Commentary

So About Bing's Twitter Debacle...

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Pretty much everyone seems to agree that Bing's recent attempt to promote itself on Twitter using the on-going disaster in Japan was, well, a marketing disaster in itself. For those who missed it, Microsoft -- hoping to get some publicity for Bing, while appearing to be charitable --promised to donate $1 for every re-tweet of a message whose only content was, in essence, the invitation to re-tweet it.

Now, it's entirely possible the whole idea was just irredeemably bad, bad, bad -- and if that's the case, I'm sure readers will let me know after reading this column. Because I was thinking about it, and I'm tempted to play devil's advocate: maybe the basic idea wasn't so awful, just the execution.

Before everyone piles on, please hear me out. I think the key question in this case is to identify what, exactly, was so offensive about the promotion. Yes, there's the tawdry motivation, not to mention the vacuous chain letter feel of the whole thing, which weren't exactly stellar... but nor were they really so egregious, especially if you concede that any charitable effort by a marketer is frankly intended to -- in addition to doing good -- reflect some positive light on the brand; to suggest otherwise is naïve or disingenuous.

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No, the real problem with Bing's ill-fated Twitter campaign wasn't the motivation, in my opinion. It was the scale: specifically, it was the $100,000 cap on donations, which just made the whole thing look cheap, stingy and insincere. Given the incredible scale of destruction in Japan -- the latest damage estimate is $100 billion, and sadly that could easily double -- the idea of a giant corporation like Microsoft chipping in $100,000, and acting like this is a big deal, is both laughable and insulting (scrambling to contain the PR damage, Microsoft basically admitted this with its subsequent pledge of $2 million in cash and software... no re-tweeting needed).

So, yes: it was a mediocre idea at best, which was then terribly executed. But now imagine that we scrap the $100,000 cap on donations, and instead make it $10 million, or $20 million, or even $50 million?  I can hear Microsoft's chief marketing officers beginning to hyperventilate, but what if Microsoft offered to donate up to $100 million based on re-tweets of that stupid little message? Or simply got rid of the cap altogether, and agreed to donate whatever amount people could generate by re-tweeting (within a reasonable amount of time, say three months)? You can't deny that it would generate a lot of publicity... and it would probably be positive, on the whole, especially if the result was a social media campaign generating $200 million for relief efforts in Japan (Twitter currently has about 200 million members).

Of course, Microsoft might not be willing to pony up real cash to help relief efforts in Japan. But in that case it should definitely steer clear of insulting, penny ante social media stunts, as the popular reaction to this campaign just illustrated; better not to even try.

5 comments about "So About Bing's Twitter Debacle...".
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  1. Adam Hartung from spark partners, March 16, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.

    Microsoft is so inwardly focused - so self-absorbed - that it simply is not in touch with current markets. Microsoft doesn't really understand social media, and doesn't know how to participate. Another telltale sign of a company in seriously bad trouble because it is falling further out of step with market desires (like Xerox did years ago.)

  2. Blaine J from Blaine Inc., March 16, 2011 at 3:58 p.m.

    I agree, the insult really is with the dollar cap. They look extremely cheap and out of touch!

  3. Sandy Miller from Success Communications, March 16, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.

    I have seen other people do this to raise money. Stephen colbert did this last june when he had people retweet a message to raise money to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf.

    I think here it is the issue of the total devestation and loss of life on top of the relatively small dollar amount that made them look bad.

  4. Mark Moran from Dulcinea Media, March 16, 2011 at 5:06 p.m.

    The dollar cap made it worse - Bing was going to give $100k no matter what. But even if there were no cap, it was a pathetic attempt to leverage the attention on a global tragedy to raise awareness of a brand.

    "ReTweet this and we'll send $1 to Japan to feed and clothe displaced earthquake and tsunami victims."

    "Buy this book or we'll kill this dog."

    One of these was a brilliant lampoon of tear-jerking charity fundraising techniques.

    The other was a gross mistake in judgment by someone who actually thought it was OK to condition aid to devastated people to the willingness of others to send a Tweet.

    http://www.amazon.com/Dont-This-Book-Well-Kill/dp/1569800022

  5. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group, March 21, 2011 at 4:03 p.m.

    Hmmmm. $100,000 is "relatively small" compared to what? What your company is doing? Microsoft actually has a reputation of being very generous -- not self-absorbed. (I understand they've apologized for the tweet idea -- not the amount of the donation.) And, BTW, I don't work for them.

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