The first quarter of 2012 isn’t even behind us, but it seems that Chrysler and their social media agency Ignite Social Media are already top contenders for one of the year’s #SUXORZ social media fail awards.
Chrysler’s “Blogger Faceoff” competition was concocted to drive traffic to a branded site where 5 mom bloggers competed for votes against each other and 5 auto bloggers competed in their own category for two grand prizes of trips to New York City. Each grand prize was worth about $9,500 each. All 10 participants were selected by the agency.
Presumably the brand hoped for lots of engagement and traffic to be gained when those 10 bloggers repeatedly beseeched their blog, Facebook and Twitter audiences to vote each day on the Chrysler site. But what Ignite and Chrysler earned instead was a mudslinging public debacle between some of the mom bloggers, their audiences and the social media firm. Accusations that cheating was occurring and then that the contest was being mismanaged were mingled in with personal attacks against the bloggers. It got ugly, and at times the language was crude. It all had nothing to do with Chrysler vehicles but created horrible PR under their brand name.
Ignite lost control of the dialogue almost immediately, with the majority of the drama, commentary and even the agency’s attempt to publicly respond to the crisis being published in the comment section of blogger Avitable, who wasn’t even a participant of the official campaign.
All together, it was a major fail.
As it stands, one mom blogger, Kristine Cook from Wait in the Van, was disqualified and removed from the Faceoff Campaign page, all of the ten original contest bloggers including Kristine were offered either an iPad2 or a $500 DonorsChoose.org giftcard, and the contest continued with the four remaining mom bloggers. The Faceoff page says that the winners of the trips in each category will be announced on March 15th.
It’s a mystery why Ignite thinks that contests are a great way to engage on behalf of clients, or why they feel equipped to manage them. Perhaps they feel the traffic is worth it. And perhaps when Chrysler approved their Faceoff plan they weren’t aware of problems with Ignite’s contests in the women’s blogosphere for example when discussion about voting problems and shifty rules surrounded Ignite’s Sam-E Good Mood blogger contest. Jacq of Fitarella wrote about her decision to leave that contest after concerns surfaced about voting tabulation irregularities that Ignite attributed to technical difficulties. Or perhaps they promised to fix the problems. Ignite brought on 40 new folks after landing their big boat of a client, including a “Contest Supervisor.” But as Susan Getgood wrote in a Marketing Roadmaps post about the contest:
My advice: stay away from this sort of event. No matter how good it sounds in the brainstorming session. There is a reason why we have election law and elaborate protections to prevent voter fraud, hanging chads notwithstanding. Unless you can prevent fraud, or even the hint of it, do something else with your marketing dollars.
The contest aspect of the campaign isn’t the only place that Chrysler and Ignite failed, though. They failed at all four critically important tenets of blogger engagement. The only good news in failing so outrageously is that they are now a great case study in what NOT to do when orchestrating a blogger outreach campaign.
Avoid a Chrysler & Ignite Social Media Style Fail
1. Build relationships.
This was the foundational mistake of the brand. Knowing that Chrysler hasn’t invested in building the types of relationships that Ford and Chevy have built in the women’s blogging community, they really needed to select a social media firm that has good relationships, augmented with subcontractors from the community. But when advertising for staff they prioritized experience marketing automobiles over experience with distinct communities, and in the 40 jobs that Ignite brought on to manage their new client, none of them mentioned immersion in the women’s blogosphere. If reaching out to mom bloggers was a client goal they failed from the start, unless they added this expertise through subcontractors.
Not only do community relationships guide brands and PR firms to better choices all across the board, but good relationships also offer them a little more good will if problems arise. Often small problems bubble up in social media campaigns, but if there are established relationships and the type of brand and PR trust with bloggers that is built over time, problems can also smooth out quickly. But if a problem bubbles up with a company that has raised eyebrows before, accidents can turn into pile-ups fast.
2. Plan awesome campaigns.
Yes, this includes being very cautious of running contests that pit bloggers against each other for daily votes that are hard to keep legit. But creative campaign design means more than avoiding traffic grab contests. In this case, the deal presented to the bloggers was lousy, the contest was obviously solely about traffic, and there wasn’t much of an experience for the voting participants in exchange for their hit. What was the call to action that converted to brand positives? What would be meaningful and resonant about this campaign? What really endorsed Chrysler, deepened relationships, told stories, would be memorable, or would be engaging to potential consumers? Nothing. This campaign turned storytellers into vote beggars and didn’t reward participants with a meaningful exchange. Bad design plus exploitative terms with the bloggers in your outreach scheme equals a plan to fail.
This is also cautionary advice that bloggers should think through before signing on to play a role in a campaign. Do you like the set-up? Are your readers getting a good experience out of the trade-off of a sponsored post or request for votes? Is the deal worth it for your time and endorsement? Is it fair to you, or does it mostly benefit the brand?
3. Vet bloggers.
Even more than the bad campaign design, Ignite’s riskiest move was in blogger selection. Vetting bloggers takes investment, expertise, and the type of intel you can’t gather by reading an About page or weighing Alexa stats. If a brand or agency doesn’t have access to the right information, they need to hire consultants to do, because the bloggers involved in your campaign can make or break you in innumerable ways. See also: Step 1. After vetting, have great conversations with outreach candidates, sign good non-disclosure agreements with them, explain the terms and goals of the campaign well, and help set them up for success. This is important for the most basic of campaigns, and for a faceoff/showdown/mudfight contest where there are so many risks to mitigate? Blogger selection can’t be underestimated.
Bloggers should pay attention to this step as well. They have vetted you, so have you vetted the PR agency and the brand? If you are invited to join a campaign activity, it’s completely fair to ask about the other bloggers involved. Are you comfortable with the crowd you’ll be associated with? Does the PR firm seem to have a good perspective on things that matter to you, including ethics, diversity and other intangibles? Is this a ship that might go down, and if so, are you willing to go down with it, or what’s your exit plan?
4. Manage your campaign 24/7.
Campaign management does not mean quantifying ROI and cashing client checks. It means day-to-day management, goal management, risk mitigation and — should it be necessary — crisis management. Ignite clearly failed many times over in this regard. They were late, loose and lost control of the playing field. They may have appeased the drama with their settlement offer, but they also left many questions dangling. And whatever the campaign goals might have been, the nasty drama doused a big bucket of cold mud on any possible traction accrued.
It’s especially sad to see bad campaigns launch, crash and burn because the blogosphere is teeming with ridiculously talented creatives with the ability to connect and convert. Truthfully, many bloggers wince when bad ideas are funded with thousands upon thousands of dollars to teams that completely miss the true potential of blogger engagement. That disrespect of the creative capital at hand is the opposite of building relationships, and makes for Schadenfreude when those ill-begotten campaigns fail. That’s one of the real secret behind why people comment, Tweet and forward campaign trainwrecks. Creative people and bloggers who would have responsibly contributed to a campaign can’t believe a brand didn’t design better engagement when so many brilliant digital and social marketing scenarios are possible.
No one launches a social media campaign with the plan of earning a #SUXORZ or becoming a case study in what NOT to do. But Ignite and Chrysler will be wise to take note of what didn’t work in their blogger Faceoff dustup so that they can repair the harm and prepare for more successful blogger outreach to follow. The only real fails occur when the players don’t assess what happened or implement changes that show they learned from their mistakes, so it will be fascinating to see where Chrysler goes from here.