Case Study: Changing behaviour one tweet at a time?

Posted on Monday, January 11th, 2010 at 12:18 pm by bryna

Are you creating a call to action, or simply talking to hear yourself speak?

Two incidents last week in the world of social media piqued my interest as to the value associated with spreading a message online. There’s been lots of discussion on the topic of viral marketing–using preexisting social networks to increase brand awareness or achieve other marketing goals–so I won’t talk definitions. However, using these two cases to highlight the pros and cons of our cache of marketing tools is never a bad idea.

The first issue arose on Wednesday, when the New York Times revealed that H & M had been destroying new, unworn clothing that it couldn’t sell. Needless to say, people were outraged. After a brutal recession, and in the middle of winter, rather than donate these items to charity, H & M had the gall to throw them in the garbage. Apparently Wal-Mart does the same thing, as do many others in the for-profit production system.

When this story hit the social media world, it went viral. Twitter lit up with tweets and retweets about the incident–none of of which were positive, or in defense of the retailer. The blogging, sharing, and passing on of this story must have hit thousands of people online. It became a PR crisis for H & M, and one that they addressed pallidly, albeit promptly, saying that it wasn’t “standard practice”, and it wouldn’t happen again.

We could discuss this issue ad nauseam from a public relations standpoint, and I still might in a future post, but right now, let’s focus on the spread of information online. The second case also involved a viral message, but this one was found on Facebook.

On Thursday of last week, you may have noticed a strange trend: Many of your female friends changing their status line to their bra colour to raise awareness for breast cancer. No one quite knows where the message originated from, but it reached viral status quickly, with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Fan Page going crazy with new fans and updates. The Toronto Star reported that the page went from 135 members to 700 within hours, but today, it’s at over 141,000 fans! That’s viral marketing in action.

However, it bodes another question that I think is more important: Does the online transfer of information change the behaviour of your target audience?

The case of the H & M debacle created a movement that changed the behaviour of the retailer (at least for now). People (many in their target market) got angry, voiced their concern, and the target audience (H & M) had to take action. In this case, apologize and remedy the situation. Here we see viral messages creating a call to action, and a level of awareness, that had to be addressed by the party in question.

The breast cancer bra colour “campaign” definitely spread a message, but did it have a real-world affect? Some might say that increasing awareness equates with reaching an objective. I would agree that that’s the case if there had been a concerted effort on the part of a legitimate cancer-related organization to organize this campaign, but it just wasn’t so. As the origin of the message is unknown, there’s no way to track the communication process. There were no goals set, there were no measurable objectives–it was just an idea.

Now I love ideas, but I don’t think an idea alone results in action. Isn’t that what we want viral marketing to be about?

A spokesperson from the Susan G. Komen Foundation said that they don’t care whether the campaign raised money or not; if it leads to more women getting mammograms, and lives saved, while people have fun, then that’s enough. I tend to disagree–it’s not enough because there’s nothing to prove that any of this awareness will change the behaviour of the women involved.

Whether in the for-profit or non-profit world, don’t we want that information to be a call to action? Shouldn’t we expect not only brand awareness, but increased revenue or donations, recruitment of new volunteers, etc.? These are just some of the questions that these two incidents should have us asking.

What I love in both cases is the spread of information. What I think is lacking, especially in the bra colour example, is the means by which to track and validate our claims that awareness leads to action. Anil Dash touched on this subject last week in the context of his personal Twitter account. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, nor results.

The moral of the story? If we’re to successfully drive online marketing campaigns, we need to stick to the basics: Define your target audience, set measurable goals, and devise a way to evaluate the success of the campaign.

What do you think? Is awareness an end in itself?

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{ 2 comments to read ... please submit one more! }

  1. Great blog post, Bryna. In regards to the bra colour status posts of my fellow Facebook friends, I had NO idea that it was supposed to raise awareness for breast cancer, so I unfortunately posted a smart-alecky status to poke fun at my underwear-obsessed pals. Had people elaborated, more people might have been aware of the true goal of the Facebook trend. Thanks for shedding some light! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment Ally. I think there were many people left in the dark as to what the colour status meant. Many caught on, but still, it wasn’t clearly explained unless you received the forwarded message. And you weren’t the only one who poked fun at it–lots of men joined in. Most was in good humour, but there was the risk of the key message being lost in the shuffle. And with little control over what people posted, the whole scenario could have ended distastefully.

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