ANALYSIS: The Skittles Social Media Experiment

Skittles

I like Skittles. When I’m at an airport or a gas station, Skittles is ALWAYS my second choice if I can’t find a pack of Starburst (another Mars Company product, apparently). So of course I was interested in the brouhaha that erupted after Skittles replaced their website with a little widget linking visitors to several social media platforms. If you want to learn more about how it works, you can read this post from Russ Adams .

HISTORY OF THE SKITTLES WEBSITE

The Skittles website over the last couple of years has not evolved much, so while this is a wild departure from its past efforts, it didn’t have much to lose.

The site primarily relied on Flash from almost the beginning, so it never had great Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As you can see, the site was geared towards a younger audience and it looks like the brand tried hard to not only look cool, but to appeal to a younger demographic.

The new site (or interactive engagement) is resonating right now with an older demographic more interested in the tech than the candy.

ADVANTAGES

It’s different. I like that Skittles (through their vendor Agency.com) took a huge chance entrusting the brand to the community.  The "community," in this case, is not just the people who  like the candy, but the people that are most active on these sites. Initially we’re going to see a lot of negative comments as people test whether Skittles will maintain this  model .

First Mover. Here’s the new case study you’re going to see at every social media related event in 2009. Consultants, brands and their agencies are going to watch this experiment closely to see how the community reacts. If it’s embraced, there will be many companies that try and replicate their success. Just look at brands that were among the first to establish a Second Life presence, build a Twitter presence or find success on YouTube. Skittles will get a lot of additional juice out of this simply by being the first to try it.

CHALLENGES

Modernista was the first company to experiment with using a social media platform to tell the brand story. But at the time, there were many that criticized them for using a social platform for brand advertising and marketing purposes. Many critics (and there were many) argued that the agency was hijacking a social space and using it for ways other than they were intended. I expect we’ll see the same arguments made for Skittles experiment.

As I said at the beginning, the only time I think about Skittles is when I’m at a gas station or the airport. I don’t think about them when I’m sitting in front of my computer or on my phone. Ultimately, this may prove to be their undoing.

PR and Marketing can get along. While the Skittles social media website is likely the work of the marketing team, the resulting conversation and response should be driven by the communications team. I haven’t found any Skittles reps commenting yet, but I hope they seize this opportunity to talk openly with a new community. If representatives only talk to the media, then Skittles doesn’t really understand what they’ve done.

WHAT YOU CAN LEARN

As a communicator or marketer, there are some lessons you should take away from this:

Learn as much as you can about social media platforms, then do something with them that’s radically different. The 40th company to join Twitter is not as memorable as the first, second or third. And the companies that are lauded have found unique ways to enhance their customer’s experiences on these sites.

There is a distinct difference between marketing on a social site and communicating on it. Understand that when you do anything with social media, there will be people that react strongly in favor and against your participation. Some people just don’t like the idea of brands trying to market or advertise to them on social platforms.

When your brand experiments with social media and the community reacts strongly, learn and adjust. Don’t recoil. Relationship building takes time.

CONCLUSION

This is only the Skittles website,  not the corporate website of its parent Mars&Co. Brands that wish to emulate the Skittles model should remember the distinction and understand why this won’t work for everyone.

This is version 1.0.  I think it will be interesting to watch what other consumer packaged goods companies like beverage companies do to "one-up" their competition. Currently most companies appealing to the same demographic leverage Facebook fan pages, quirky YouTube videos they hope will go viral and meat smelling perfumes. There’s a lot of room to disrupt this space. It’s going to be exciting for us to watch.

For more interesting conversations on the Skittles experiment, check out this post on Mashable and this one from Pistachio Consulting .

For a more contrarian view, read this one from B.L. Ochman and this one from Adrian Chan .

YOUR TURN

So what do you think? Do you like what Skittles did here or do you think it was a stunt that will ultimately fail?

230 thoughts on “ANALYSIS: The Skittles Social Media Experiment

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