Four ways to be clueless about social strategy
When I bought a snack between flights at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, I was intrigued to see this notation at the bottom of the receipt:
Has HMS, operator of travel restaurants worldwide, figured out a clever strategy to take advantage of the millions of people who get receipts and keep them for expense reports? If they have, it's a mystery to me. In fact, embedded in this little receipt, HMS has made nearly every mistake possible with social media. Let's go through appropriate social strategy principles and compare them to what HMS Host is doing.
- Have a clear objective. Why does HMS Host want friends on Facebook? I don't have a clue. I can see why, say, Coca-Cola or NCIS could benefit from collecting friends, but HMS doesn't have a brand its customers identify with, as far as I can tell -- mostly it operates restaurant franchises for other brands (like Starbucks).
- Give customers a reason to connect. What do I get for connecting with HMS Host? Nothing I can see. The invitation to connect should result in some kind of offer ("Connect with us for discounts" or "Connect to learn about our frequent customer program" for example.) If your brand is Apple, it may be obvious whey we'd want to be your friend, but there's no reason for a customer to believe that connecting with HMS Host would have any benefits.
- Own your identity. I tried to do what this receipt asks: become a friend. But facebook.com/hmshost is run by some guy in New Jersey who works for one of the HMS outlets (and his Facebook page has 102 fans so far). The top page on a Facebook search for HMS Host is a placeholder page with 300 fans and no content. Leave out the space and you get to a Facebook page with a Wikipedia description and 700 fans. HMS' Web page finally leads to the company's actual Facebook page: facebook.com/HMSBethesda (pretty hard to guess without a little detective work). That site has a stream of press releases and some actual useful travel tips -- and 960 fans, many of whom are probably employees or social media experts who worked hard to find it.
- Drive traffic. If the receipts were part of a strategy of online advertising, Facebook ads, or other traffic drivers intended to create a bunch of fans to participate, that could work. Absent that, messages on these receipts are just wasted space.
HMS Host's senior director of communications and public relations, Susan Goyette, says I've missed a few things in this critique. She says they do have on objective for their Facebook page: listening to travelers and promoting company programs like their participation in the Children's Miracle Network. And she complains that Facebook takes many months to boot people who've taken charge of sites that rightly belong to corporate brands.
Even so, I think HMS Host had made one of the classic errors: diving into a social network without a coherent strategy, and without control of their own brand in that environment. Because social networks are so visible (and because HMS Host is now promoting this on thousands of receipts), this is like an actor coming out on stage without his costume on.
There's a lot to learn from this. Don't get started in social media without an objective, a reason for customers to join you, control of your identify, and a plan to drive participation. Don't put Facebook and Twitter buttons on your Web page or your real-world signage until you're ready. And for lord's sake, don't put invitations on your sales receipts. Until you know what kind of party you're throwing, where, and what the entertainment is, it's nuts to invite people to join you. And it's clear evidence that the frenzy over Facebook has run way out ahead of reasonable marketers with actual strategies.