Japanese billionaire fashion retailer Yusaku Maezawa wanted to be more than successful. He wanted to be Internet famous. So, he offered on Twitter to let 100 people share a ¥100 million prize--about $921,000--if they followed him online by today and retweeted his message.

On one hand, it worked: four million people signed up. On the other, it was a complete waste of money and a bomb of a marketing campaign. And the best way to understand that is to talk about Ellen DeGeneres.

In 2014, DeGeneres posted a selfie while hosting the Oscars. It got 3.5 million retweets and is now the third most retweeted message on Twitter.

It was social media brilliance in all its facets:

  • In the moment. At least, it appeared that way, even though someone might have planned it out in advance. But in marketing, perception is everything.
  • Clever. Getting a group selfie photo of a bunch of celebrities who happened to be in the same place and time was something you don't think of anyone doing. More usually, people see a post that goes something like "Here, look, I got a selfie with someone who got booted off the island toward the end of Survivor 7."
  • Appealing. All the people looked like they were actually having a good time. It combined celebrity with charm and fun.
  • Reflecting brand. When someone is using social media commercially, it has to connect with the person's or company's brand in a natural way. This was a prefect match for DeGeneres.

Then there was the Maezawa tweet. He's the founder of Zozotown, Japan's biggest online fashion site. The parent company, of which he owns 38%, is on the Tokyo stock exchange. It's a big money business and Maezawa has plenty. And he's scheduled to be the first SpaceX passenger to the moon.

The tweet was supposed to be a thank-you gift to consumers for helping his company get to a ¥10 billion (about $92 million) sales mark at New Year's. But while the marketing got press, it's poor use of social media.

Getting attention on Twitter or Facebook or what have you can help your promotions if people take to it organically. The less the attention relies on a monetary reward, the more effective it is because people become more tied to the brand. The emotional connection lasts.

The financial one doesn't. When you resort to bribing people, they expect the good times to continue. They don't have intrinsic loyalty to the brand.

In this case, 100 people will split the $921,000 to get $9,210 each. Everyone else goes home with nothing. The new followers may stay there out of inertia, but don't expect them to pay much attention in the long run unless you keep waving money.

Published on: Jan 7, 2019
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