Social media is unpredictable and uncontrollable. For marketers, this is both good and bad. On one hand, consumers view comments on social media as honest opinions, so any praise for the brand is taken at face value. On the other hand, attempts to spark conversation can backfire (see #McDStories). But in my opinion, trying to take the reins and control the conversation in social media can be more damaging to a company’s reputation because it silences the honest opinions that consumers are really looking for.
The recent scenario of Pitbull’s Alaska exile is a great example of how brands have learned to roll with whatever social media throws their way. Pitbull had teamed with Walmart to schedule an appearance at the Walmart store with the most new likes to their Facebook page. A typical social media promotion. That is, until David Thorpe of The Boston Phoenix got involved, encouraging his readers to send him to Kodiak, Alaska, a city with the whopping population of 22,000. Pitbull, ever committed to his title of Mr. Worldwide, said “Dale!” and assured his fans and Thorpe that he will, indeed, visit Kodiak.
Clearly, this is not what Walmart had intended, and Thorpe expressed his disappointment that the company will try to present it as a “Big Social Media win.” But why does he think that this is a losing situation? Like I said, social media is unpredictable and uncontrollable, and both Walmart and Pitbull did the right thing in letting it run its course. Calling off the promotion due to the intervention would have damaged both of their brands because it would be an attempt to control social media. And while the Walmart in Kodiak may have a smaller turnout than a store in a more populated location, the story has gotten much more publicity thanks to Thorpe’s prank than it would have if no one had intervened. So in a sense, Thorpe has contributed to making the situation a big social media win.
Who do you think is the winner in this situation? How do you think companies should cope with social media’s uncontrollable nature?