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The Super Bowl is an exciting time for the brands that shelled out big bucks to reach millions of consumers on one of the biggest days in the world of sport.

That was certainly true for Toyota. The carmaker had high hopes for its Camry Effect campaign, which it described as one of the "most ambitious social media campaigns we've ever implemented." But did it get a little too excited?

As detailed by The Next Web, filled with ambition, Toyota turned to Twitter - which it apparently saw as the perfect medium for a healthy serving of social spam:

In what is probably the worst Twitter promotion I’ve seen on the platform since the company launched in 2006, Toyota has created a slew of accounts and is spamming people about what it is calling the “Camry Effect a Friend’ Giveaway!”. The worst part is that they’re all verified accounts, so while Twitter isn’t involved in the promotion, someone at the company definitely knows about it.

The spam was the tastiest kind, with Toyota sending messages to random individuals, apparently based on nothing more than a tweet mentioning the Super Bowl.

Once caught, the company's social media manager, Kimberley Gardiner, was forced to issue an embarrassing apology.

We apologise to anyone in the Twitterverse who received an unwanted @reply over the past few days. We were excited to share the message of our Camry Effect campaign in a new way and it was never our intention to displease anyone. We've certainly learned from this experience and have suspended the accounts effective immediately to avoid any additional issues."

Toyota's Twitter faux pas shows that for all of the investment we're seeing in social media from major brands, implementing and enforcing best practices is apparently easier said than done.

At the same time, the company's spam campaign also suggests that brands are struggling to figure out how to make social media a positive ROI exercise.

After all, it's hard to imagine that the people on Toyota's social media team really believed that a spam campaign was a good approach. But when faced with how to get a message out meaningfully through social channels like Twitter, there are often few easy answers. One of the big challenges: brands have been told that social media is a one-to-one channel, but in reality, it's a one-to-many channel. Brands can therefore easily find themselves confused and frustrated, with results that reflect that confusion and frustration.

That's no excuse for Toyota, of course. It should have known better. But interestingly, the company's Super Bowl fail may reflect most poorly on Twitter. After all, Twitter apparently 'verified' Toyota's spam accounts, and clearly the company's efforts to educate major brands on the effective use of its service aren't good enough. The company has done a great job of convincing brands that Twitter is a great marketing platform but if it hopes to build a viable long-term business, it will have to take a more active role in making sure brands are successful when they use it.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 February, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Will Wynne, Chief Executive at Arena Flowers

This can be done right...we set up our "flower bot" to search for birthday messages between Twitter users, to negative keyword match (to remove false positives as much as we can) and we then tweet a bespoke birthday card made for the user. We limit it to a few tweets an hour to avoid our account getting suspended for spam.

Here are the tweets: https://twitter.com/#!/flowersandfun

More importantly, here are the responses from the recipients which are 99% positive: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%40flowersandfun. The tweets have been picked up positively by some fun people, including the President of Russia, which was fun.

So you can do "spam" in a palatable way (excuse the pun), as long as you're not a jerk about it and do add some value, rather than just shove your marketing message down someone's throat.

over 4 years ago

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Rich

This obviously wasn't thought through properly. The first thing they needed to ask themselves was "Do I like receiving random @replies?". It would then have been obvious that the answer is no.

over 4 years ago

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Camry Driver

They never messaged me. My Camry story was losing my left leg when a car car hit me and I plunged off the road after my ABS failed.

over 4 years ago

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Mark

Will, I'm curious about how you measure success. You say the response has been 99 percent positive, but you've sent 330,000 tweets and have less than 1000 followers. If your goal was to make an impression and keep in touch, that's not a very good ROI.

over 4 years ago

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Will Wynne, Chief Executive at Arena Flowers

Hey Mark

We are not trying to get followers on that account (it's very boring to follow as all it does is wish people happy birthday...no thanks) and the only people who are following must be bots.

Success on that initiative was getting people to our site through the bday cards, reading our name and driving brand awareness. Admittedly this is to a global audience (albeit an English speaking one as we haven't yet localised it to different countries, though we could do that in the future for our European sites), but that's fine...the hosting for the bot costs a few pounds and uses virtually no resources now that it's up and running. As importantly as brand awareness is the fact that we have got some links out of it, both directly and indirectly, which is good for SEO. Not bad for a single day's dev work.

FYI on our main Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/arenaflowers) we ditched the old strategy of "here is a twitpic about some flowers", "hey, look what we're up to in our business" etc a few months ago (as, basically, no one cared) and instead we now have a number of writers writing engaging content (mostly jokes). That has been successful, doubling followers in a few months and, more importantly, massively driving engagement (RTs/favourites/FFs etc). You can read more about our thinking on that here: http://www.arenaflowers.com/twitter.

Interestingly, in about an hour's time we're launching a Valentine's campaign that covers a whole bunch of social media channels (youtube/twitter/fb/reddit/stumbleupon) with some really awesome content (videos on youtube and funny articles on our blog). Will it be a success? Not sure. Is it worth trying to do something genuinely engaging that people actually want to share, rather than simply begging for RTs / follows etc? We think so.

These initiatives are a small part of what we do and have very limited investment cost (unlike Toyota's campaign, I'll wager!); they have the potential to fall flat on their face but they also have the potential to be super successful (where hardcore PPC probably has an upper limit of success). That's a risk we're prepared to take to get valuable data on using social media etc to actually shift some needles, rather than just wasting money on the usual guff about having a "conversation" etc with people who simply don't care (unless you offer them a discount, or interesting content).

Anyway, that was a long answer. Sorry. As you can see, it's something we've thought about a bit (but don't claim to have the answer to)!

over 4 years ago

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