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Chipotle Aims High But Misses Low on Twitter

Posted on : 25-07-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on July 25, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

One of the earliest definitions I heard about marketing spoke of building relationships with customers and prospective customers. But sometimes it feels like we are far from that, especially in social media.

Too often lately marketing feels more like a desperate effort to garner attention for the brand through every channel possible, especially in social media. It’s extremely difficult for any brand or person to be noticed in social media simply because there is an excessive amount of content available for anyone, so users drift to the content that is most relevant to them.

Earlier this year Oreo made a splash when it posted an image during an unusual power outage at the Super Bowl. “You can still dunk in the dark” got lots of attention. At the time I applauded them for such a creative approach and timeliness, which was incredible. I am not sure I could have had an image approved so fast.

Since that time we have seen many brands jump on the “real-time” marketing bandwagon. The problem is when everyone is doing it, it comes across more about spamming people instead of being one with he community.

I still think Oreo does the best of all the brands because they typically do not try to spam a hashtag or key word search. Instead, they simply share in the hope that their followers will take the message forth.

The Royal Birth brought the greatest backlash toward brands trying to capitalize on the attention — you can read more on the “real-time” marketing backlash here and here. (I am not a Royal watcher, and did not follow the conversation on the topic, but I do want to congratulate William and Kate, as I would for any new parent.)

The latest brand mistake in social was a royal one but not involving the royal family or baby George. It actually involves a fairly beloved brand, or at least one I love: Chipotle. Chipotle is celebrating its 20th anniversary and they wanted to make a splash.

That they did.

On July 21st there were some odd tweets on their Twitter account — not Anthony Weiner odd, but still a little weird, including one that seemed to report a password.

Turns out this was not a hack, but a marketing stunt to garner more followers (measure bad things get bad results!). According to ABC they garnered 4,000 more followers as a result of the silly stunt. This of course is not the first time an account faked being hacked, as MTV did in February.

There are a number of problems with faking something like this. First it is not being a strong member of the community, it instead is reinforcing that Chipotle wants to be the center of attention, not one with the community. This is a big challenge for brands because social media is not the push media like TV ads, it is community driven. I am sure it was an idea presented by either an employee or partner to get people talking, and the effort did just that.

So they gained discussion, but lost trust, at least with me. I used to hold Chipotle up as one of the good brands, but now they come across like so many others. I do want to be fair: There are many out there who like what Chipotle did because it was funny, harmless and garnered attention to the brand. I take deeper issue because it does play to the trust issue with consumers, but also with partners such as Twitter.

The fact is when an account is hacked people immediately look to Twitter, often blaming them for the lack of security. Every time something like this happens many security analysts start to try to assess what went wrong and how to prevent it for their brand. Twitter, like all social networks, has a team that investigates these things. This whole thing reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld, “The Scofflaw” where Jerry and George’s friend Gary tells George he has cancer, but in reality he does not. In my view Chipotle was Gary in this effort.

So what is a brand to do to garner the attention they desire? I would recommend the following:

  • Stop trying to be the center of attention. Try to make your own Customers the center and provide them the tools and information to take your message forth. Doing so you may find you achieve your original goal in greater magnitude.
  • Social media does not start with pushing some message. Your product and service can be your message. Chipotle could have done so much with the millions who enter their locations each day. Companies have to get better at connecting all their messages they send, including to their employees (their greatest advocates) and their Customers.
  • Know the community you serve. Each of these social networks is a community and often there are sub communities within them.
  • Respect others even if not part of the community. Respect is such a message often forgotten, but in the Chipotle example did they respect the company Twitter or the community

UPDATE: I want to make clear that this effort by Chipotle was part of their Adventuritto game and some of the tweets were part of that puzzle. It is interesting to see the change in quotes from their PR team. In the ABC News piece Chris Arnold from Chipotle stated “We did it to get more people talking about that short string of posts.” The Washington Post reported “the company never intended to upset people and denied that the fake hack was simply a ploy to grab followers. “We apologize if anyone felt misled by this or didn’t like how the promotion was handled,” Arnold said. The messages, he said, were meant to be clues for the company’s “Adventurrito” treasure hunt promotion, in honor of its 20th anniversary.” Which was a clearer response. As some have pointed out this was intended for their community playing the game. The challenge to the effort is Twitter is very public and cautious about hacks (okay some are not cautious but find them funny). When they tweeted that they had problems with the account, alarms went off throughout the Twitter community and beyond. Kyle Flattery wrote a post going more in depth on the security challenge, and I have heard from many others on that topic. You can read more on his blog. This game has created some challenges for Chipotle from the start, including the need to change the rules early on because of potential manipulation. I certainly love the brand and what they historically have stood for, especially their stance on GMO’s. I think they were off the mark here, but of course I will continue to support them.