SXSW Suxorz '09: Worst of the Worst Social Media Campaigns of 2009

Last year HP had the unfortunate honor of winning this "worst of the worst social media campaigns" when we paid a mother to have her children destroy competitor's cameras in an online video. So I was keenly interested to see if HP had learned from this lesson, and see what other companies had done. 

There are four panelists, each brings three nominations of a bad social media campaign. Voting is done in three rounds. Here are the three rounds and the candidates for each round. 

Round 1: Everybody's doing it.
  • Self described social media gurus/experts: You are going against the community. The experts are who the community says they are.
  • Viraltweets.com twitter software: Software for spamming twitter…
  • Metro Ford of Schenectady: sent out a press release bragging about their involvement in social media, when in fact they don't do any.
  • Constellation Energy: has a restrictive multi-page policy for linking "You can't link to any of our web pages, except our home page"

Winner Round One: Self described social media gurus/experts.

Round 2: Revenge of Blogosphere
  • Hasbro/Mattel vs. Scrabulous: forced Scrabulous off Facebook, replaced it with a bad, failing, application.
  • Skittles Twitter Compaign: Skittles homepage links to skittles search on twitter. People started taking advantage of this and putting skittles into non-related posts.
  • KFC Nation:
    • Has a game to "kill the chicken"
    • Has a link to the KFC Blog: Post is from employee who was fired from KFC. Blog post is from employee who was harassed by manager, then fired.
  • "Joe the Plumber" sign from John McCain's campaign…
    • Unmoderated comments on his products site.
    • You could submit your own Joe The Plumber sign… with the result of one that was "I am so horny for the nude body of McCain"
    • Lesson: don't give too much creative expression
Winner round two: KFC Nation

Round 3: revenge of the blogosphere
  • Belkin: Submitted Amazon Mechanical Turk and paid people 65 cents to positively review products on Amazon and New Egg: "Give it a 100% rating, write as though you own the product and are using it, after you submit your review, rate all negative reviews as not useful"
  • The Whopper Sacrifice: Unsocial network behavior…a facebook app that removes friends from your profile: offer was to ditch a friend, get a whopper free. (Referred by ad agencies as a very successful campaign. Burger King was very happy with result: cheap and got a lot of attention.)
  • Motorola Krave on gadget blogs: Asked employees to go post on gadget blogs. Employees identified themselves as Motorola employees, but the posts themselves still just sounded like advertisements, not worthwhile contributions.
  • Rebuild The Party: Republican party social media campaign…solicited suggestions for how to improve the party. "Truck Nutz for all: Give all Red Blooded Americans a pair of Truck Nuts for the F150s." was the top suggested idea.
  • Pizza Hut: Paid filmmakers $25K to post on YouTube. The video shows two guys who order Pizza Hut delivered to a local pizza store.
Winner: Belkin

Final Round
  • Social Media Gurus
  • KFC
  • Belkin (winner of final round, worst of the worst)

Belkin wins worst of the worst social media campaigns.

There was considerable discussion about what makes a bad social media campaign before the final round voting. There was pretty strong agreement that some of the candidates had made errors of omission (neglecting moderation) or ignorance, and while those didn't create a positive image for the company, it was mostly perceived as humorous by the audience. What was actually regarded as negative was when an organization would try to "game the system". Manipulating the system destroys the trust relationships that are crucially important. Omission and ignorance might make a company look foolish, but Belkin tried to game the system, hurting everyone else, and creating some anger at them. 

Not only did Belkin undermine the credibility of the product reviews they paid for, they undermined the credibility of the authentic product reviews submitted by actually customers, and permanantly affects the believability of anything Belkin does in the future.

When HP won "worst of the worst" in 2008, it was also for gaming the system, when Cisco won for spamming Wikipedia with their phrase "the human network", it was also gaming the system. In other words, trying to manipulate how the system works is the most grevious crime that a company can commit in the social media space.

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