Social Media Can Get Ugly

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I read a blog post by Chris Brogan this morning that I think everyone using social media for business should take to heart. Here's part of the post:

"Twitter isn't amazing. The ability to connect to many voices in a collaborative way is amazing. Facebook isn't the future. Having mutual social environments that permit deeper understanding of each other's interest is the future. It's important that we learn how to talk in terms of benefits and not the features."

The simple message here is "it's not just the medium, stupid, it's the message." And that's exactly were Johnson & Johnson went horribly wrong last week. The company launched a viral advertising campaign for Motrin targeted to new moms who may experience neck and back pain from carrying their babies in slings (you can check it out here). Sounds innocent enough, eh? But the video that J &J produced and posted on You Tube incited an online mommy revolt ("Motringate") because of its flip tone and language: "wearing your baby seems to be in fashion"; "supposedly it's a real bonding experience"; "it totally makes me look like an official mom." Social media moms went crazy with blog posts and Twitter tweets; some were out for blood and called for a boycott of Motrin. To its credit, J &J/Motrin axed the campaign and apologized on its website.

So what happened here? I asked a few GenY entrepreneurs in the mom space to weigh in. "A perfect example of a company getting it all wrong," said Bunmi Zalob, who writes a blog called One Crazy Mother. "The ad is SO annoying. All they had to do was show it to one focus group of a broad cross-section of moms." Rachel Herrscher, the CEO of Today's Mama, which publishes city guides for moms, says, "in my opinion the danger for large companies targeting this particular demographic online is that they have to be absolutely genuine. They are better off getting a grass roots marketing panel of moms and mom bloggers to weigh in on campaigns like this. But they definitely need the most "plugged in" moms to voice their opinion because they are the ones who can and will make the most noise."

It's pretty clear to me that J&J got so caught up in what it thought was a clever use of social media that it forgot the first commandment of successful marketing: know your audience. Social media corollary: reach out to the handful of individuals within that audience who will certainly scrutinize your message and who, by their very nature, will pass judgment quickly and loudly. That's particularly important with GenY consumers, who won't tolerate companies that make assumptions about who they are, and then throw an inauthentic message back at them via an advertising/marketing campaign. J & J learned that the hard way. What lessons have you learned about using social media for marketing?


Last updated: Nov 21, 2008

DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor

Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.




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