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FritoLay SunChips packaging debacle: A lesson in when not to listen to your customers?

on Oct 07 in branding, business, facebook, public relations, social media posted by

SunChips’ 100% compostable bag was withdrawn over protests it was too “noisy”SunChips is well-known and to some beloved brand produced by food giant FritoLay (a subsidiary of PepsiCo).

When the company introduced a new compostable package for the chips a few months ago, it was playing its part as a responsible corporate citizen. The idea was that users could compost the package. It would decompose and therefore be more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic packaging.

But a slip up in the market research department (I infer) resulted in flurry of protests from die-hard fans of the old FritoLay package. The problem, it seems, was the the new package was “noisier” than the old one.

But being “the world’s first 100 percent biodegradable chip packet” was not enough to stop close to 50,000 Facebook members (48,638 at the time of writing) “Liking” a Community page called “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG.” The page’s info states: “The new Sun Chips bags are so fucking loud.”

Several other groups were set up in protest of the noisy bags (numbers indicate each Page’s Likes at the time of writing):

On FritoLay’s own SunChips Fan page, 94 posts complained about the noise made by the new bags. 

Complaints included:

Flustered by the protests, FritoLay reversed course for most of their SunChips flavors. The SunChips Facebook Fan page stated it would retain compostable bags for the “original” SunChips brand. However, there was no mention of the widely reported decision to withdraw compostable bags for other flavors.

FritoLay has landed itself in big social media doo-doo.

After peeing off a lot of customers with a poor bag design, their confusing semi-reversal has set off a firestorm of protests.

Many SunChips fans evidently felt the new bags were at least headed in the right direction for helping the environment. The SunChips Facebook Fan page is being bombarded (as I write) with angry posts about the company’s apparent weakness in the face of vocal chip eaters. It seems that caving in to the complaints about mere noise set off the tirades.

Posts range from the furious and angry to disillusioned and sarcastic.

  • Héloïse Marinier … Not going to buy anymore Sun Chips you can count on that— maybe I won’t purchase ANY PepsiCo products any longer. Boo Ya.
  • Alain Fauteux Way to go priorities !! noise pollution over Earth pollution we must be a bunch of fat lazy complainning sissy’s
  • Julie Broyles I will not purchase ANY sun chips so long as the company is producing ANY non-compostable bags to appease to those annoyed by noisy bags.
  • Mary Roe I can’t believe that Sun Chips is changing bags because of noise and not staying with their sustainable practice thinking. It will cost you a lot of customers I predict
  • Amanda Santilli Who gives a flying fuck if the bag is noisy?!?!?! I would rather have a noisy bag and a healthier planet than a quieter bag and sick planet.

And yesterday, another Facebook Page has been set up: Bring back the loud Sunchips bag with the Information box stating the Page was “Founded: the day frito lay folded to idiot consumers who care more about the volume of thieir chips than the state of our planet”

So it seems this was a situation where FritoLay shouldn’t have listened (not a pun!) to the initial complaints about the noisy bags. Rather than ameliorating a packaging problem, in trying to respond, FritoLay has created more problems.

The company’s decision (1) divided its SunChip consumers into two opposing camps, (2) sabotaged its own efforts to be an environmentally sensitive good corporate citizen and (3) received a lot of bothersome press coverage over the issue.

In particular the mainstream press picked up on the Facebook activity:

Now that’s some noise to worry about!

Is Apple’s Ping a Facebook-killer?

on Sep 02 in blogging, business, facebook, strategy, tools, trends posted by

Apple’s Ping logoBlogger Jesse Stay just wrote a thoughtful post about Apple’s launch of Ping its music social platform for sharing music.

Just announced by the company’s CEO Steve Jobs, Ping is a social application within Apple’s popular desktop app iTunes.

Jesse called Ping “the biggest announcement we saw come out of Expo, primarily because it’s of importance not just to Apple followers, but to every consumer in this digital age.”

I agree with Jesse, that Apple is going about this the right way, sticking to their core offering and growing the network to build a user base.

But I think Jesse’s off the mark when he suggests, “This is perhaps bigger than Facebook.” Other authors expressed the thought even more directly. Nick O’Neill asserts that “Apple Has Become Facebook’s Biggest Threat With Ping.” And so on.

Is Ping a Facebook-killer? I don’t think so. Even in the longer term, if Ping become the Apple’s Social Graph, as Jesse suggests, it has a lot of catching up to do. For one thing, Facebook already has more than twice as many users. iTunes users will need to transition from using it mainly as a desktop app to using it online. And of course, Facebook offers much more than just music. In fact, music is the one thing FB doesn’t do particularly well.

MySpace is the musician’s social network. So if anything, Ping will challenge MySpace. This makes sense — MySpace is in a downward spiral anyway. Apple is too smart to take on Facebook. MySpace is lower hanging fruit. Blogger Austin Carr would probably agree. In his Fast Company article, he wrote “”Ping won’t replace Twitter or Facebook… But MySpace should be scared as hell.”

I probably won’t use Ping that much. music is a personal thing, a rather private enjoyment. It’s never been much of a social activity for me, online or off. I’m not especially interested in the musical tastes of my friends. And I’m not too fussed if they’re interested in what I enjoy. But perhaps I’m a minority, and folks like me won’t stop Ping from being successful.

How not to get a sale, a lesson from ADT

on Aug 13 in business, marketing posted by

So I get a sales call on a Friday afternoon from ADT, the security company. I used to do telesales, so I like to give these guys a break and hear them out.

So, lucky me: I am one of ten folks in my area and ADT has a special deal for me. A free wireless alarm system for my home and all I need to do is pay the monthly fee. We just have a few questions they say. Okay, I say shoot.

“First, do you have an existing system?” asks the rep.

“Well, considering this call came from a private number in Rhode Island, why should I tell you that?” I respond.

“Well, we’re ADT, one of the biggest domestic security companies.”

Thinking to myself, what a great way to case a joint, call the homeowner and ask if they have a security system!

“How do I know you are who you say you are?” I ask.

“We don’t make a lot of outbound calls, so you just have to take our word for it,” she says.


“Okay, let’s say I may or may not have a system, what other questions do you have?”

“How many doors to the outside do you have?” the rep asks.

“I’m sorry, I’m not prepared to divulge that information over the phone to a stranger,” I say.

“Well, if not, we can’t get the information we need to go ahead.”

“Okay, so tell your sales manager you lost a prospect because you asked questions I was not prepared to answer,” I said.

“Okay, well if you ever need ADT, yada, yada.”

So what’s wrong with that picture? First and foremost ADT, you are a security company. Your #1 asset is trust. 

Why would you start a cold sales call asking questions a prospect is uncomfortable answering? Second, if it’s a free system, etc. why do they want to know how many doors I have, etc.? Just send a rep around to count them! Duh. It’s basic sales: build trust, develop a relationship. That’s how to get a sale, not just rely on the fact that someone may have heard of your company.

Popularity versus influence: what’s the difference?

on Aug 12 in business, celebrities, social media, strategy, thought leaders, trends posted by

What’s the difference between popularity and influence? Is it important? Brian Solis has an insightful article that highlights the differences and why we should be interested.

It’s easy to get bogged down in numbers. How many followers do I have? Is your Klout score more important than your Twinfluence? How many clicks did I get on URLs that I tweeted?

Just to clarify for those that have trouble wrapping their head around the concepts(I do!): You can be very popular (a lot of people know you) but have low influence (they don’t care too much what you have to say). Or your popularity can be low (few people know you), but you can have strong influence (they listen to what you say and act upon it). For example, Tim Berners Lee, who invented the Web has undoubtedly had a huge influence, but hardly anyone knows who he is. Practically everyone on the planet has heard of Muhammad Ali, but his influence is not very strong.

So where do numbers fit in? Let’s look at an example. On Twitter Brian Solis has about 62,000 followers, whereas Guy Kawasaki has about 265,000 followers. So Guy is more popular than Brian. But I have never commented on articles tweeted by Guy whereas I’ve commented a few times on Brian’s articles. So for me, Brian is more influential (using his definition).

Personally, popularity has never particularly interested me. So after three years on Twitter I still have only 945 followers. But I hope that among those that know me, I have some influence — so that a good proportion of my Tweets are RT’d, for example.

My baseline is simple: to provide value (to my Friends, Followers, clients, whoever). By providing value one’s influence will grow, and presumably popularity.

For social marketers, the next step is to evaluate the motives and needs of different users to categorize them as influencers or popular users (let’s call them celebrities).

For example, a business that wants to increase brand awareness might want to target celebrities. The business is not necessarily interested in a call to action so being known among celebrities with a large audience is likely to achieve goals faster than being known among influencers who have a smaller audience.

But say the business has a campaign to promote a special. They have a call to action (e.g. “buy my widget”). Now they will want to connect with influencers whose followers or friends will likely act.

My guess is that we will see a refining of user definitions and categories based on data. The influencer/celebrity dichotomy is too simplistic for targeted social marketing. We will want more sophisticated models that incorporate the various dimensions of user online behavior to ensure our messages have the greatest impact.

Can you trust Scottrade if they can’t manage a simple email campaign?

on Jun 07 in business, email, marketing posted by

Scottrade is one of the largest online brokerage companies in the US. Here’s how their latest email campaign started.

Timeline of events
9:14 AM Email received from Scottrade. Title: June 5 Role Swap Test 3 from DREAM.
First email. Received from Scottrade at 9:14AM

9:14:30 Reaction: Huh?
9:30 AM Second email received from Scottrade. Title:Please disregard our previous e-mail

Second email. Received from Scottrade at 9:30AM.

It’s not that a couple of superfluous emails on a Sunday morning will ruin my day, but it does make me think about Scottrade’s ability to manage a simple email campaign. If they can’t hire people who can’t perform a basic test without email however many thousands of customers, can they hire people who can manage your money?

Ning phasing out free social networks

on May 04 in business, social networks, trends posted by

Leading social network provider Ning is phasing out its free option for social network creators.

In an email today, Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal wrote that the company will be phasing out all free Ning networks. In its FAQs, the company announced that it was focusing 100% on paid solutions.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. The lowest tier of pricing is $3 per month. Presumably the company did its market research and found this price point would minimize loss of users.

That said, any cost is going to deter experimentation and innovation. Social media’s dramatic rise to the forefront of the Web has been driven partly by the plethora of free applications. Ning has played a significant role in making that happen.

How long will it be before another free social network application (as easy to set up and use as Ning) emerges?

Is social media monitoring a bubble?

on Apr 04 in business, monitoring, reputation management, tools, trends posted by

Image courtesy of WikipediaAaron Koh, Social Media Director at That Social PR Agency, posted an interesting question on LinkedIn: Is social media monitoring a gold mine or a bubble?

During my work developing social media strategies for a variety of clients, I have had the opportunity to review the social media monitoring space in some detail.

Yes, there are a lot of companies jumping on the bandwagon. Some of the free services are useful. Used appropriately, they can meet the needs of many situations. Who hasn’t heard of Google Alerts? (List of free tools.) But some free services, while enticing, seem inaccurate at best, or even misleading. Larger enterprises will most likely need to consider paid solutions.

The big players (Techrigy, Radian6, Nielsen, Filtrbox, etc.) will likely buy out the best of the small scale solutions. (See Nathan Gilliat’s excellent Guide to Social Media Analysis for a list of companies offering paid solutions for social media monitoring.) 

My sense is that the trend will shift away from technological solutions and to the human element. A monitoring program can alert you to a mention or conversation. It can even indicate whether it’s positive or negative. But software can’t tell you how to respond.

The nuances of building relationships through social media simply cannot be left to software. And even humans get it woefully wrong as Nestle’s recent social media disaster on Facebook testifies. Monitoring is important but experienced people with the expertise to manage specific situations will always be needed.

To answer Aaron’s question, the plethora of sub-par social media monitoring tools suggest a bubble is growing. The bubble will deflate in due course. But as with most bubbles, the strong players will survive and most likely come out even stronger.

Yahoo is ending its ad publisher program

on Mar 31 in business, google posted by

Yahoo! is dropping its Adsense-like website ad publishing program.Today Yahoo! announced that they are ending their ad publishing program. (Read the email sent to users.)

Their system is similar to Google’s Adsense. Website owners embed code in their site’s web pages. Then ads are served according to the page content.

But Yahoo!’s program, launched in 2005 never got out of beta. Perhaps they felt they were just playing catch up to Google. In any case the competition was too intense, particularly as multitudes of other companies offered revenue opportunities via ad placement through affiliate programs.

I hadn’t invested a lot of time or effort putting Yahoo! ads on my web properties, so I’m an example of Yahoo!’s exact problem — too few website owners used their program. But I imagine some owners did put a lot of time and effort into supporting Yahoo!’s ad system.

To soften the blow Yahoo! is partnering with ad publisher Chitika. This should allow users to wean themselves off Yahoo! without too much pain. Even so, Yahoo! is sure to lose significant loyalty over this move.

Dealing with negativity in social media

on Mar 23 in branding, business, marketing, public relations, social media, strategy posted by

To make their point, protestors co-opted the logo of one of Nestle’s best known brands. In my experience, the most challenging aspect of actually implementing a social media program is dealing with negativity. You can never be quite sure what the response is going to be.

Look at the backlash on Nestlé’s Facebook page. That’s the sort of PR you don’t want.

But there are best practices for dealing with negativity. These can go a long way to dealing with its impact. The Nestlé incident is a clear example of how NOT to deal with negativity.

My guess is that Nestlé took the cheap option and hired a novice to manage their Facebook page. Now it’s costing them vastly more than if they had hired someone competent in the first place.

So how could they have handled it differently? Their initial mistake was to criticize the person who was asking about the Greenpeace video (which got all this started). One comment called the response a “particularly indiscreet sense of arrogance.”

Instead, the Facebook Fan page manager should have acknowledged the user’s concerns. The manager could have admitted to the user that they had a right to expect the highest standards from a company such as Nestlé. He could have mentioned that Nestlé is not perfect, but always striving to improve. 

The most powerful tactic is to actually admit a mistake: “We’re sorry about sourcing palm oil from illegally logged Indonesian rainforests. We’re trying to figure out what went wrong and put it right.” And so on. A conciliatory tone would have been much less likely to invoke the huge backlash that now is simply a cringe-worthy embarrassment for the food giant.

Another ploy is just to wait and see. An immediate reaction might not be called for, especially when there is a risk of getting things out of hand. It’s always possible members of the community will come to your defense. Indeed one or two lonely voices are doing that on Nestlé’s Facebook page, but too little, too late.

The second mistake Nestlé made (and continues to make) is refusing to engage on Facebook following the initial flub. Now their official Facebook page looks more like a protest page, bombarded with negative comments. Many of these expand the scope of the company’s misdeeds.

When you’re talking to clients about the need for professional management of their social media program, you need to convince them to invest in training and hiring the appropriate expertise.

Incidences of negativity can be useful in your sales pitch. But you don’t want to go too far and put the client off social media altogether!

Should employers be allowed to look at your Facebook page when considering you for a job?

on Feb 17 in business, facebook, search, social networks, trends posted by

An important question is presented in an online poll by a local North Carolina website this morning.

Should employers be allowed to look at your Facebook page, or other social media sites, when considering you for a job?

Employment is a contract of trust between the employer and employee. Both parties have the obligation and right to ensure by any legal means necessary that the relationship will be of benefit to both parties. Does this include reviewing social profiles?

I believe yes, but whether you agree or not background checks are already entrenched as part of the hiring process, and searching online is an inexpensive way to extend such checks. It also allows employers to evaluate aspects of an employee that may not be evident from background checks or interviews.

Searching online and finding social network information is so cheap and easy that it’s a way for employers who cannot afford to hire such services to check on prospective employees.

One could argue that looking at people’s profiles is an invasion of privacy. But first, the information that employers can find is already publicly available. Second, most social applications allow privacy settings that prevent unwanted viewers of your profile.

You need to ask whether you are using social networks for a social experience (i.e., just to have fun) or do you consider such use part of your professional persona? In the first case, you’d be smart to set everything to private and don’t allow access to anyone you’d mind seeing you drunk, stoned, half-naked, etc. In the second, follow my golden rule: don’t put anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing splashed on the front page of your local newspaper.

Finally, how on earth do you police whether or not employers look at your social media profiles? I think the question is a valid one, but framed somewhat naively.