Two ‘social media’ marketing efforts: One wins, the other loses

Despite my efforts to say it’s just the term “social media” that I think has a short shelf-life (and not all of those services, features and approaches that fall under the umbrella term) some people not familiar with me or this blog still didn’t understand my post the other day.

I can understand why those who use the term in book titles or business cards may have a vested interest in promoting a catch-phrase, but I can’t understand why those who believe so deeply in “social media” can actually think what’s going on here can be contained to their world — and to their understanding of what all this is. It’s not just marketing, people.

However, to show that I do appreciate the marketing aspects of “social media,” I’ve decided to critique a couple of “social media marketing efforts” I’ve seen lately. I selected these two because they both use themes related to people expressing themselves — something I believe is a fundamental element of the unique power of “social media.” I also selected them because one is great and the other is a train-wreck in progress.

So, here are two examples of national brand marketers using tools and approaches that collectively have been dubbed “social media.” I believe one of the executions is brilliant. I believe the other is so bad I’m already nominating it for consideration by next year’s Suxorz panel at South by Southwest.

WIN

A Winner: The Sharpie Uncapped Gallery.

Concept: Lots of people love to use Sharpie pens to create art work — give them lots of places to share that passion with one-another and the world. And if they choose to create their own places to share it, promote those also.

Why I like it: Most brand marketers would say, “Gee we love this user-generated content idea so let’s create a website so people can upload drawings they make with Sharpie products.” Most likely, the idea would have been to create a cool Web 2.0 site on a specific URL and hope that all the Sharpie fans out there will flock to it. But as I’ve said many times, any real passion (let’s say, drawing with Sharpies), can never be limited to one URL.

The smart folks who created this campaign — and those who bought the idea — didn’t get hung-up on the one-URL issue, however.

Along with its own Sharpie Uncapped Gallery and blog, the Sharpie folks are embracing individuals who love Sharpies wherever they may be. For example, they link out to a search of all Sharpie Flickr Groups (there are 274 of them) — not just their own Flickr gallery. And while they have created a unique Sharpie YouTube channel, more interesting than their own uploaded video are the videos they are “favoriting” — videos others have created with Sharpies. Whoever is maintaining the gallery is also actively linking — and promoting — the websites of artists, illustrators, cartoonists and doodlers who use Sharpies in their work — like this artist who paints on guitars.

I was so impressed and inspired, I purchased a pack of Sharpies and am going to start posting my own doodles a lot more.

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FAIL

A Loser: Miracle Whip’s Zingr

What it is: A Firefox and Internet Explorer plug-in that allows you to see and post notes on websites that others using the plug in can see.

Why I hate it: As my Uncle Rexyana used to say, “Those who forget the gimmicks of the past are doomed to repeat them.” I know that 1999 is ancient history to most people developing things they believe have never been done before, but a re-reading of this 1999 article about “Third Voice” may jog your memory of the Web 1.0 version of this web graffiti idea. This article in The Register provides a taste of what the reaction to Third Voice was:

“Third Voice has provoked the ire of Internet users and Webmasters by releasing software that allows Web surfers to share comments about Web sites. The problem is not necessarily that the Third Voice system is invasive, but that it allows anyone to add comments — such as spam — to a Web site without the permission of the site’s owner.”

Don’t get me wrong: I believe there are acceptable ways to use plug-ins to facilitate and encourage communities that are engaged in conversation adjacent to websites and pages (For example, I like the friend-bar approach you can find with the plug-in found at http://getglue.com). However, when those plug-ins invade the editorial and aesthetic integrity of the site (meaning things like Zingr) I believe they become little more than canned spray paint for graffiti. For that reason, Zingr is about as appealing as mayonnaise opened and left out of the refrigerator for several days.