Social Media

Posted by Jonah A. Berger, Search Specialist (Natural Search)

Skittles no longer wants people to just “taste the rainbow;” it wants them to taste its social networks, too. The chewy, sweet candy made by Mars, Inc., has a history of creating buzz with memorable advertising campaigns. From a guy eating Skittles with his beard at a job interview to one who turns everything he touches into the colorful confections, the little candies with the white “S” insignia have always pushed the television envelope and now the same can be said about the Internet. kicked off this month by redirecting its visitors to several of its social networking pages. We visited today and were greeted with a “Terms & Conditions” popup window similar to ones you'd find on and other age restricted sites.  It noted that “any stuff beyond the page is actually another site and not in our control.”

Once you enter your information, you are taken to Skittles' real-time Twitter page, which greets visitors with “Interweb the Rainbow. Taste the Rainbow.” in the title tag, along with a colorful floating navigation in the top left-hand corner of the page:

Skittles twitter 

Twitter isn't the only social network invited to the Skittles party. When you click “Friends” in the navigation, you are taken to its Facebook page; clicking “Media” leads to its YouTube page; clicking “Media” and then “Pics” leads to its Flickr page; and, we were also able to navigate to its Wikipedia page.

So, you might be thinking, what's the point of all this? Will linking to social networks be the next Goliath of the Web 2.0 world? Will big-name brands open the floor to the millions upon millions of Web users to speak their minds about everything and anything?

Not likely. But I feel there are definitely some real positives in the Skittles experiment. First, this is an innovative and strategic use of the power of social media. From a link building and traffic standpoint, the buzz alone is likely to generate a throng of new Skittles fans, as well as plenty of media coverage both on and offline. If you don't believe it, simply query “skittles twitter” in Google and you'll see blog posts written from Chicago to Fiji. While all this buzz might not sell an additional million bags of Skittles, it will create a lasting impression of the Skittles brand on the hip, cool, and possible next-big-thing of the Internet landscape. Times are changing and brands like Skittles are responding.

But that doesn't mean this social media stunt is flawless. In a world where even the smallest negative comment can set off a swarm of bad publicity, apparently forgot to turn the filters on. Spend no more than a few seconds watching the Tweets update on its Twitter page and you'll see negative comments about the brand, four-letter-filled conversations about race and religion, and people Tweeting just to cause chaos and see their name in bright lights. Exhilarating, yes, but the last thing any company needs in a sluggish economy is to ruin its reputation or hurt its sales for no real reason other than providing shock value.

To pull off a social media stunt like this successfully, companies have to define all potential variables first and then take the field knowing what lies ahead of them – not just in plain view but also out of sight. A full understanding of the medium is necessary before social media is incorporated into an integrated marketing campaign.

The Skittles social experiment is a good example of a way to grab the attention of a savvy Internet audience that's always looking for and wanting more.

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