Companies are leaping aboard the social media platform left, right and center…but a recent re-design to Skittles.com shows that it’s not a simple game to play. Skittles change was forced by social media abuses.
Last year Skittles tried a radical approach, reshaping its online presence such that the primary message came not from Skittles itself, or its PR team–but from the ongoing online conversation about the brand, fed from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
But of course that opened the floodgates, particularly via Twitter, since this allowed an unedited transmission from Twitter’s status feeds directly onto the Skittles Web page. And if you think about it, this is the social media equivalent of giving the monkey the keys to the banana plantation. All those with mischievous minds had to do was craft a suitably abusive or inappropriate message, append a #Skittles hashtag, and bingo: Subtle media subversion complete.
Now the Skittles Web presence hasn’t totally abandoned social media, and you can still share what you’ve found on it via Facebook and Twitter–its even opened its own Twitter feed. But this is a more controlled approach to social media promotional efforts, and it reflects a smarter understanding of the tricks and tropes of the InterWebs (a place where the denizens of 4chan roam, never forget). The site even winds in feeds from Net meme classics like I Can Haz Cheezburger and Awkward Family Photos–this’ll appeal to the entertainment-focused youth market, but won’t let them subvert Skittles site itself. Until someone hacks it, that is…Skittles has almost made itself a target by shutting off the Twitter “chatter” feature.
Among this there is one major lesson for brands that are dabbling in a little online social networking PR: Do it carefully, and never underestimate the ingenuity of your audience. By virtue of being online, many of your target audience are the kind of technically-minded folk that can spot a weakness like the one Skittles revealed, and if you’re appealing to the youth market you’d better be extra-vigilant. On the other hand, being aware of that could open novel new ways to engage with people.