by Gord Hotchkiss
There’s something about Tuesdays. Just when I’m starting to think about what my Thursday column is going to be about, something hits my inbox that seems freakishly timely. This time, it was David Berkowitz’s ode to Skittles.com. My intention was to write about brand religions playing out online, and here, in all its gory real time splendor, was a parable made to order. It would be unseemly, not to mention unfaithful, not to read the signs from above and pick up this story thread so graciously thrown in front of me.
Now, let’s get the Skittle Scuttlebutt out of the way, as more as transpired since the last time David spoke. As David said, Skittles.com is no longer a site, but a Flash navigation bar that hovers over live feeds from other Skittles oriented online destinations. Originally, the home page was a live Twitter Feed, but the ignoble masses had the temerity to use the Skittles name in vain, so that idea was scuttled and the TweetFest was moved back to a section called “Chatter”. Now the home page is a feed of the Wikipedia entry (which has been updated to include the story, so it’s like a never ending feedback loop). You can also visit the Facebook “Friends” page. There are some massive usability issues, but that aside, nobody can scoff at Skittles for a lack of courage. It remains to be seen how successful this is, but the fact is, almost 600,000 fans have signed up on Facebook and the brand has generated huge buzz.
So, what is a parable for, if not to learn from? And here are 10 commandments for every brand who fancies themselves a religion, if they have the courage to go where Skittles has gone:
1. Thou Shalt Not Expect Everyone to Believe
As was shown in the Skittles case, if you choose to live by the Social Media Sword, understand you can also die by the Social Media Sword. Opening up the conversation to your believers also means you open the doors to the non faithful and they will take every opportunity to express themselves.
2. Thou Shalt Not Build Your Own Churches
Believers like to build their own churches and not have the brand build it for them. This is almost never successful. Skittles is trying to find middle ground by using their site as a shortcut to a few online destinations that help define the online image of Skittles. It’s an interesting move, but I believe it will ultimately be a short lived one. For one thing, it’s confusing as hell.
3. Thou Shalt Have No Illusions of Control
If a brand goes down this path, they have to accept (everyone, repeat after me..and that means you Mr/Ms CEO) that they have no control over this. By opening the door to the masses, they abdicate all control. If Skittles.com turns sour, all Skittles can do is pull the plug on their official endorsement. The buzz will outlive the campaign and take on a life of its own.
4. Thou Shalt Understand the Web is a Fragmented Place
What is interesting about the Skittles experiment is that it’s a tentative acknowledgement that the sum total of a brand lives in many places online and the idea of defining the boundary within one website is long dead.
5. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Product
You have to have a pretty damn popular product to take this step. There’s probably nothing more innocuous than Skittles (who could hate a little fruit candy?) and yet some still managed to spout bile all over the little social media stunt. The more beloved the product (and the company behind it) the more secure you can be in letting your fans be your spokesperson.
6. Thou Shalt Accept What One is Given
If your brand builds a devout following, they will take it upon themselves to generously share more than you ever expected about what the brand is, what it isn’t and what