be controlled by the consumers.  Here’s the big truth about social networking most organizations aren’t getting – it’s not about creating a site where you dictate the content.

It’s about creating a platform and providing the online tools for your users to create the conversations.  That becomes risky for non-profits & business organizations because true freedom in the conversations means being open to criticism.  That’s why the vast majority of organizations who tout their “social networking” platforms are actually dictating and filtering the conversations, and only allowing positive comments through.

It will be interesting to see where this leads with Skittles.  The site features a Twitter feed that collects any comments in the Twitter stream about the word “Skittles,” and it’s also funneling through similar subjects from YouTube and Facebook.

It’s a bold effort on the part of the company and we’ll see what happens.  The bottom line is that “social networking” is a powerful tool for building momentum, and companies and organizations desperately want to use it to create a buzz online.  But are you really gutsy enough to allow consumers to speak on behalf of your brand?

As I say in my book “The Last TV Evangelist” – “The digital world is not for sissies.”

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9 Comments

  1. I like the move they made, but I don’t think they completely thought through the implications before they acted. When I went to the site, it made sure I was over 18, which seems odd, since kids are probalby the target of most candy. And from what I’ve read, the jokes got to be too much for them:

    http://mashable.com/2009/03/03/skittles-switchesto-facebook/

    I like what they’re trying to do, but this may be a classic case of a company not considering the implications before they jump in. As it is, their own Twitter feed contains several jokes about how they had to pull back.

  2. They did switch the homepage to Facebook, but you can still access the Twitter feed if you click the "Chatter" button on their little widget. It was a pretty bold move, but I like it. And I can almost guarantee that their one-day sales saw a huge boost yesterday.

  3. I don’t know why this is so BOLD. They’re allowing people to discuss Skittles, good and bad, the same way most websites allow for good & bad reviews of their products. I think it’s a great PR tactic that’s being misinterpreted as a "social networking" approach. I do like the floating nav box when you hit the site but I’m not sure it’s bold or risky.

  4. Interesting move indeed.

    In regards to not controlling the user-generated messages, Skittles is obviously comfortable with their brand image, to the point that a little noisy nonsense on Twitter doesn’t phase them. The fact that they’re being discussed anywhere online means that they have mindshare. And if mindshare creates buzz that positions these guys as cutting-edge and hip… good for them.

    I agree, this took guts. And if the tactic was to fire up their Skittle-crazed promoter customer segment with this "purple cow" then they’re right on.

    Dawn Carter @decart

     

  5. What Skittles has done is actually pretty brilliant. This isn’t
    coming out of the blue, but is simply just another step in their
    efforts to re-brand themselves to reach the 18-30 "golden" demographic.
    We’ve noticed this in their commercials which often reflect the
    off-the-cuff, single camera, awkward style and humor seen on popular
    shows like The Office or Flight of the Conchords.

    Giving
    control over to consumers through this stunt is precisely the type of
    thing millennials are starving for. They don’t want to feel marketed to
    as much as they want to feel that they’re in the driver’s seat. There’s
    definitely a cool factor to any brand who’s willing to do this that
    shouldn’t go overlooked. Skittles is smart not to underestimate the
    power of word-of-mouth among this group and its potential in a social
    media driven culture.

    You hit the nail on the head, Phil,
    when you said  "it’s not about creating a site where you dictate the
    content.  It’s
    about creating a platform and providing the online tools for your users
    to create the conversations." It’s a scary thing for brands to losen
    their grip and give that kind of control over, but  they need to
    realize that people are already having these conversations online whether they like it or not! 
    For Skittles to embrace the conversation shows guts, confidence, and
    the kind of relationship with consumers  that I have no doubt will
    increase  brand loyalty and sales from their desired demo. 

  6. It’s bold because the truth is – regardless of what companies say – most companies actually filter their responses.  This is the first, acually 100% unfiltered site, and it’s risky because they could get a lot of crap posted about their product (actually, some has already come through).

  7. What is BOLD about the Skittles move here is the fact that they themselves are hosting the good or bad discussion.  The fact that these discussions happen with or without the brand’s involvement is irrelevant. The fact that the Skittles brand is HOST to the discussion is what is relevant. Any brand is ultimately defined by what others say about it rather than by what the brand says about itself. The gamble here is that the discussion will be mostly good, and more importantly that if it’s bad, then Skittles will have the smarts to switftly fix whatever is negative. It’s also a great play to the age demo they are seeking.  This is a potential mirror moment where they can see their brand reflected in that demog/consumers’ mirror. It extremely risky to run this without a filter. We’ve all seen how something on the net can go South. Can you say Sanjaya Malakar?  American Idol was concerned about what to do about him as he became a clearly unwelcome part of the show. People on the net can turn against something relatively easily. It doesn’t take a ton of people, but rather a relative few persistent people.  I do applaud their risk taking here, and Phil’s posting which likely takes advantage of the very promotion they’ve created.  It’ll be fun to see Phil’s post twitter out because of the word Skittles.  By the way, did I say "Skittles"? 😉

    At Your Service,

    Scott A. Shuford
    Founder/CEO
    FrontGate Media
    http://www.frontgatemedia.com

  8. You are much wiser and more experienced than me Mr. Shuford and your points regarding the brand being able to fix what consumers don’t like are fantastic! Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to say discussions happening online without the brand’s involvement are irrelevant. I still think one of the key reasons this has gotten so much attention is because they decided to welcome the conversations about their brand already going on (good, bad, immature, ridiculous) rather than project a controlled word of mouth response which I think the demog their targeting really appreciates.

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