Any Business Can Do Social, But Only Those Companies That Fully Embrace It Will Succeed.

Social media has come a long way in the last decade.

Gone are the days of social entertainment and MySpace: social is now all about business and leverage. Social media marketing is today an integral part of part of any successful business strategy, and every company knows that if it wants to succeed in the digital world it will need a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and probably need to dally with the more esoteric social speciality sites like Pinterest. But why has there been such a surge in interest? Why are businesses falling over themselves to get a piece of the social pie? Well, it’s simply because it works.

If companies take their brand to where the majority of their customers congregate and engage with them, then generally speaking they will reap the rewards. Businesses that use Facebook and Twitter cease to be seen as aloof corporate entities and become a more human part of the community. They give their customers exclusive content in return for endorsements, and can analyse which products and strategies resonate best with their fans.

It’s effective and it’s been proven to work well.

Surely then any company buying into the idea of digital and social can’t fail? Well, that depends: it depends on how much you buy into the idea in the first place, and, more importantly, whether you actually fully embrace the concept. If you want an illustration of the right way and wrong way to ‘do’ social, then you need look no further than the fortunes of two American companies Mattel and Kodak.

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On Dec. 20, 2011, there was a page launched on Facebook entitled ‘Beautiful & Bald Barbie’. Now that isn’t unusual in itself as businesses are often launching new pages to coincide with new campaigns. However, what made this page different was that it wasn’t launched by Mattel, but by two women who were mothers to two young girls suffering from cancer. Jane Bingham and Rebecca Sypin wanted to build sufficient momentum with the page to petition Mattel to create a bald Barbie for children with cancer.

Within weeks of launching the page, it had attracted over 40,000 fans. It soon came to the attention of the media and after only 3 months the page had attracted 150,000 fans who shared photos and stories about children they knew who had had cancer. These same people started to write to Mattel and urged it to make the doll. Finally, on March 27, Mattel announced it would produce a bald Barbie with wigs, hats and scarves, stating ‘play is vital to children, especially in difficult times.

Since it made that decision, the value of Mattel has rocketed. All it took was a willingness to listen to and engage with its customers, and a clear demonstration that it was adapting and making important business decisions around them. Had it not decided to make the doll, it would clearly have suffered the consequences. As it is Mattel’s share price has increased by 20% since March.


Kodak is a name synonymous with cameras and films. It was the world’s dominant photographic brand for well over a century, but is now practically worthless. The reason for this is its adoption of the social media without the necessary engagement. The start of this century saw the dramatic rise in the popularity of digital photography. Kodak perceptively spotted this burgeoning trend early on made moves to get ahead of the market. In 2001 Kodak acquired Ofoto, a thriving start up that first came up with the idea of digitally sharing photos with the community. It had the ideas, and it had the business plan to go with it: upload photos, share with friends and purchase them.

Kodak snapped up Ofoto and integrated it into its website. Unfortunately it didn’t engage with its audience and missed the point entirely. Whilst other competitors were pushing digital sharing, Kodak tried to drive behaviour back towards printing, and completely ignored Ofoto’s foundation of a digital community. Naturally it paid the price for this lack of foresight and engagement. Kodak had the opportunity to turn Ofoto into one of the biggest community sites globally and become what Flickr is today. Instead Kodak has now filed for bankruptcy, and no longer produces digital cameras. Shutterfly bought Kodak Gallery for $23.8 million; meanwhile, Instagram, a “community of photos” invented about 10 years after Ofoto, was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion, and that was without a business model. Even the most respected and popular brands can suffer when they ignore the power of the social media or fail to fully engage with it.

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