Corporate toes dip in the waters of social media

A few interesting things I’ve come across,  to do with corporations engaging in (or with) grassroots online media.

Petro-Canada is the first – a big oil and gas company in Canada, they are using YouTube to promote gas price awareness. In a campaign called” Pump Talk“, a series of videos (on their corporate site and on YouTube) try to reduce consumer fury (toward them, anyway) about rising gas costs. Targeted media for this press release included some bloggers.

It makes me flash back to the perhaps-unsuccessful Chevy Tahoe campaign for consumer-generated ads, that lingering feeling of ‘they’re about to be ripped into’.   

Kate Trgovac worked on the project with her former employer, and in her blog, wonders if the gas co. is going to be willing to respond to any comments the corporate videos may get on the YouTube site (edit: are getting).

She refers to two potential (sometimes competing, maybe) views of this within corporations: ‘that engaging in online conversations is incredibly time-consuming with little payoff’, versus ‘transparent and genuine dialogue can go a long way towards building positive customer relationships’.

Steve Rubel writes about a company also leaping into YouTube – Mentos.  First the amazing choreography of the Mentos-Diet Coke waterworks went viral.  Now, Mentos launches a contest on YouTube.

Last note, about a company engaging in genuine dialogue before an online gripe goes too far.  Vancouver-area ski / year-round play area Grouse Mountain decided not to ignore an online rant though it was in a new, still-small community discussion site. The site, ChangeEverything, has been launched by British Columbia credit union VanCity, and is modeled somewhat on 43 Things. One visitor wrote that he wanted Grouse Mountain’s ski run lights – which overlook the city – to be turned off at night.

Then he received, by email rather than in the site’s comments, a fairly lengthy point-by-point explanation with some corrected facts, and the reasons behind the Mountain’s need for the night lights.

Most of the nonprofit foundations I’ve done work with don’t yet engage in this kind of PR, but I think they need to. With 39% of internet users now reading blogs (and newspaper readership and TV viewership declining), it isn’t a media market that foundations, institutes, associations, or NGOs with concern about their ‘brand’ can afford to ignore any more.

Sept 2006 update, another interesting example of the ‘corporations and social media’ trend, about Moleskine and 43 Folders – here by Amy Gahran.

An eyebrow-raising example, with the White House launching anti-drug social marketing ads … on YouTube. More on that here.

Update Oct 17 2006: 

This isn’t new, but I just came across it:  interesting post about credit unions using MySpace.

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