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March 18th, 2008

We’re not a company that understands Social Media, but we play one on TV

Staples recently dipped their foot into the social media waters in an effort to brand themselves as a personal data security and identity theft resource. They put out word of blogger events in New York City and San Francisco, featuring personal security and safety expert Bill Stanton, who is a contributor to NBC “Today” and Dateline.

The event was a sit-down between bloggers and Bill, who riffed on his experiences “stealing” identities to expose just how easy that is to do. (Bill is a great speaker, if you’re doing a high-profile event on security, find him and hire him).

Coburn Communications handled the event for Staples.

“As a way to generate word-of-mouth buzz among highly influential mom, young professional, and small business bloggers, as well as local online media, Staples enlisted Coburn to execute a blog-specific event in two markets – San Francisco and New York,” said Coburn’s Kate Tuller.

Basic PR approach: get the influencers in the same room with the products, deliver a controlled message, make them feel important and welcome, make it easy for them to talk about that message.

WHAT THEY DID RIGHT: In addition to the star power, the Coburn people rolled out the red carpet. Great location, free food, drinks and a gift bag full of the products they’d talked about, such as a lock-down cable and anti-virus software. They introduced the concepts, wined and dined us, then provided product so that the bloggers could use them, and therefore increase the likelihood of an educated post to promote said products. Bill gave a short presentation, then fielded questions about security and knocked it out of the park with his encyclopedic knowledge of how people will try to rip you off.

WHAT THEY DID WRONG: The purpose of this event was to bring out bloggers and get some online exposure. Yet my first email with questions about the event was sent Feb. 26, and I did not receive a response until March 10, two weeks later. That’s like fifteen years in internet time. Everyone is busy, but if you throw an event for bloggers, then can’t answer questions for two weeks, you’re missing the point. I had to prompt them three times for a response in that time period. And when I did get an response, they said they couldn’t answer most of the questions I asked.

Here are the list of questions provided to Coburn.

  1. Where did you get the idea for this event?
  2. What cities and why? Why not more cities?
  3. Describe the need for an in-person event, as opposed to some kind of online event. We really only saw the shredder work, which could have been done with online video, instead of the expense of the face-to-face event. Tell me about that choice. Tuller’s Answer: Bloggers, as you know, love networking…it was a chance to provide them this opportunity as well as educate and provide useful information and products on identity theft, data loss, and internet threats. Face-to-face events are also better for relationship building.
  4. How are you defining and tracking success? At what point will Staples say “this was money well spent?” This is the most important question for my blog — how does the customer (Staples) define when they got their money’s worth?
  5. What does an event like yours, put on by a big company like Staples, say about corporate America’s valuation of “mom-and-pop” bloggers? There was no Scoble, no Technorati at the event, is that what you were hoping for?
  6. Who’s idea was it to bring in Bill? Was this event a Coburn brainstorm, or a Staples idea and they brought you in to manage?

Tuller said she was not at liberty to answer most of these questions. Now to people in social media, these seem pretty harmless. This is basic information. Am I wrong here? Not at liberty to say who came up with the idea? What? Not at liberty to say why you’re targeting mom-and-pop bloggers? Huh? I’m not asking for secret Pentagon documents here folks, I just want to know more about the event … so I can blog about it … which was the point of the event in the first place, no?

When you shine the spotlight of measurement and profitability at social media promotions, most of the time people retreat into the shadows. The culture of openness and transparency is embedded throughout social media, yet we still find companies using the tools without embracing the spirit.

Is this Coburn’s fault? Probably not. They are a vendor. Is it Staples fault? Probably. Staples is old-school big business. The concept of answering simple questions and not just regurgitating what they tell people to say must be very frightening and confusing to them.

I would have read more about the corporate culture on a Staples blog, but oddly enough … I couldn’t find one. So Staples apparently doesn’t have to understand social media in order to use it to sell stuff.

DOES IT SELL STUFF? Staples won’t say. That’s a shame. The event did seem to produce some hits in the blogosphere, as evidenced by the IceRocket.com blog search below. I searched for “Bill Stanton” and “Staples” and came up with six hits. Not exactly a viral explosion, but not bad at all. Coburn got the blog hits, and that’s the first step because you never know when a message will resonate and be picked up in other places.

Filed in Media, Public Relations, Social Media

Add Your Comment2 Responses to “We’re not a company that understands Social Media, but we play one on TV”

blake rhodes on March 18th, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Thanks so much for using IceRocket, feel free to email me anytime with suggestions.

Blake Rhodes rhodes@icerocket.com

colin on April 11th, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I’ll say it – why hasn’t Coburn, Staples or Mr. Stanton commented on this post? Maybe Voce just isn’t ‘influential enough’.