Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cash Gordon

Too many tweets, but who’s the twat now?
The past five days have contained two of the more epic social media fails in recent history. Most of us remember last year’s Skittles fail — the one where the brand reworked their homepage to display a live and unmoderated Twitter stream of every tweet hashtagged #skittles.

It was a bold act, but an epic fail — as soon as the public realised what was going on, they started hashtagging all sorts of things #skittles… and all sorts of non-rainbow of fruit flavours content landed on the Skittles homepage. It was a brave move, but a foolish one, and the brand quickly took the tweet stream down.

Nestle’s big social media don’t

Last week, Nestle opened themselves up to goofy comments, vitriolic — if comedic –criticism and ultimately, brand slaughter with an unmoderated, totally public Facebook page. Unsurprisingly, the brand page (fan page?!) very quickly turned into a Wall of Hate. It’s not the smartest move for a brand that has attracted its share of criticism from some very outspoken groups. It’s even less intelligent given the whole Skittles fiasco. So what gives, Nestle? Did you think they wouldn’t find you? That greenies and breastfeeding advocates don’t use Facebook? Lo, they do, and they’re as happy to speak up here as they are in rallies and on their own blogs:

“It’s not ok for people to use altered versions of ur logos, but it’s ok for u to alter the face of Indonesian rainforest”

To their credit, the brand did post that it was ‘learning social media as we go’… but with an angry audience kicking forth gems like the above, it shouldn’t have taken long for the message to sink it. Alas, no: the site is still live and attracting flak.

Along comes Cash Gordon

If you’ve been under a rock or off the grid for the past few hours, you may have missed Cash Gordon, a Conservative fail so epic, so swift, and likely so catastrophic as to qualify as a nuclear fail.CashGordon.com is — well, was, as of 2:24 today — a tatty little site designed to encourage supporters to take part in the eponymous campaign, which highlights the Prime Minister’s links to the Unite union and attacks him for them.

So far, so typical — standard political jousting with a touch of the old ad hominem to keep things interesting. But it was in the way this site ‘did social media’ that it all went so wrong. Cameron is famously cautious about using Twitter, yet Cash Gordon devoted a huge chunk of real estate to a live, unmoderated Twitter feed that displayed any tweet so long as it included #cashgordon. Unsurprisingly, once the site was live it did not take long for the snarks to come rolling in:

Hello Mum! #cashgordon

#cashgordon Is this why we have yet to have an election called? Because Labour and Conservatives have both fucked up? Doing deals already?

… And so on:

Once people started talking and tweeting about the site, a few more gaping holes were discovered — as this tweet points out:

“You probablty want to avoid the #cashgordon website now — people have just discovered that it doesn’t sanitise tweets for HTML or JS”

Indeed, it didn’t — the site was an easy target for everyone from full-time hackers to bored developers trying to kill some time at lunch. Within minutes, it was fully taken over:

Cash Gordon’s death spiral was truly majestic, first involving flashes of sexually explicit images, then redirecting to Google, then to Nuts magazine, and finally supernova-ing into a sort of chat roulette random site connection engine, before imploding on itself. The URL now redirects to the latest article on the Conservative website.

How could they be so stupid?

This campaign is an epic fail on several very specific counts. Most horrifying for me is just how clearly this venture demonstrates a fundamental failure to learn from others’ mistakes. Skittles and Nestle both got slapped by opening themselves up to the public’s unbridled wrath — so why did the Conservatives do the very same thing? Hubris? Surely not, these are politicians we’re talking about.

Technology #FAIL

Secondly, this campaign is a spectacular, if painful, example of what happens when you fail to make intelligent technological choices. (The answer, Sirs, is that your technology fails you.) Not only was it easy to punk the site, it was relatively easy to hack it. What does this say about the people behind it — do they think we’re idiots, or do they not understand information technology and related security measures? Neither conclusion looks good for Mr. Cameron et al.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that this site isn’t even an original — it was actually based on a template that was developed in the US for use by anti-healthcare lobbyists. Is this an indication of how The Conservative Party approaches the challenge — and opportunity — of conversing with voters? By lobbing old, unsafe technology at us and hoping we don’t figure out how to break it?

Don’t they get their voters?

The final flavour of fail here, and surely the nastiest tang, is the Conservatives’ absolute failure to read their audience. How could they not expect this?! They are people and parents as well as politicians. Surely they have some read of the populus, and if that read doesn’t include the possibility that people who don’t like what they stand for might monkey around with their communication apparatuses, I’d suggest they hit the books again.

So how did this happen? It was either stupidity or hubris, but neither bodes well for a political party on the eve of an election. One thing this disaster certainly demonstrates is proof that public debates need moderators. How ironic that a political party, surely a veritable posse of would-be moderators if ever there was one, dropped that ball so majestically.

Trendspotting: self-flagellation of the big brands?

If this isn’t hubris or stupidity, it might be something new and equally cringe-worthy — a sort of self-flagellation on a corporate scale, wherein the big brand deliberately opens itself up to the public’s wrath, even to the extent of facilitating said attack. What is to be gained of this? Are they trying to tell us something? Is this a sort of ideological S&M-type roleplay, wherein little ol’ me now gets to wield the power and tell Nestle/Skittles/David Cameron/{insert next ‘victim’ here} just what I think of them and their policies? I despair…

So my message to the brands thinking of ‘doing social media’ in a really big, splashy, unmoderated way is this: don’t be twats, guys. You know we want to punk you. You know we don’t all like you. Don’t think you’re going to win our loyalty by rolling over and playing dumb. Apply some intelligence to your communication strategies, please.

*This article could easily be read as an anti-Conservative rant. It’s not. I reckon the odds were about even as to which party was going to do this, and I would say the very same thing had Labour launched a similar anti-David site.