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Old Spice really hit the ball out of the social networking park with their The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign.  I think that it will go down as one of the great marketing campaigns of 2010.

Now it seems that everyone wants to be the next Old Spice.  I work with several professional printing companies in my job.  One of those printers is TPH –  aka The Printing House.  I recently received an email from them promoting the start of their new web series Your Printz has Come.  This series of YouTube videos was created by Toronto based Endeavour Marketing and introduces “The Printz”, a viking prince delivering TPH products and faced with understanding the mysteries of the modern workplace.

The first episode, entitled “Smokers” is an amusing look at one of my own personal pet peeves, The Frequent Smoke Break (although there are so few smokers left in Vancouver this is hardly an issue out here – perhaps a bit of Toronto-bias to this campaign, that’s where the smoke break got under my skin too).

It’s a cute concept and I’ll admit to looking forward to receiving Episode 2 in my inbox in the next few weeks. I regularly receive emails from TPH but this is the first time I’ve clicked to read or watch the link they sent.  If mobilizing me was their goal, then this video has been successful.

The character and content are amusing, and the production quality is professional. I could do without the obvious product placement of the TPH mugs and print products. There’s a fine line between a web series and a commercial and this feels like they are trying to do both while succeeding at neither one.  I regularly visit their website and place orders anyway. I don’t know that The Printz will make me do any more business, but I supposed the web series will help keep them top of mind when I’m sending out my next print job.

What has not been done well is incorporating The Printz character into a full social media campaign.  To me it has the potential, but instead of creating a YouTube channel for The Printz, the video is housed off the agency’s endeavourmarketing1 YouTube channel.  Weak.  Also comments for the video have been disabled. In my mind that basically says ‘we’re not interested in what you have to say’ and goes against the fundamentals of social media.  There is also no web page, Twitter or Facebook for The Printz. [UPDATE – After my blog post they added a Twitter account for the character @the_printz and they also posted video #2 on their own TPHCanada YouTube channel.  I feel so powerful!]

TPH has an active Twitter feed where they have posted the video. I’m part of their social network and appreciate the thoughtful commentary and links they post which are related to graphic design and print production. I feel like a secondary Twitter feed for The Printz is a missed opportunity of expanding this campaign. Surely a chunk of money was spent creating the episodes, but I would hope they have other plans that will integrate with the videos.  And if they are simply expecting the episodes to go viral, then they need to lay off the sales pitch.

There are so many printers for me to choose from. The Printz is just one more way for TPH to engage with a clientele that has endless choice.  I think it has potential to help them but they need to embrace him fully.

"I'm Sorry Taylor" -@KanyeWest Even jerks like Kanye West realize the power of saying they're sorry through social media.

You know the old saying, it takes a real man to say he’s sorry.  Same goes for companies operating in the world of social media. When there’s a problem – whether it be a technical glitch or an inappropriate comment – you can’t hide it. The best and worst part of social media is the fact that messages travel instantly and once out there they can be linked, forwarded or retweeted a million times over. The leaders of the social media game know enough to admit when they’re wrong, apologize and move on.

Mario Sundar, social media expert for LinkedIn, wrote a great post about the Top 5 Corporate Blog Apologies. My personal fav is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “We really messed this one up.”.

What’s great about all the apologies Mario selected is that they sound real. They sound like what your boyfriend or best friend would write. They embrace the casual, real nature of social media and don’t try to dance around the issue with corporate speak. This quote from the Hugh Macleod at the 2010 Online Marketing Summit sums it up nicely:  “If you talk to people in social media the way advertising talked to people they’d punch you in the face.”

Transparency is important to organizations when using social media because you are speaking to your followers on what should feel like a personal level and, if they sense you are lying, they will cut you from their social network. Companies should be injecting some personality into their posts, and with personality comes the risk of saying something that could be misunderstood. But without risk there is no reward so speak freely to your followers and build that interaction. If every social media comment has to be approved by a committee then you’ll never say anything.

Are there limits to transparency during a crisis? Sure, but you just need to be smart about it. Don’t share information that will put you at a competitive disadvantage or violate privacy agreements. Don’t allude to things that are still in the idea stage and don’t name names.  Look professional, take responsibility as a company and promise to do better in the future. You don’t have to admit the scale of the mistake or go into details of your business strategy.  In most cases a simple apology will be sufficient. Unless you’re Kanye.

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