There is no doubt; marketing and sales functions have arrived in social media. My question is, when will brand management join them? In some companies, as far as managing brand in social media is concerned, it really looks like the animals are running the zoo and the brands are running scared.
Look at Kia Motors America and in particular the campaign to promote the new Kia Soul van that includes a major Kia sponsorship of the 2010 Warped Tour. Kia has a promotions tent on site at the tour venues. Some Kia marketing genius decides to run a cool contest for fans to meet and greet Christofer Drew. The problem is that the Kia promotions guy has the fans sucking muddy water from a filthy pool of old rainwater on the ground which is filled with garbage…first to fill a soda can with water sucked up by mouth from the pool…wins?
Watch the video of the water sucking fiasco.
Drew responded on July 9th just before midday via twitter, accusing Kia of being “inhumane bastards” and saying he didn’t give a F&*% about his contract with them. Nice right? 125,000 twitter followers and a very popular musician to boot. Drew was pissed…but more importantly his fans and their followers on twitter were creating a new corporate villain in Kia Motors America.
All that money being poured into the valuable new buzz around their Soul van is being shot out of an open corporate artery by unchecked and reckless marketing techniques. Is there a brand management doctor in the house? No doubt some several million people saw that tweet, and the re-tweets berating Kia Motors for being inhumane. How many saw the video (before it went private)?
What did Kia have to say? You got it…nothing. Since July 7th on their facebook PR account, there is nothing. Nothing in twitter, and nothing at the Kia motors America website at the time of my writing. Clearly they were talking to Drew in the extended world. They needed to be talking in the social media because that’s where the damage was being done to the brand. Where was general management in Kia? Marketing got them into this…who would get them out? The Legal function did from the looks of what happened next. Although, a ‘hear no evil speak no evil’ posture by Kia suggests the presence of old media Public Relations voodoo as well. You know…wait it out and shut up. Eventually, everyone will just forget it happened.
Some time on the 11th July, Drew deleted his tweet, but that’s like deleting a word file containing a draft of an email that was published to a few million people. You can’t delete the memory…and the retweets are out there spread far and wide…and it was re-tweeted mercilessly.
If all this wasn’t enough, Kia are simultaneously running a series of advertisements with singing hamsters who are dressed ‘hood’ and moving to rap music by Black Sheep. Kia have chosen the hood and rap genre to drive the ’soul’ message around the new Soul van product. Young, independent American men and women of moderate means are their target market. I am very sure that includes African Americans. At first glance the ads are clever and entertaining…but not everyone sees it that way.
Search twitter for ‘Kia racist’ and you will find plenty of people saying the ads are racist. There is plenty of blog activity as well, and action in Kia’s own promotional web sites and comment sections. People are tweeting and re-tweeting the racist claim and the idea isn’t going away. Again, there is nothing from Kia PR in an official capacity.
It’s possible that the PR people at Kia also decided silence was the best response on the racism claims…but I’m going to wager they simply aren’t listening and they don’t have a policy for managing events like this. Does the old “put your head down and just wait it out” policy work in social media? Will the racism thing just go away?
I don’t want to buy into the racist claims one way or another, but Kia have another social media forest fire here…at least tall columns of smoke are rising. Does someone need to respond quickly and provide gold plated assurances to the African American segment of the market? It is pretty clear to me that the choice of the ads theme is actually a huge compliment to the music and the fashion that has been used, because Kia has selected it as the embodiment of ‘soul’. Well, why doesn’t someone just say that…over and over again? That would silence most critics.
The media savvy and ‘customer facing’ departments in large companies, including sales, marketing and public relations, have in many cases raced ahead of the remainder of the organizational phalanx to engage markets and customers in social media. As a result, some have created company personas in social media that appear to be inept, unbalanced and unaware of larger issues relating to brand reputation, trust and after sales service.
In some cases, these companies just take a bad persona in traditional media and walk it straight across to social media. The amplification and acceleration of social media on already weak branding creates a very negative message very quickly.
In the case of Kia Motors, a self-directing and autonomous marketing function could easily be considered a corporate “alter” that has effectively asserted control over brand behavior in the social media fulfilling all the symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD…now DID). It’s time for the rest of corporate functionality, and general management, to realize that social media is the future. Privacy is dead, and marketing and sales can’t be the reigning personality of the company in social media.
See if you can recognize something here about companies you know in social media behave from this description of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) as an individual affliction:
” Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by having at least one “alter” personality that controls behavior. The “alters” are said to occur spontaneously and involuntarily, and function more or less independently of each other. The unity of consciousness, by which we identify ourselves, is said to be absent in MPD. Another symptom of MPD is significant amnesia that can’t be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV replaced the designation of MPD with DID: dissociative identity disorder. The label may have changed, but the list of symptoms remained essentially the same”.
Working in social media requires crisis policy and procedure, together with standard procedures for response and standard protocols for elevating decision-making. If social media doesn’t engage the full functionality of the organization, you may be leaving brand management in social media to an ‘alter’.