A ‘Target’ for Social Media Marketing Backlash

In September 2007, it looked like Target had cracked the social media marketing code and was well on its way to a successful holiday shopping season.

By implementing tactics that encourage consumer engagement, such as consumer product reviews on their Website, it seemed as though the retailer had opened itself up to its customers. Even the negative product reviews and critical feedback appeared to show the public that Target valued honesty and customer satisfaction.

Other uses of social media marketing were prevalent on Target.com, including:

• Wish lists and gift registries
These features allowed individuals to peruse the site online, saving the items that they would like to own and/or receive as gifts. A friend or family member could then log in to Target.com, view the wish list or gift registry and easily make a purchase.

• Gift finder
Visitors to Target.com used the gift finder to shop for the perfect present for a friend or family member by browsing by age, gender and occasion. In doing so, they were presented with the top gift picks for an individual that matched the information that had been provided. This allowed the visitor to interact with the site as they might a sales associate in person–receiving suggestions and feedback to help guide them through the online store.

• In the spotlight
At the bottom of the homepage was a section entitled “In the Spotlight”. Included in that section was a feature called “Red Hot Shop,” a collection of the hottest products at Target. These products changed weekly, inviting visitors to return regularly, click on a product, read what others had to say about it and purchase it directly from the list. This helped attract regular visitors searching for information and interactive feedback.

Where it all went wrong
Target Rounders is a group of influential college students picked to promote Target. In turn, they receive discounts and freebies. So when Target launched a Facebook page in November 2007, it made sense that the Target Rounders should reside on the page, talking up the company as usual.

Except, of course, for one small thing. Target sent the Rounders an e-mail, which later became public, directing the Rounders “not to let on in the Facebook group that you are a Rounder.”

The social community took this as a deceptive practice, and all of Target’s hard work to show that they valued honesty and customer satisfaction was forgotten. Numerous negative articles and blog posts populated the Internet. And when all was said and done, retailing competitor Wal-Mart jumped ahead of Target after the incident — and at a crucial time during the holiday shopping season — to bring in the most traffic to its Website.

The social media marketing lesson
Even the best marketers have to navigate the social media waters carefully. Social media marketing does require careful management and a high level of honesty with your customers. When done right, the potential rewards are endless. But when done wrong, a reputation can be tarnished long-term. If you’re unsure of your social media marketing tactics, seek the help of a proven digital marketing agency.

Lisa Wehr is CEO/founder of Oneupweb, a digital marketing agency.

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