Four Brands that Didn’t Understand Community Building

You can’t market to a community until you’re part of that community,” was Alan K’necht’s advice at Pubcon South.  As new platforms rise in popularity, marketers tend to jump in for the purpose of adding another notch in the belts. These four brands are perfect examples of what happens when you market to a community without understanding it fully.

KFC on Google+

The Sin: Jumping Without Looking

Google+ is the quintessential social network for brand-failure, and it’s clear that the team over at KFC has little to no clue how to handle it.

Their first update was in November 2011, shortly after brand pages were launched on Google+. After a few months of trying to build a fried chicken-loving community, they puttered out and went silent. Their posts have become random and sporadic at best, with the most recent one on September 4th, which was the first post since July 2012.

KFC1The major problem with KFC’s Google+ effort was that their corporate team was posting unappealing content. They would introduce a contest, but then link to the press release in their newsroom. They would try to engage the audience with questions, but they would be hokey and overtly brand-centric.

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KFC had little to no idea what content the Google+ community responds to because they started posting the minute brand pages were launched. As a result, their page looks more like a glorified billboard or radio ad.

Had their social media and corporate team waited before jumping on the Google+ bandwagon, they might be thriving on the network instead of hiding from it. Currently KFC is no closer to becoming a part of the Google+ community than they were two years ago, and it doesn’t look like much of an effort is being made to change that.

Amy’s Baking Company on Facebook

The Sin: Attacking the Community

The basis of ‘community’ is that you’re an entity communicating with a group of people, or you’re a leader influencing and bringing people together for the greater good. This means that you should never sign onto Facebook with an ‘us versus them’ mentality.

Amy’s Baking Company in Arizona was featured on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares where even Gordon Ramsey thought they were beyond help. People turned to social media to voice their bad experiences with the store, which caused the owners to fly off the handle on Facebook. Through almost 20 posts they called their fans stupid, tasteless, fools, and little punks. They also attacked Yelpers for daring to leave bad reviews and Redditors for making fun of the Facebook tirade.

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These people clearly have no knowledge of the communities they’re trying to address. Reddit’s success has been based around wit and sarcasm, and Redditors thrive when one party gets worked up and they remain cool.

Furthermore, banning any mention of the company name and threatening to pursue legal action if used doesn’t work on social media. Companies in the middle of a firestorm can’t just ask people not to talk about them online. The Internet doesn’t work like that.

Bank of America on Twitter

The Sin: Auto-Posting

In the social media guidelines of many companies, there’s an addendum that says all posts, tweets, messages, or mentions to a company will receive a reply. That might be a good idea in theory, but brands can easily get in trouble when they set up bots to answer the first round of mentions.

Bank of America learned that the hard way. Twitter user @darthmarkh was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk near a Bank of America in New York to protest foreclosures when the NYPD told him he was obstructing the sidewalk. He sent out a tweet about getting chased away and tagged the Bank of America account. That triggered an auto-reply asking if he needed help with his account. Similar responses were elicited when @OccupyLA mentioned Bank of America.

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The point of auto-Tweets and auto-DMs is to set up the appearance of community. Brands want to make the user think that they care about them. Very few people who have been using twitter for more than a month genuinely believe that these tweets were composed just for them. Users can tell the difference between a robot response and a brand that genuinely cares about them as clearly as they can tell the difference between Turkey and Tofurkey at Thanksgiving dinner.

Sony on its Own (Fake) Blog

The Sin: Trying to Deceive Fans

In 2005 and 2006 there was a scourge of fake blogs rising to the surface, making brands and their respective PR agencies look seedy and foolish. The blog Working Families for Wal-Mart was created and run by Edelman, not a man and a woman traveling across the country in an RV and stopping at Wal-Mart stores along the way. L’Oreal was a behind a blog by a woman who claimed to be testing L’Oreal products to see how well they worked.

While these two brands were appropriately shammed, Sony’s fake blog, All I Want for Christmas is a PSP, stands above the rest on the scale of ridiculousness.

The word choice and apology were the worst parts, as Sony’s apology read like a soccer mom trying to mimic her kids’ lingo:

Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever. –via AdWeek

Your blog is supposed to be your space. You’re not in the unfamiliar territory and adopting a platform like Twitter and Google+, so don’t fake it. The auto-replies mentioned above are careless, but the fake blogs are downright deceitful.

A strategy that was meant to build a sense of community (blue collar workers around the Wal-Mart blog, gamers around the Sony blog) just angered and offended fans. It isolated their user bases and brought those brands right back to square one.

Follow the Path of Community Building Righteousness

If these brands had taken the time to learn about the community and respond on an honest, personal level, they wouldn’t have experienced the bad press or social flops we’ve showcased. More often than not, joining a community is as simple as being yourself and listening before jumping in.