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December 19, 2008

Letting Go of Control is One Key to Social Media Success

By Li Evans

Entering into the fray of of social media can be a pretty scary idea for any corporation.  Most companies fear the negative, the bad press, the worst possible scenarios.  While those can be legitimate fears, they shouldn't be crippling or the things that halt companies from participating and holding conversations with their audiences and customers.  In fact, companies should look to negative situations as learning mechanisms and embrace them as an opportunities to not only do the right thing in regards to their customers, but also as opportunities to change their customer, friends and contacts into fans or evangelists.

By fearing the negative companies tend to have a death grip on control of their products, brands, or services.  They mistakenly believe that they are the sole owners of their brands.  In today's new and ever emerging era of consumer generated content, these companies are now in for a really rude awakening.  With the rise of social media, companies are no longer the sole owner.  These companies can no longer totally control the perception of their brand, logo, product, services with public relations spin, fancy press releases or cute commercials.

Gone are the days of pushing a commercial 27 times during a football game in order to hope to sell a product.  Gone are the days of pushing a radio commercial 10 times in the spans of an hour in hopes to drive foot traffic to a company's store.  It's no longer about the message the company wants to push on an unengaged audience.  With the surge of online media and most of the population going to the internet for information, research, conversation and companionship, people tune this stuff out.  They flip to their iPod to play the music they want instead of listening to the same commercial for the 10th time in an hour, they fast forward through commercials or watch it on OnDemand with no commercials - the consumer now has more control than ever before.

When companies are not providing their customers or their audience with the one or few things they are clamoring for, these days, the audience goes out and does something about it.  They take it upon themselves to fill the gap or void the company is totally missing out on.  I couldn't have found a more perfect example of this, than how 20th Century Fox totally missed the opportunity to capture very engaged audiences with the Wolverine movie trailer that launched last Friday.

If any group is rabid, its comic book fans.  XMen fans particularly are amazing loyal, utterly dedicated and love those characters.  These people are built in fans, evangelists - the kind any company would die to have, except when you piss them off.  Big movie conglomerates really don't understand online media or the fan base of comic book collectors, otherwise in the case of the new Wolverine movie (due out in May 2009), 20th Century Fox would be more on the ball.

They have such a death grip on the marketing of this movie, as soon as any "rouge" version of the new trailer came out over the weekend they pulled out that DMCA and ordered Google to pull them down from YouTube. Ever blog that I went to that said it had a video of the trailer, it no longer worked because Google yanked the videos down.  Talk about pissing off us fans that didn't want to go see another boring rendition of Keanu Reeves in a "take all or die" type movie!

What was worse, the official movie site didn't even have the trailer up on their site until after the weekend was over.  To top that off, you can 't find the site without going through enormous amounts of finessing of keywords to get the right search results in Google. Why?  Well the site's all in flash and no text to help the search engines understand it really is about the Wolverine movie.  Duh!  Huge missed opportunity!

If 20th Century Fox would loosen its control just a bit, imagine the rewards it would have reaped.  Instead of comic book fans creating profiles like "20thCenturyFoxSucks", "To Hell With 20th Century Fox" and other negative styled profiles, they could have praised heaped upon this.  So what should they have done?

  1. Created an official video channel on the major video sharing sites and put the ALL the trailers there
  2. Created an official Flickr account to put out the promotional shots of the movie and offer the bloggers to use them
  3. Interacted with bloggers and offered them the first chance to post embedded trailers in their blogs
  4. Worked with MARVEL, who by the way ranks higher for Wolverine Movie, to promote the trailer on their site
  5. Optimize their site for the more common way people search for this movie, i.e. Wolverine Movie (duh!)

And that's just a few off the top of my head.

People love brands, products and services, but even more to the point, they love feeling a part of it and sharing their experiences with others.  There's a trailer out there from Comic Con - totally different than what's showing on the official site now, people were cheering during its showing, that's how much people love Wolverine (and Gambit).  Why didn't 20th Century Fox recognize this and tap into it?  Because they are stuck in the 1900's with how they market movies, and have a death grip on control.

What can you learn from this?  By recognizing the demographic, or audience that loves your products, embracing them and giving up a little control to them, you can produce amazing results. 

And for 20th Century Fox, Marvel and Stan Lee... you know its not too late, we still love Wolverine.

*control picture from Flickr User Fhashemi
*wolverine picture from Flickr User OrganizationXIII


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That's definitely accurate! One of the main targets in online and social marketing is getting other users to market your content for you, either by posting it again, refering to it, or both. If you restrict that action then you lose your most important type of online marketing...

The web is definitely all about freedom... Provide the platform and the rest is history.

Keep up the good work Li -- good to see you ;)


You know what's funny about the negative is that it's free advertising. As long as it's not completely crushing to the business i.e. the company stealing everyones money. Then a sex scandal here and there doesn't hurt now and then. But I have found that negative allows you to learn and not do it again...or keep doing it and don't be surprised of the consequences.


Good post here. I think what many companies struggle with is two way communication with customers. The reality is that all products and services have flaws, nothing is perfect. Working with customers via social media offers an uncensored view into the living brand in the wild.

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