Monday, September 03, 2012

Samsung's Social Media Debacle

By the time this goes on air everyone will know about what Samsung's digital/social media team did. Yes, I lay the blame squarely on the Social Media agency, Digitas. Having worked in one, I know for a fact that you don't let things like this happen to your bloggers. Being a blogger too, I expect the SMM agency to stand up for the blogger.

Picture from Samsung India's Facebook page
Let's quickly go over the details. Clinton Jeff of Unleash The Phones and another unnamed blogger (it's easy to guess who, but since the blogger wants to be anonymous, let's keep it that way), through a contest held by Samsung Mobile India got invited to the IFA Conference being held in Berlin. Some insider details here - IFA is a big time tech conference. Usually held at different places every year over the world, it is highly revered. Most new tech gadgets have an unveiling, showing, launch or presentation there. Last year a phone brand I was handling also launched at IFA. As the SMM person of that account, I would have LOVED to take my developed posse of bloggers to that, but my super-rich, super multi national company did not want to take me itself, so my bloggers were out of question. We settled for simple handsets provided to the bloggers kind of reviews. It is common place for most big brands to have a blogger outreach program. Basically, the brands will reach out to bloggers who write about their product category and invite them to press conferences, blogger's meets, or handset review programs. Samsung, big brand that it is, held a contest to determine two bloggers who would get to fly to IFA, live in Berlin and attend the event on their dime. In exchange, the bloggers cover the event. IFA. Or sometimes, a specific event too, like maybe the Samsung Unpacked event. But cover it objectively. Just because Samsung pays for the trip there, they don't write all hearts and flowers stuff about Samsung. In fact they can choose to write about whatever the hell they please. Including other brands too. These bloggers though, were in for a rude shock, when Samsung, on arrival to Berlin, asked the bloggers to wear a uniform and present the phone to the media and public. From behind a booth, in like, an all Samsung covered uniform. In short, Samsung assumed that it paid for the ticket and stay of two booth attendants who came with some extras of being tech bloggers. Obviously the two refused. All hell broke loose. They were asked to do so or if. (They were threatened with no return tickets and no hotel stay basically abandonment). The guys ultimately decided to concede partial defeat and to wear a Samsung T-Shirt. But no booth attendance for them. To which Samsung guys wrote them an angry email.

At this point, the bloggers, being well, smart Social Media savvy people, chose to go online with all this. Nokia stepped up, offered them hotel stay and return tickets home at their convenience. Read More here.

So there are a few fair points to be made here. Internationally, this news is being made as an Samsung India mistake. Emphasis on the India. Nope. Sorry boss. All Social Media Managers in India do not operate like this. Since I exist, and I was honestly and seriously very passionate about my bloggers, I am sure others do too. I have friends, tons of friends, in the SMM business in India. None of them would dream of letting something like this happen. This gaffe did not happen because it is an Indian agency, it happened because some people at Samsung, and almost all the people at Digitas are idiots. I lay the lion's share of the blame with the agency. It is the agency who liaises between the bloggers and the client. The consumers and the client. How could THEY let this happen??

Second, if bloggers were being taken to IFA, why was an accompanying person from the Social Media team not there? The minute you have live social media coverage happening, a social media executive HAS to be present to monitor it. Bloggers are not reporters, they are more casual and more prone to needing help with something or the other. I don't mean that as an insult, but generally, a reporter is very well connected. He/she can get around problems much more easily than a blogger can. A publication is much more recognized than individual blogs, so that influence does not have the same kind of pull. Hence, a Social Media exec needs to be around. Someone who can flash a badge as a person on the Media team and help them around. It is absolutely essential.

Third, where is Samsung's Crisis management team? Social media wise as well as PR wise. In most of our big brand clients, we always had a Social Media Crisis Management scenario mapped out. For the smallest level of crises to the biggest, most media attention getting ones. And the actions on them would click into place the minute, THE MINUTE more than the involved people knew about the crisis. Samsung, has not commented on anything yet, their Social Media platforms go about as normal, and there is no communication about this entire issue from their end till this post went live. Why??? This, is the basic of all communication teams!

Lastly, what is Samsung's loss, is triple fold, Nokia's gain. Samsung is the brand. And it goes without saying that as a brand, you safeguard the identity and image of the brand like it's soul. Because it IS your soul. Samsung lost out on their positive image, any sympathy over the apple debacle, will dissolve over this and any positive coverage for a long time is simply stupid to expect. Bloggers don't forget that easily. They are a little like reporters in that way. After they let this happen, they did not even try to redeem themselves a tiny bit. They did not kiss and make up with the bloggers, no peace offering, no compromise, nothing. Kicking them out on the boot was even more stupid than any of the already pulled off drama. And then, Nokia swoops in.
I must say, Nokia, good move buddy. They cleaned up Samsung's mistake, offered the bloggers a new hotel, new tickets home and peace of mind. Nokia becomes the hero who had a cameo role. No one is going to stop talking good about Nokia for a while now. Not only does the brand have a good image, it also sticks by it. Nokia becomes, with one simple move, the knight in the shining armor. Good on you, Nokia. Well played.

The most important thing here though is, no, this is not an Indian thing. In fact, Samsung is a multi-national brand, and their Social Media is handled by another multinational company, Digitas. This was stupidity displayed at all levels. And that is the mistake of the agency, not of the country's attitude. 

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