Last week we launched a social media program for the upcoming Boxman Studios restaurant. The cool thing about this brand is that other than developing an identity and building a basic website that explains the concept, we're not doing anything 'traditional.' Sure, the website is SEO compliant, but we're not bidding on key phrases. Yes, we made a brochure/flier for a special event, but we're not producing high-profile 3D collateral. We're utilizing social media as the main vehicle to develop awareness for the brand, and to promote the restaurant. For more information on the campaign, click here. Also, as part of the awareness campaign, we created a naming contest for the restaurant. For information on the contest, click here.
After about a week, I think we've done pretty well. We've doubled our Twitter followers, have a few fans of the restaurant's Facebook page (we could use more, please), have received about 50 name submissions for the contest and are developing a very cool blog that will become the primary social media vehicle for both the brand and the restaurant going forward. But because we're bypassing traditional media, we have to get creative to ensure that when the restaurant launches in April, we have as much momentum as we can handle. Eventually, the food will be the thing that makes the restaurant successful or not, but we need people to try it out first – and that's where creativity comes in.
The thing about traditional media is that it costs money. You want a radio spot – money. TV – money, Print – money. Social media – ? So I had the idea to pay a few people in Charlotte to tweet about the naming contest (JUST the naming contest), since that's the thing that will attract followers. And those followers will eventually see where the restaurant is located (as it will move daily) so that they can try the food for themselves and ultimately decide whether the restaurant succeeds by talking about it in their social circles.
Three things about the controversial idea of paying people to promote the contest -
1) We wouldn't just pay anyone. We'd only ask people who have been to Boxman Studios and have experienced the brand first-hand for themselves. They could always decline being paid, or decline to endorse it altogether. We'd not ask for people to be dishonest in any way.
2) We'd not pay a lot. In fact, if the these people could take someone to dinner on what we'd pay for sponsored tweets about the contest – that would be a victory. We just want to show our appreciation for taking the time to visit the brand firsthand, and (if they wanted) pay them a little something in return.
3) We'd not ask people to spam their followers. In fact, we'd only be looking only for a few tweets about the contest between now and March 18th to help get the word out to people in Charlotte.
The point of this post is to be as transparent as possible. No, I would not make a public list of the people we'd ask to help out, and no, we'd not ask anyone who agrees to help out to publicly state that they're being paid to promote the contest. If these people decided to say they're being paid – that's their decision. And it would be perfectly ok with us. We'd not ask them to lie about anything – there really *is* a contest where we're giving someone $500 to name the restaurant. Look at it this way, if when the restaurant launches and someone isn't happy with the food or prices or service and they tweet their dissatisfaction, we don't control that either. Eventually, momentum for the restaurant (and the Boxman brand, for that matter) will take care of itself via social media. This is an organic space. People make up their own minds to say what they feel. The pay thing would just be a little boost for the contest.
Anyway, this is a tricky situation, but one that I feel pretty strongly about. If Tide came to me tomorrow because I said something nice about their laundry detergent last week, and they offered to pay me $1,000 to tweet how clean my jeans were after using Tide, guess what – I'm taking it. Within reason, of course.
So what do you think, will this work? Do people deserve to be compensated for promoting a brand or an idea within the networks they've worked so hard to build? Is this a bad idea that will backfire on the brand because *everyone* will want to be paid to say *anything* about it – or else not say anything at all? Any feedback you can offer is appreciated. Thanks for your time.
Transparently yours, Jim
NOTE: As of Saturday, March 6th, we have decided NOT pay for sponsored tweets about the naming contest. This doesn't mean we don't appreciate people talking about the contest in this space. We do. A lot. But the idea of sponsored tweets in general is such a radical concept (to some people) that we feel that this tactic might overshadow all of the other (less controversial) tactics we're employing to promote the restaurant. I personally feel that one day we (as owners of our own networks here) may capitalize on our influence in ways that help put food on our tables or clothes on our kids' backs. Because big media companies and big brands should NOT be the only ones who capitalize from our word-of-mouth experiences.
Jim Mitchem is a father, husband, writer and partner at smashcommunications. You can follow him on Twitter at@smashadv and @boxmanstudios.
8 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Mar 5, 2010
Sorry to seem cynical here, but if you pay someone to send out tweets on your behalf, it should be known. If Tide paid you to say you liked Tide, as a possible consumer of the product, I’d want to know that, wouldn’t you? You run the risk of creating doubt in the engaging relationship that you and others need and herald with this type of medium by not putting all the facts on the table. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it won’t be the first time. My 2 cents…
Mar 5, 2010
I’m not sure Ben. That’s why I posted this article – to figure this out.
I did tweet something about Tide last year because a big grass stain came out of my jeans in one wash. Did they pay me? Hell no. But part of being social is to share experiences that make a difference to you. If that stain didn’t come out, I may have mentioned that too and probably said something mean about Tide being expensive but not worth it. Deception would be to say something nice about Tide without actually using the product and without letting people know I was being paid to endorse the brand. This kind of thing happens already on Twitter – with Ad.ly – which does mention it’s an ad, but pays the person based on their twitter followers.
For this Boxman promotion (which is directly aimed at promoting the *contest* – not the food or the brand) we didn’t want to approach just a few people who have the largest following numbers in town. We offered the opportunity for *anyone* to come out this week to visit Boxman and see the brand up close. Six people showed up. We did a tour and took them to lunch. We didn’t talk about being paid to tweet about the contest at all. They don’t even know about this idea now. And no, they’re not the top six people in town in terms of follower numbers. They’re just people who showed interest. Was that deceptive?
So if we offered these people $50 each to help promote the contest, and they agree (based on their first-hand experience with the brand) – how is that so deceptive? We’ve already had a lot of people promote the contest without being paid…because it’s a good idea. It’s a cool contest. But if I’m here every couple hours hammering my own followers with tweets about the boxman contest, it’s disrespectful to my own audience.
This whole thing comes down to influence and credibility. Authenticity = credibility. Credibility = loyalty. Loyalty = influence. Only, this model takes a LOT of time to develop. The idea of paying a few people to promote the contest is an attempt to expedite things.
It’s a conundrum. Thanks for the post, Ben.
Mar 5, 2010
Sure, it could backfire. There’s a lot of social media purists out there that believe the terms “social” and “commerce” need to be mutually exclusive.
I’m not one of those people.
If I care what your opinions are of Tide (I do, oddly enough), I could care less if Tide gave you some money to share them. The way I see it, the “brand relationship” I have is with you, not Tide. So, the burden of authenticity is on you, not Tide. If I think you’re full of crap in general (I don’t), not only will I not take your opinions of Tide into consideration, but I probably wouldn’t be following you in the first place.
Mar 5, 2010
This is a pickle. I can see both sides of the issue. For me personally, if content comes through as sponsored, I tend to pay less attention to it. It feels forced or less genuine. If it’s not sponsored, it means more.
Am I opposed to sponsored content? Not really. Does it hold the same weight as content that is not sponsored? Nope.
I question if we are Amway-izing are social spaces? Making money based on the amount of people that follow us? Seems a little strange. Maybe it’s because this is a new model.
If you’re publishing sponsored content w/o disclosure, I think the content is not sponsored and was posted because you feel strong about the content/brand. If, at a later date I find out the content was sponsored, your credibility and trust are in question.
Better to disclose early and often.
Mar 5, 2010
But what if it’s a contest that you *could* win? The trick here is not to pay people to tweet that the food is great, or that the restaurant rocks – but that there’s a contest you could win.
I’m not a big fan of paid endorsements. Even on TV. But this is somehow, different. And it’s by people who already have a reference point to the brand – and believe in it. Even though we’re not promoting the brand, but a contest for the brand.
Thanks for the comment John.
Mar 5, 2010
I think you just nailed it Scott. The beauty of social media is that you can do whatever the hell you want. If you don’t like following someone because of what they say (whether it’s paid content or not) you can unfollow them. Done. See ya. No more problem.
You make absolute sense here. Thank you for your comment.
Mar 5, 2010
Ahhh ha. It does feel different.
Even if you’re promoting the contest, you are indirectly promoting the brand. Would these people promote the contest without a reference point to the brand? I’m thinking probably. Will people become interested in the brand because of the contest? Probably.
Raises a lot of questions for sure. I need to think on this a little more. My head just exploded.
Mar 5, 2010
So, I don’t know the answer either. On one hand, yeah, I think you should disclose sponsored content. Theoretically, it makes perfect sense. But…I’ve found that it’s physically impossible for me to disclose every relationship that benefits me. Because every relationship does. Even beyond the money, there’s so much “social currency”.
For example. I promote people, or their products or their causes because a) I like them b) they promote me c) one or the other has a large network we the other wants to leverage d) they have connections e) they asked me nicely f) they might hire me one day g) they are a client h) they are a friend. You can perhaps see my dilemma. If I disclosed all of that, I’d look like a bad pharmaceutical company with everything I posted.
I remember reading something by Mike Aurez which I thought was really smart. He said “I don’t talk about a brand on Facebook because I like the brand. I talk about it because I like my friends.”
In this case — I wonder if there’s a way to make it more obviously “a promotion.” So…(you will laugh at this)…say everyone who was involved changed their avatar to have an apple on their head. Then people might ask, “what’s up with the apple?” They could tell people, or point them to a blog where they sign up to be part of the community. And if they tweet, they get a coupon. Or something. But the point is, there’s someplace that explains that “everyone with an apple on their head is getting something in return”.
Ultimately, I think it’s going to be impossible for people to be disclosing what they are paid to promote. I just do. It’s like — does a Celebrity have to walk around with a sign on their chest that says “Nike is paying me to wear these shoes?”
Thanks for bringing this up and out in the open Jim.
My novel – Minor King
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