Category Archives: Social Media

The Secret Caveat of Brand Karma

What goes around…
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We’ve all heard those quotes reminding us how the true test of one’s character is during hard times. Last week reminded me of how true this holds even in the case of inanimate Brands. Up until now, I genuinely believed this is common knowledge, and something every brand, every marketing team, and every social media community manager is aware of.

American Apparel’s ‘Hurricane Sandy Sale’ Email

Turns out, it isn’t. On October 29, while Hurricane Sandy was in devastating full swing and in the middle of its terrible rampage across nine states along the east coast, American Apparel sent out an email (included on the right) specifically targeted to consumers belonging to these nine states, inviting them to shop online in case they were ‘bored’ during the storm. No concerns about the well-being of their consumers mentioned, no help offered. Needless to say, Twittersphere exploded with criticism for AA, and this insensitive faux pas has brought some seriously bad PR to AA shores.

But does AA care? Nah. Their CEO Dov Charney said on record that this wasn’t really a big deal, and he doesn’t think his marketing team made a blooper. His exact words were: “Part of what you want to do in these events is keep the wheels of commerce going.” 

While I do appreciate Mr. Charney’s commitment to constantly keeping an eye on the ball, he unfortunately doesn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that the “wheels of commerce” are the last thing on people’s minds when they’re going through a life-threatening natural calamity. And a result, a brand which blatantly admits it’s only thinking about keeping the cash registers ringing through rain, storm and disaster will obviously ruffle many feathers.

Gap checks-in to “Frankenstorm Apocalypse – Hurricane Sandy”

Another kindred brand that attempted to make light of the situation is Gap. They decided to ‘check-in’ via Foursquare on a “Great Outdoors” category spot they’d specially created: “Frankenstorm Apocalypse – Hurricane Sandy” (See image alongside)

Incidents like the above make American Apparel and Gap look like “bad person” brands who don’t really respect the feelings of their audience. And that may not bode very well for them, especially given how powerful negative word of mouth can be. In fact, according to a recent Retail industry roundup by, a whopping 140 million people on Twitter found American Apparel’s Sandy Sale offensive and inappropriate. While we don’t have a way yet to directly translate this number into impact on sales, we can take it as a good indicator of purchase intent at the very least – which of course is by no means a number American Apparel could afford to risk. And Gap faced the music as well – featured below is just one among the several irate responses they received.

Reactions to Gap on Twitter

In contrast, Starbucks has been surprisingly humane and empathetic pre and post Sandy. Yes, I say ‘surprisingly’ because of the reputation Starbucks earned for themselves following their indifferent treatment of the 9/11 rescue workers in NYC back in 2001. But that was then, this is now. Not only did Starbucks announce they were shutting their stores early for the safety of their employees, but they also made sure their consumers knew they were being thought of, and their well-being was being hoped for, via their various social media channels. They also made sure consumers were kept posted on what Starbucks’ response was to the hurricane. In addition, post the storm, they also urged their audiences to make a contribution to Red Cross to help rebuild the areas affected by Sandy. How much of a tangible difference does all this really make to the lives of people actually affected by the storm? Maybe none. But it sure has made people think of Starbucks as every bit of the warm, community brand they claim to be, in stark contrast to the unapologetic indifference of brands like American Apparel.

What’s even more impressive is brands like Verizon that are choosing to actually put their money where their mouth is. Verizon just announced that they’re going to waive domestic voice and text charges for customers in the areas affected by Sandy. That’s an even bigger step than AT&T and Sprint who announced they would waive off late charges for hurricane victims who were not able to pay off their phone bills on time because of the storm. (Sure, if Verizon had waived off even Data charges – they would be considered the Angels of Telecom-land, but waiving the voice-text charges too is a pretty substantial step in itself!)

Be it Verizon or American Apparel, there are several such instances of brands showing their compassionate side or self-serving side in the face of hurricane Sandy. By choosing to reach out to consumers during the storm, these brands could only meet one of two consequences: 1. Be lauded for their sense of customer service and gain more emotional capital; or 2. Earn people’s wrath by attempting to capitalize on a tragic situation or being unabashedly indifferent to it. In either case, thanks to social media, the side-effect is always amplification. Good deeds and bad deeds alike are amplified, shared virally and by the time a brand can react to it – acquire the status of a socio-urban legend. For instance, Radian 6 recently reported that Hurricane Sandy triggered 11.5 Million social media conversations. Imagine the kind of wanted / unwanted amplification a brand would stand to gain against this backdrop.

It’s not just the sheer money-mindedness behind the sentiment displayed by American Apparel and Gap that is so controversial. What these brands seem to have completely missed is the fact that in the age of social media, for all practical purposes; they are viewed as a real person with a voice and personality by their audiences. The KIND of person they come across as, however, is their choice. And this is exactly why brands need to have good karma. Because at the end of the day, whether it’s Starbucks checking in on their customers’ well-being or P&G dispatching Duracell charging stations and Tide laundry trucks for free assistance to hurricane victims, or Verizon waiving off charges for hurricane-hit customers, it does boil down to Karma: What goes around will come around (with amplified effect), especially in today’s socially charged digital times. And by default, it might just be time to institute and operate by a new motto of commerce – Caveat Marketer (Marketer, beware!).

Klout: Validation or Vanity?

The surge of Social Media has led to an oft-joked-about side-effect. In addition to aggravating Nomophobia (the fear of being without one’s cellphone) and a general fear of being disconnected, Social Media has led to a rise in an unhealthy obsession with seeking validation. Sure, in theory, it’s great to have constructive feedback and it’s great to know your opinions matter, and that you do influence people around you. But aren’t we taking ourselves a little too seriously when we decide to keep measuring how much “influence” we have, just so our need for attention and self-importance is fulfilled? This is my primary pet peeve about Klout, and the narcissistic ‘Klout score’ metric.

I do get the relevance of such a metric and the need to measure social media influence for Brands and people whose livelihood depends on promoting themselves on social media. And I have to admit, as a marketer, Klout did pique my curiosity and I set about exploring its in’s and out’s with a lot of gusto. But I was quite disappointed when I realized there wasn’t too much science (or logic!) behind the metric, and that Klout can’t really be classified as a legit Validation metric. It’s really only a Vanity metric and an inaccurate one at that.

Klout has always relied on hazy parameters to measure influence, and their definition of Influence is, well, debatable, to say the least. They have a profound-ish explanation of what they mean by Influence on the site, and this little graphic below they’ve featured there is supposed to cover what Influence entails.

Klout “Influence” components
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As is obvious, this implied scope is completely partial to Twitter as Followers, Retweets etc are relevant to only Twitter. Question is, what happens then, to the content we share on other social media platforms? Shouldn’t there ideally be a way to take into account influence and interactions across all social platforms (including Pinterest) accurately? Also, going back to the image alongside, how do ‘Lists’ play a role in one’s Social Media Influence?? ‘Lists’ are just a convenient way for Twitter users to sort their feed. If I have 1,000 Lists on Twitter, how does it indicate my social influence? If anything, it indicates a degree of OCD in me, but I fail to see how having more Lists makes me more influential. Am I missing something here? If anyone knows of an actual relevance of ‘Lists’ to one’s Klout score, please feel free to leave a comment! (UPDATE: Vielen Dank to my fellow-blogger ladyfromhamburg for sharing some great information on this: The ‘Lists’ component of Klout’s definition of Influence shows the number of Lists one is a part of on Twitter. That sure makes more sense, and puts my Lists-related confusion to rest! Now if only Klout would take some inspiration and start decoding all these parameters and more on their site. :))

What further blurs the already fuzzy scheme of things, is the relative weightages assigned to the parameters used to define ‘Influence’. Shouldn’t Klout be a little more transparent about this, especially since it claims to be the “Standard of Influence” that is supposedly meant to empower people who share content online? Does the Klout score include sharing and amplification of content only? Then what is the relative importance of those respectively? For instance, basis what I noticed on my own Klout dashboard – Retweets and Replies seem to have a higher weightage than Mentions. Let me attempt decoding what that effectively means: Only if what you’re saying is being passed on, do you have influence. Okay, this could be partly true – but what about the other part of it where you also need to be listened to, to consider yourself as having some influence? What about all the new followers/subscribers/visits you add with every new piece of content you share? And what about the followers/subscribers you have retained over a period of time? Those people have chosen to stay connected with you as they see some value in it, and find your content interesting. Shouldn’t that account for something?

And what about all the metrics that tell you how many people actually click on the links you share to read your content? Shouldn’t those influence your Klout score as well? As an apparent disclaimer, Klout says in its FAQs: “The Klout score is a reflection of Influence, not activity.” Err, this doesn’t help their case, does it?

Nevertheless, all the anti-Klout sentiment aside – there are a couple of things about Klout that I do find pretty interesting. First, their Brand Squad feature. This basically helps brands identify their influencers and evangelists. This has SO much potential; and if they are able to throw in Sentiment Analysis and Blog-searching capabilities in here, this could potentially be a great one-stop shop social media measurement tool for Brands – one that Klout can actually hope to make some revenues off of.

The second feature that shows promise is – the Perks tool. Of course, in its current form and with its current targeting algorithm (or maybe the lack thereof), it’s fairly useless. But think about the tremendous potential Klout’s ‘Perks’ has: It could serve as Klouts’s very own advertising model to serve targeted offers based on content, influencers and influential topics; as well as retargeted promotions/offers from Brands.

Even so, all the potential genius behind these tools notwithstanding, the fact that remains is – Klout still has a long way to go. Sure, a handful of Social Media mavens may already be judging us on the basis of our Klout score, but it’s going to take Klout a lot many enhancements before it can be taken seriously as an accurate social media metric and a reliable measure of actual social CLOUT, or it won’t be soon before long that Klout has to bow out! (Just couldn’t resist that cheesy rhyme!)

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