Avoid Social Media Missteps by Researching Your Audience

If you were a company that made chocolate candies, ice cream products, or other packaged food, who would you think that your target market is for engagement? Would you think that building a community just for marketers would be the ideal place to invest time and resources?

Such is the case for Nestlé. (Disclosure: Serengeti Communications, my employer, has a client that is a Nestlé competitor.)

In its continuing attempts at social media, Nestlé has committed at least two social faux pas.

The most recent incident occurred last month when it sent out a very “carbon copy” like e-mail to a few hundred prominent bloggers and marketers asking them to join its new community called “The Digital Think Tank.” (A microsite, www.digitalthinktank.org, which was live last week, has been since shuttered.) The think tank was described as a “collaborative space in which you will be able to shape the future digital communications strategy of one of the world’s leading organisations; Nestlé.” The only thing different from each e-mail was that it was addressed to each marketer by name.

Nestlé never mentioned why a particular marketer or blogger would be a great addition to the think tank. It never mentioned anything that the blogger wrote.

So what was in this letter?

An offer of free candy and prizes for participating in and contributing to the new community!

Wow! I think I’ll jump right on that!

Do you think this type of reward would work for this community of marketers? Being compensated with candy and prizes for their marketing ideas and their valuable time? When some of these bloggers and marketers have bill rates of $200 an hour or more? That must be a lot of chocolate that Nestlé’s thinking of doling out for participation.

The trouble is, time and again big companies like Nestlé think that they can just implement the latest, greatest social media tools that companies parade in front of them because they look simple to implement and easy to run. They are also the “new,” “hip,” and “cool” thing to do and they want to be part of that. Unfortunately, Nestlé thinks it can appeal to a group of educated marketers (who do this for a living) the same way it approaches putting contests on the back of its Nestlé Crunch bars.

If Nestl&eacute had done any kind of research into social media and the types of communities that are talking about the company, it’d likely be in for a real shock. It would also likely want to take a totally different approach, one that attempts to fix its relationship with “mom bloggers” on the Internet.

Back in the early fall of 2009, Nestlé invited some bloggers out for a “Nestlé Family” weekend. When word of this Nestlé event spread, mommy bloggers and other online activists joined together to “hijack” the “Nestlé Family” hashtag on Twitter by pointing people to their content. They did this to question Nestlé’s tactics in making chocolate and marketing of several other products owned by Nestlé. Kids may like that cute little Nestlé Quik bunny but a lot of older adults active in social media certainly don’t like how Nestlé is going about its business in third world countries.

In my last column I wrote, “Just Because You Built It, Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come.” I’m sure Nestlé had quite a bit of sign-ups for this community because they want to “see” what it is. I bet a bunch of those sign-ups are the people who hijacked the “Nestlé Family” hashtag. But just because you have sign-ups, doesn’t mean you automatically have a community. It also doesn’t mean the community is going to do your work for you, for free, or for chocolate candy.

Researching your audience may seem like a tedious task, but can save you from a lot of wasted time, resources, and having to wipe a lot of egg from your face. Expecting a community of marketers to help build your “digital think tank” when you really don’t have a clue who your target market is, isn’t the way to be successful in social media, either. Just a tip…marketers don’t work for free.

Don’t follow in Nestlé’s footsteps when you are stepping into social media marketing. Take the time to research properly not just where your audience is and who’s talking about you, but look at the why’s and how’s (and you can’t ignore the negative conversation either). Without the research, how do you really know where to begin with your strategy?

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