Intriguing Social Media Experiment

When Jeremiah Owyang wrote his post “Your Corporate Homepage is Really Google.com”, I’m not sure he ever thought organizations would take it literally. But today, when I, and the other denizens of Twitteronia, logged on, we were met with a barrage of noise about the new Skittles.com Web site. [DISCLAIMER: Veritas, my employer, has a number of clients that could be considered competitors to Skittles and I have worked on competing brands in the past]

I was intrigued so clicked on through to find that the home page of Skittles.com was an iframe that showed, in real time, the results for a “skittles” search on search.twitter.com with some overhanging JavaScript:

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The products page is its Wikipedia entry page:

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And its “friends” page is its Facebook fan page. Note almost 600,000 fans.

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The media section has videos on YouTube and (very cool) photos on Flickr (you get the jist).

I have to admit, I was kind of taken aback. It is a very, very cool idea to hand your entire brand over to your community (after all, all of the Skittles chatter on Twitter would be on its home page) but it is also kind of reckless – after all, all of the Skittles chatter on Twitter would be on your home page. I never knew you could flavour bong water with Skittles. Until I went to Skittles.com

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God only knows what will happen with this post if I tag it “Skittles”.

After careful consideration (on the King streetcar from Yonge St to Peter St) I think that this is definitely an intriguing experiment. If it goes right, then Skittles gets a huge boost in publicity (which it has clearly done already) and a cheap/free “corporate” Web site that costs them barely anything to maintain and that frees them from any sort of complex Content Management System which is probably reason for many communications professionals to recommend this tactic to their bosses.

However, there are some drawbacks, as far as I could tell:

1. No searchability. If you view the page’s source, you can see there is some content underlying the flashy JavaScript and iframe but not enough to be useful to search engines. For other brands this could be a problem, but who really buys a pack of Skittles because they came up on a search engine result page?

2. Exclusive; not inclusive. Because Skittles has no control over what goes on its home page, and on some of the subsequent pages, you must be over 18 to view the site. For Skittles I would imagine this is a major disadvantage.

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3. WTF? Some people have no idea what Twitter is, let alone what search.twitter.com is and could be instantly put off by the page. You need to retain some aura of authority and credibility. Just because talking-heads-on-TV’s have their researchers feeding them lines about the Internet fad du jour, doesn’t mean people know or trust the medium yet. (Just to remind you, I am short on Twitter🙂 )

4. It isn’t original. AdFreak has an interesting post on how the idea of an un-site was stolen from Modernista. I would say that the Skittles execution is actually far better, but if you’re going to be clever and cool and innovative, you may as well be original as well. Also interesting is the vitriol for agency.com in the comments. It seems that the community has not forgiven them for the “if we roll, we roll big” video on YouTube. [DISCLAIMER: Veritas, my employer has SUBWAY as a client]

Font of all knowledge

I asked Twiter what it thought of the new site:

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Here are the answers:

communicable: @edlee all of the above?🙂

ryananderson: @edlee Can it be all of the above?

mattroth416: @edlee whatever it is, it’s making me hungry

dbradfield: @edlee i vote idotic for skittles.com – brands need to retain some sort of control – they’ve given it all up – too far! #skittles

AaronU: @edlee I vote idiotic. Full post to follow at some point… #skittles

I’m still torn but I think that overall I’m leaning towards the intriguing experiment side of things. As marketers, we cannot lambast brands for trying new things, especially in a channel that is still so nascent. No one knows all the rules apart from the fact that the rules change every time you want to play. Trying to play it safe is the riskiest play of all right now.

2 Responses to Intriguing Social Media Experiment

  1. Buzz says:

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

    ______________________________
    Unlimited Public Records Searches!

  2. Thanks for including my Tweet, Ed. Since I haven’t found time to actually write that post yet, I figured I’d just give you a couple of my reasons for finding this idiotic (which you might find later in that post!).

    First, Skittles is a candy company. I wonder what type of traffic they were pulling before they pulled this stunt. Why would people go to the Skittles website? Why would people talk about them on Twitter? They wouldn’t, and my guess is that the same will be true in a few weeks when this settles down. Let’s see if they figure out how to leverage this opportunity they’ve created.

    Second, while it might be an innovative way to grab some attention, I wonder what the long term impact will be for their communications team. Will they set up another website because they find there are things they want to communicate and can’t? Will they recoil at all the negative comments that are sure to follow and call it “a great experiment in the social web”? Only time will tell.

    Just remember that when Modernista did it, there was an initial uproar because they were using a social platform (Wikipedia) to promote their brand.

    Anyway, just a couple of thoughts.

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