Letting the Masses Promote the Brand: Is it Worth the Risk?
Posted by lanaksolberg
It was hard for me to choose what to write about from this week’s readings because they touched on a lot of interesting and valuable topics! In the end, I’ve chosen this week’s readings from Eric Qualman’s Socialnomics. Qualman chose a great example to highlight in chapter four, as he explores the successful use of social media in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Not only did Obama’s campaign actively use social media, but it embraced it, allowing social media to take the campaign further than it would have otherwise been able to go.
During the 2008 election season, it was apparent to me that Obama’s campaign readily took advantage of social media. What I did not consciously realize, though, was the extent to which the campaign built a grassroots following, and allowed that community to do some of the heavy lifting for it. Qualman uses the example of the parody on the well-known Budweiser “Whassup” commercials.
Essentially, the campaign allowed someone on the outside to “take ownership of the brand and promote it” (p. 68). The parody was a wild success and received millions of views. What I find striking about this is how beautifully it worked for the campaign, but also how risky this type of thing is. It could quickly go awry if the party doing the promoting does so in a distasteful or offensive way. To successfully leverage an online community in this way, communicators must be able to stay on top of what’s happening with their brand, and react swiftly and decisively when needed to avert crisis. Clearly, the Obama campaign of 2008 was able to do this, and it paid off—the risk was well worth it.
I have to believe, though, that the risk is not worth it for some brands, and that’s why some are hesitant to fully embrace social media to this extent. Maybe I’m thinking about this in a limited way, but it seems that allowing an online community to take some brand ownership may only work well for certain types of brands and in certain industries. The Obama campaign proved that it works for promoting a person or beliefs, but how well would this work for a product? (I’m having a hard time thinking of a parallel example for a product.) In the end, I think companies and organizations need to weigh their options: maintain near complete control of their message and brand, or relinquish some of that control and hope it pays off.
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