Can a social media campaign be successful even when the product it's promoting is a dud? That's the question raised by the demise of Microsoft's Kin phones less than two months after they were launched with a big social media marketing push.
Microsoft confirmed yesterday it was shutting down the phone line geared to mobile social networking and targeted at teens and twenty-somethings because of paltry sales. Microsoft hasn't disclosed sales figures, but Business Insider reported the company had sold only 500 Kins, while a CNet story cited a source estimating sales in the 1,000 to 10,000 range.
Either way, the total was tiny and obviously far below the expectations Microsoft had for its first attempt at a comeback in the smartphone market prior to its launch of Windows Phone 7-powered devices due out later this year. Most industry observers blamed the Kin's collapse on the combined $70 a month voice and data charges for the phone, making it too expensive for the high school and college-age crowd it was made for.
And lacking features like the ability to download apps and GPS, the Kin could logically lead someone to opt for a full-fledged smartphone at roughly the same price with more functionality. PC World's Daniel Ionescu points out that Palm's Pre and Pixi Plus, for instance, have similar pricing but offer a wider range of features.
Verizon's price-slashing of the two Kin models earlier this week amounted to little more than an effort to clear out remaining inventory. But to look at the Kin's Facebook page before today, you might think the phone was a success, attracting more than 216,000 young fans (now "Likes")over the last two months. That's obviously a lot more than the number of people who actually bought the Kin.
Microsoft promoted the Kin page, launched in April, within Facebook ads and at the Coachella music festival with a Kin Lounge. It also ran a sweepstakes for Facebook users to help promote the phone. A broader online and TV campaign created by Interpublic's T.A.G. (recently renamed agencytwofifteen) followed 24-year-old Rosa Salazar as she used her Kin to connect with people she had friended on Facebook.
So Microsoft could be presented with a variety of social media metrics such as Facebook "Likes," Wall posts, comments, interactions and tweets linked to the Kin that would suggest it was generating a healthy amount of engagement and buzz among youthful influencers.
But what does it add up to if nobody's buying the phone? Nothing more than a false positive. Microsoft declined to comment today on what it would do with its Kin Facebook page. It's now a community in search of a brand.