Posted November 29, 2010 5:27 pm by with 6 comments

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“Spent the morning making prank bird calls. The sparrows are not amused.”

See the numbers in the graphic? Those are the stats on that random Facebook wall post made by Skittles. And that’s not a fluke. Everyday, there’s an equally random and nonsensical post on the candy’s fan page and every post draws a similar number of “likes” and comments. Most companies would be thrilled to see those kinds of social media stats, but do those high numbers equal marketing success? Depends on who you ask.

AdvertisingAge contents that Facebook is going to redefine the term relevant when it comes to online marketing. In traditional terms, relevant means supplying consumers with copy that discusses the features and benefits of the product or service. Skittles taste fruity. Oreo is a quality cookie. This vacuum sucks better than that one. But those kinds of blurbs don’t spark conversation on Facebook and that’s a problem.

Says Adage;

“We’ve long known that inserting brands into social-media channels requires a conversational touch, but many are surprised by just how conversational. . .As it turns out, many people in social networks don’t want to talk about your product, they just want to talk.”

My own very unscientific studies bear this out. A post about improvements to a fashion game I promote ends in dead silence. A post asking how many times our fans have seen the new Harry Potter movie results in a flurry of comments and “likes.”

So why not just talk nonsense all the time like Skittles? Here’s why not. Because no one knows yet whether 1,200 comments translates into sales. How many of the 17,000 Facebook users who “liked” this post actually went out and bought a bag of Skittles or recommended them to a friend? And can you see convincing your boss that writing nothing but random statements on Facebook was doing your job and doing it well?

On the other hand, we often talk about Facebook and Twitter as brand awareness tools. McDonalds doesn’t always show a burger in their commercials. They don’t have to. They just need to put the name in your ear so it comes to mind when it’s time for lunch. If half the Skittles Facebook fans pass on today’s post because they think it’s funny, that’s worth something.

What do you think? Is it possible that traditional marketing axioms don’t apply to social media? Could random be the most relevant thing you can post on your Facebook wall? We’d like to hear about your experiences one way or the other.

  • This doesn’t surprise me at all. This is the exact reason why I don’t pay attention to large brand facebook pages. It’s never about the brand. Heck it’s usually not important at all and more like inane drivel. Social media en masse plays to the lowest common denominator and that is usually much lower than most thinking people want to go. This is a major limitation of the Facebook culture and it could be enough to actually limit effectiveness.

    Of course, I could be wrong. OHH LOOK A FLOWER. A PRETTY FLOWER! I LOVE FLOWERS.

  • I’m not so sure that Skittle’s posts are completely random. In social spaces the brand needs to talk with consumers about what the consumer is interested in, and develop content plans that reflect the voice of the brand, but not always about directly-related brand content.

    We create all kinds of content for the brand that don’t talk about product attributes, but they so always stay true to ‘who the brand is’.

    But your broader point is absolutely true – you can’t just put a wacky content plan in place without also including the proper metrics to learn about how you’re impacting sales (or decreasing customer service costs). Otherwise the organization can’t invest appropriately.

    • Cynthia

      Which brings up the point that for some brands, random is more relevant. Skittles is known for their off the wall advertising, so it works there. Now if Tylenol was pushing these same posts, I’d be worried.

  • Random in messages is not something new. It has been there since social media marketing competition has started. Messages/updates or Tweets are usually a combination of some news, a funny item, a picture or a video, a quotation etc.. It is used in such a way to make your profile look natural in your community rather appear as a self promotional account. We all know this. 🙂

    • Cynthia

      We may all “know this” but not everyone uses it. I follow many Twitter and Facebook pages that are nothing but daily ads for their products. Often, not even with benefits accompanying them. Just long streams of Buy this only 9.99, today buy this only 10.99 etc.

  • Very interesting post Cynthia,

    To your question “but do those high numbers equal marketing success? Depends on who you ask.”

    Doesn’t it also depend on your marketing goals? Achieving a post with over 17,000 likes is quite an achievement and by any measure of marketing I would consider it successful. When you read the original post it’s hard not to smile, therefore associating a positive feeling with Skittles. Skittles is in the feel good business and is living out this idea genuinely, across their Facebook social media platform. The positive emotional response to skittles may lead to an increase in sales but it will certainly lead to me liking skittles more.

    So can you directly track hitting the like button to the impulse purchase at the grocery store cash register? In essence you can. This is how: Monitor sales during a set interval of time while the Facebook posts are going out. Subtract all the sales of direct response campaigns and see if the result is an increase in sales. But doesn’t social media goes so far beyond direct response marketing?

    Instead of an increase in sales why not track increase in market share? How is the Starburst social media campaign coming along? What about Gummy Peaches?

    One last thought. The idea of 17,000 likes for a random Facebook message is similar to seeing a giant Pepsi Max banner surrounding the Angels stadium while at a baseball game. There is no picture of a Pepsi, but there is a lot of positive emotion being generated at a baseball game and a lot of times my eyes look at the Pepsi logo while I am happy. So does it really matter if this translates into an increase in sales right now? Or what about a positive brand associated with Pepsi that might convert me to a loyal Pepsi drinker later? And isn’t this what Coke does with their open happiness campaign?