The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported yesterday on another big-brand misstep in social media, as a firm hired by Target to manage its Facebook page and its “Rounders” program asked its compensated advocates to conceal their identity when interacting on Target’s Facebook group. As Jackie Crosby wrote:
The hubbub began in early October after Siman received a Rounders newsletter as Target was launching a new Facebook page. Like many companies now setting up sites on Facebook and MySpace, Target hoped to get people talking about new products, get feedback and continue to find ways to promote its hip image.
“Your Mission: Try not to let on in the Facebook group that you are a Rounder,” the newsletter read.
“We love your enthusiasm for the Rounders, and I know it can be hard not to want to sing it from the mountaintops [and in the shower, and on the bus]. However, we want to get other members of the Facebook group excited about Target, too! And we don’t want the Rounders program to steal the show from the real star here: Target and Target’s rockin’ Facebook group. So keep it like a secret!”
Target’s vendor, a New York firm called Drillteam, obviously botched this on several levels. It’s bad enough to fail to remind people who are receiving inducements that they should be transparent about it. But to actively encourage your compensated advocates to “keep it like a secret!” and then, as Crosby reports, to wipe incriminating comments off your Facebook page, is extremely bad form.
Target is a generally highly regarded corporate citizen. They ran into a serious problem, though, when their marketers (or at least the vendor they hired) didn’t trust in the good will they had already built.
Social media can be a great way to show the good will you’ve developed, and to grow that good will when you have people who think highly of you sharing their opinions in public. It’s a good idea to provide a place, as Target did through its Facebook group, where that sharing can happen.
Offering inducements for positive comments was a big mistake. As is often the case, the coverup was worse than the original crime. Organizations getting involved in social media need to be absolutely transparent about it. Their first priority should be creating a great customer experience. Then if they create a social media outpost, whether through Facebook or a blog, they should trust that the good work they do serving customers on a daily basis will be reflected in the conversation that ensues.
Attempts at manipulation, and especially aims to disguise that chicanery, will almost always backfire. If Target knew what drillTEAM was doing on this project, then Michael Rubin is right when he says “this is much worse than a faux pas.” And it is an interesting double standard when compared with Wal-Mart.
In this case it was about six weeks from the time this appeared in on Professor Sweetser’s blog until it made the Star Tribune, but this is another example of how badly done social media eventually will have mass media repercussions.