The Unintended Benefits of the Social Web

Posted by Zachary on May 29, 2009

By now, you've probably heard about Amazon's infamous wolf shirt and its hilarious customer reviews. After all, more than a few media outlets have picked up on the story; it's attained that mythical "viral" status folks talk about in awed tones. The kicker? The shirt's manufacturers are getting the last laugh—because sales have shot up 2,300 percent since the story broke.

Those of us in digital marketing are good at harping on the unintended consequences of an interactive, social web. We seem consumed with the tragic damage caused by a failure to actively (or honestly) engage, answer, explain, and—when necessary—apologize. A few good examples:

  • Motrin fails to put out online wildfires following a risky ad campaign. Don't mess with mommy bloggers.
  • Domino's Pizza delays responding to popular, if disgusting, videos showing employees playing fast and loose with local health regulations. Consumers had 48 hours to ponder the unknown spices in their pies.
  • Wal-Mart pays a family to blog about the wonderful megamart experiences they have on a cross-country RV trip. Apparently, the good people in Bentonville decided they weren't already getting enough bad press.

However, after seeing the wolf shirt episode play out in print, online, and over the air, I've been reminded that the social web can have unintended benefits. I doubt the manufacturers of that shirt imagined wisecracking users of Amazon's commenting system would target their product, but methinks they'll get along just fine once they see this quarter's revenues. It makes me wonder if the prosaic reviews of this milk will similarly cause a bump in sales.

As with all marketing efforts, social media involvement should be carefully strategized and implemented. In the end, however, there's just no way to fully predict what may happen online. The lesson here, however, is that it's not always bad, even if it's the unintended result of others' actions.

Moreover, we need to start highlighting and celebrating the inadvertent successes out there. Yes, our focus will always be on measurable and, when possible, predictable results, but that doesn't mean we should discount an accidental triumph.

Just don't expect to see me in a wolf shirt any time soon.

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Submitted by Guest on Tue, 06/02/2009 - 11:08am

Too bad I didn't read this before your recent birthday, Sweetie.

Submitted by Zachary on Tue, 06/02/2009 - 11:19am

Having your mom call you "Sweetie" on your employer's blog? That's one of the unintended consequences I was talking about. Thanks, Ma. No wolf shirts, please.