June 30, 2008...8:44 am

Social media stunts don’t work

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Why? Because you can’t fake community. If you want to manipulate me, you have to get to know me first and it helps if you seem to care about me, too… in addition to other worthy causes.

I read about Verizon’s Twittering Teddy a couple of weeks ago in PRWeek and there were a number of things that didn’t seem right about this.

1. The teddy was only supposed to be on Twitter for two weeks– that’s not nearly long enough to establish real relationships or build a meaningful network on Twitter.

2. Finding the bear’s name on Twitter took too much effort in the form of Google searching and clicking on multiple articles to no avail. I also searched on Twitter for Twittering Teddy to find nothing. None of the articles listed the name of the bear on Twitter, which happens to be @Teddy2PointHome.

3. Part of the campaign is to promote text-to-speech software and unless they know something I don’t, Twitter doesn’t. I have yet to hear someone tweet.

4. Next, they throw in something about UStream, an eBay auction, something about a Verizon Foundation and the Homeless Children’s Education Fund… Confused yet?

Apparently, the folks at Verizon thought that latching onto Twitter as the latest fashion in Web 2.0 would be a great idea to promote text-to-speech software that they will showcase on UStream for a couple of weeks in a big push to create some buzz.

Then for a measure of goodwill, they will then auction one of the bears off on eBay with plans to match the auction price with funds from the Verizon Foundation to benefit the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. Whew.

What a strange path to fundraising for a worthy organization.

As of tonight, less than 5 hours until the eBay auction is set to close, Verizon’s Twittering Teddy only has 383 followers and a high bid of $212.50.

If you really want to be confused, check out the online home of Twittering Teddy here: http://www.2pointhome.com/teddy Then, ask yourself; what have they done to Teddy Ruxpin?

And, for an example of why I think so many social media press releases don’t work, read this page of FAQs and see how long it takes you to figure out what this promotion is really all about: http://www.2pointhome.com/articles/view/45602 While you’re there, be sure to check out the world’s longest quote from an executive in a press release:

“My Home 2.0 brings to life the ways ultra-high-speed broadband and high-definition TV, powered by Verizon FiOS, can make the homes of families large and small more fun, productive and connected. Twittering Teddy is an example of the creative applications that are available through the use of our all-fiber technology. We are thrilled that the recipient of the proceeds of the eBay charity auction will be the most deserving provider of quality educational resources, The Homeless Children’s Education Fund.”

Attributed to William B. Petersen, President of Verizon Pennsylvania:

Seriously. What?

Social media is not a flash in the pan, or something to engage in when it suits the needs of the current strategy or promotion.

When the Teddy idea is kicked to the curb, Verizon shouldn’t write off communication tools like Twitter as useless. Instead, they should start using them to participate and engage their customers in a meaningful way that adds value to their lives and to the brand.

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  • Hey Shannon

    I’m part of the team working on the Twittering Teddy program for Verizon. You bring up several interesting points in your post, and I thought I’d address a few of them.

    1. You’re right that Twittering Teddy is just up for a couple of weeks. It’s part of a longer ’season’ of DIY projects, ten in all, that are being released over the summer. This one used Twitter – others use other emerging technologies. I don’t think you should confuse that with this being “Verizon’s entire Twitter/social media strategy”. It’s just one short program, which is using several social media elements, to promote one service within the Verizon portfolio – Verizon FiOS. There are probably many other ways that Verizon as an organization could, and will, use these types of apps in the future. I would say that just because one use of the application isn’t “all-fulfilling”, it doesn’t mean it’s an unworthy or uninteresting experiment. It was never meant to represent an attempt to “build a meaningful network” – it’s just a Teddy Bear that twitters.

    2. Sorry if it took you awhile to find Teddy’s twitter name. The PR week article did link to his home page, and from there, there’s a direct link to his twitter feed. When we came up with this idea, we wanted to call him Twittering Teddy, as that phrase was pretty self explanatory. Unfortunately, Twitter does not allow the use of the word “twitter” within usernames, so we had to pick something else. After you reported your difficulty finding the feed, I just put “Twittering Teddy” into Google, and his Twitter feed was the third link on the page.

    3. In the DIY video that’s on Teddy’s homepage, you’ll see that the Twittering Teddy project included a custom built interface to turn Twitter Text into speech via a web interface. That was part of the project. If you watch Teddy on Ustream, you’ll hear him twitter using this front end application, except when Twitter itself has been acting up, which unfortunately has been quite a lot over the last two weeks (so much so, that I’m glad that – at this point – Verizon is not relying on it to form meaningful relationships – the infrastructure is just not dependable enough. Let’s hope the current round of investment will change that).

    4. I’m also sorry if you didn’t appreciate the Social Media Press Release we created. We followed the best practices that some excellent companies such as SHIFT have suggested, with some modifications from ourself gained from creating similar releases for clients such as Coca-Cola and American Eagle Outfitters. I see you work for PR company yourself, and have blogged about your concerns about the SMPR format in the past, so I realize I shouldn’t take this personally :) As for the eBay auction, it was just a way to find a good home for Teddy, and to donate a little to charity along the way. We never expected to raise a huge amount – Twitter is still a very niche audience.

    Our primary focus for Twittering Teddy was to create interest amongst technology bloggers and influencers about the My Home 2.0 project. In the two weeks Teddy ran, it was featured on Gizmodo, BoingBoing, Make, Engadget, Pirillo Live, and about 300 other blogs, plus hundreds of tweets from interested viewers. The video has been watched over 30k times, and the program has brought us the highest traffic ever to 2pointhome.com. Most of the posts have been very positive, and Teddy has received a lot of direct tweets, so actually I would argue that there’s been a pretty high level of engagement for such a small, short term project.

    I completely agree with you that Social Media is not just a “flash in the pan”, but I would say that emerging technology has many uses, both short and long term.

    Thanks for your feedback and ideas – The Advance Guard (who I work for) is focussed on helping clients experiment with emerging technology and social media, and posts from online commentators such as yourself always helps us improve and learn. If you have any more questions or want to talk about this more, please feel free to email me.

    Steve Coulson
    The Advance Guard

  • Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to craft such a thoughtful response to my post.

    I’m sure that I may have misunderstood some of the intentions of the Twittering Teddy project, but too many ideas and messages stuffed into one campaign has the potential to leave a lot of room for misunderstanding and confusion.

    That said, I am completely and totally enamored and excited by the concept of social media press releases, and the work that companies like SHIFT have done to help establish best practices.

    I just can’t help but think they can be made better. Many SMPRs that I have seen suffer from the same convoluted language and epic quotes that bog down traditional press releases and don’t really succeed at communicating anything to consumers, bloggers or journalists.

    I know that I can come across a bit snarky at times, but please know that it was never my intention to disrespect you or your work. I’m just trying to improve and learn like everyone else.

    Thanks again, Steve!
    I’ll be in touch.

  • I like your blog and thoughts on social media and PR. Too often I see PR folk focusing on the “wow” of the campaign and not so much on its effectiveness. I like how you keep it real. Added your feed to my reader.

  • Steve Couslon

    Hey Shannon

    You didn’t come across as snarky at all, and no disrespect felt at all! I thought you wrote a well-voiced opinion, and any friend of Chris Brogan is a friend of mine :)

    This area is still one of a lot of experimentation, so none of us have all the answers. Engaging in this type of public conversation helps everyone. For myself, I really love feedback, good or bad. The only thing that scares me is complete silence :)

  • Jeremy Pepper

    You’re right, though, Shannon. :)

  • The long and the short of it « Clicking and Screaming

    [...] are putting together.  The short term-ism of the engagement has also led to some calling it a stunt, though I really don’t feel that was the intent behind the [...]

  • Shannon Nelson

    Shannon, I agree with you about the Twitter part and I’m confused that Steve said that being on Twitter for two weeks wasn’t intended to “build a meaningful network.” What? Isn’t that what social media and social networking sites like Twitter are all about? What’s the point about being on Twitter if you are doing it solely for self promotion? Sounds more like alex1234 and Annie567–you know, those spammers that have found their way onto Twitter…

  • Chris Parandian


    I just found your blog and look forward to visiting more often.

    With regard to this post, you absolutely nailed it…

    Here was my take on it – http://www.mobilediner.com/?p=321

    Best, Chris

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